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Russians switch to homegrown social media as crackdown bites

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By Judith Gicobi

After YouTube stopped letting Russian users to monetize their videos after the invasion of Ukraine, George Kavanosyan, a Moscow-based environmentalist with 60,000 YouTube subscribers, sought to migrate to RuTube, the platform’s local equivalent.

RuTube, a Russian social media network founded in 2006, has experienced an increase in subscribers after Moscow deepened its long-running spat with Big Tech in an attempt to influence the domestic narrative surrounding its invasion of Ukraine.

Since moving its forces across the border, Russia has limited access to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, accusing the West of disseminating false information about the invasion, which it terms a “special operation” to demilitarize Ukraine.

YouTube, which is under increasing pressure from Russia’s official communications regulator, may soon follow suit.

The government has guaranteed income tax cuts and preferred financing for local IT enterprises, and employees can have their military duty postponed, despite the lack of a declared policy for replacing international social media.

Users are also being encouraged to switch to domestic carriers by politicians. This has encouraged new and current domestic competitors, who critics claim are more receptive to requests to censor content or provide information to authorities.

According to data analytics firm Sensor Tower, RuTube was downloaded around 1.4 million times on Russia’s App Store and Google Play in the 40 days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, up more than 2,000% over the previous period.

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