From Russia with love
Anonymous empire of Pavel Durov
Telegram
Pavel Durov, Russian business owner and the creator of VKontakte social network, developed Telegram as an independent censorship-free messaging platform. The service operates based on this principle. Yet, only in part. Aside from that, Telegram has become a haven for traffickers in arms, pornography, drugs, and terrorists. Also, anonymous channels have become a perfect tool for dissemination of Russian propaganda.

Durov's Telegram empire has several hundred million users: it is one of the largest messengers in the world. At the same time, the company is fully anonymous. No one knows the exact location of its office, the exact number of its employees, the company's plans for the illegal content published on Telegram. And you will not find any contacts for at least one of the developers, not to mention Durov himself.

We have been trying to get a comment from Telegram representatives for this article for almost a week. We contacted the Telegram support service and the service's account on Twitter. We tried to contact Durov's representatives in Ukraine and sent him personal messages. To no effect. Yet, we are ready to add the Telegram's point of view to this text at any time.
In this project by LIGA.net, you will find answers to the following questions:

First — we will tell and show what Telegram has become by 2020: how the service is used in different countries all over the world, how this platform is abused, how it is related to people's safety (terrorist organizations use the service).

Second — we will show how the network of pro-Russian channels operates in Ukraine. Using data analysis, we will demonstrate a clear interconnection between the so-called Ukrainian channels with channels affiliated with the Kremlin. You will see how the narratives from Russia get into the Ukrainian information field. And who contributes to this.

Third — the end of the experiment: we are the authors of one of the most popular anonymous Telegram channels in Ukraine dedicated to the flat Earth "theory". We have 20,000 readers and 25,000 post views. We spent US $200 and less than an hour on our experiment. Now you will find out how easy it is to become an influential anonymous channel. And how people use it.

Fourth — we show how the market for anonymous Telegram channels works. One of the former administrators tells how much he earned, how much it costs to maintain the channel, and what it looks like from the inside.
What is Telegram
Who created the messenger, how and why?

Pavel Durov launched Telegram in 2013. Prior to this, he created and developed the VKontakte social network in Russia, which has been controlled by Mail.ru Group of the Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov since 2014. Durov said that the pressure from the security officials forced him to sell his stake in VK. The new owners claim that the put option was signed back in 2012.

Telegram is a secretive company. The journalists obtained most of the information about the messenger not from the company itself, but from the report of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (they interrogated Durov in the case regarding the launch of his cryptocurrency Gram). For example, according to the report, the messenger was developed using Durov's personal money and the investments of a private investor from Buffalo, New York.

Most members of the Telegram developers team, according to the FAQ section inside the service, are native to St. Petersburg. The office itself operates in the United Arab Emirates, where Durov moved his team after trying to settle in Berlin, London, and Singapore. However, the messenger publishes no output data — it is impossible to contact the office, get there, and verify this information. The company's office may still be located in St. Petersburg just as well.

At the same time, according to the information of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Telegram is legally registered in the British Virgin Islands. The number of monthly users as of October 2019 was approximately 300 mn people worldwide, according to the same report. "According to Telegram's in-house estimates, at least 500,000 new users join the messenger daily," the report said.

Telegram is a media startup. When one has US $10 mn a month, they create a TV channel. When one has conventional US $1 mn per month, they create a large online project. When one has US $5,000-10,000 a month, they create a Telegram channel
Dmitri Zolotukhin
Deputy Minister of Information of Ukraine (2017-2019), IT expert
Telegram has been repeatedly delaying the launch of its own cryptocurrency Gram, due to the claims of the American commission. The representatives of the commission would like to give the messenger's tokens the same status as that of securities, but they are not registered in accordance with the US law. Durov does not agree with such approach. Due to problems with the launch, he may have to return the invested US $1.7 bn to his investors.

In the early stages of Telegram's "life", WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum accused Durov of plagiarism. But such "promotion" played into the Russian's hands, and Telegram started gaining popularity. In 2013, Durov promised US $200,000 for the decryption of his correspondence in the messenger. In the following years, Durov was "selling" the thesis on the security and super reliability of Telegram. Also, he attacked WhatsApp on several occasions, urging to delete the messenger from the phones, allegedly because of its vulnerability to hackers.

Durov's ex-colleague Anton Rosenberg, former Telegram director of special projects, argued the super reliability in an interview with GQ: "Frankly, this (messenger security) is a myth invented by Durov himself". For example, the two-factor authentication in Telegram was developed just in April 2015, but was left optional even after a series of high-profile hacks, according to Rosenberg.
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Telegram all over the world

Where is the messenger popular, how is it used

Telegram is popular in undemocratic and poor countries. This is confirmed by the 2019 report of the We Are Social international agency, according to which Durov's messenger is most popular in Ethiopia, Iran, and Uzbekistan.

Quartz Africa explains the phenomenon of its popularity in Ethiopia with the availability of Telegram. The country has a government monopoly on all mobile Internet services, and it is more profitable for locals to download Telegram, which has a size of approximately half of that of WhatsApp. Ethiopian residents are also attracted by the opportunity to create groups of up to 200,000 members, which contributes to political activity. In WhatsApp, group chats can include only up to 256 people.

Hong Kong was the last international point of growth in the number of Telegram users. In July 2019 alone, when the mass protests began, more than 100,000 new users were added to the application, according to Sensor Tower. And this happened despite Telegram's official ban in China.

Also, Durov's messenger is popular among terrorists. They promote Islamism, recruit new members, raise money, incite violence and coordinate terrorist attacks, according to the report by the non-governmental Counter Extremism Project (CEP).

"The flexible interface makes it possible for the extremists to do everything: from self-promotion, brand development and the dissemination of propaganda, to secret planning of attacks without detection or intervention by law enforcement agencies," the report said. In particular, the platform was used by terrorists of the Islamic State.

The messenger's privacy policy makes it possible for the members of radical and terrorist organizations to communicate through anonymous Telegram channels, recruit new members to their ranks
Security Service of Ukraine
Response to the request by LIGA.net on Telegram operation in Ukraine
In September 2015, Durov denied the allegations, saying that "the right to privacy is more important than the fear of terrorism". Two months after the statement, ISIS carried out terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people and injured more than 350. The group used Telegram to coordinate and plan attacks, according to French investigators.

This forced Durov to change his approach. Today, he assures that the messenger's administration is doing everything possible to suppress terrorism. Telegram has created the ISIS Watch channel, which daily reports on the amounts of deleted prohibited terrorist content: in January, the messenger blocked almost 25,000 bots and channels.

At the same time, Durov's company does not block Telegram channels of terrorist organizations in DPR and LPR.

The CEP still documents cases of using Telegram for extremist purposes. In particular, mass migration of ultra-right organizations to the messenger was noted. In October 2019, CEP established that in 65 far-right Telegram channels the number of users per month increased by 43 %.

In Russia, Telegram has become the main information platform for mud-slinging, stovepiping, and manipulation. LIGA.net contacted the journalists in the Project publication. They conducted a major investigation into the use of Telegram in the Russian Federation, revealing the connection of anonymous channels to the Russian authorities (Kremlin Telegram. The story of Russian authorities turning Telegram into TV).

The phenomenon of Telegram's popularity in the Russian Federation is explained by the Project's First Deputy Editor-in-Chief Mikhail Rubin: "There was a situation when people, including Russian politicians, lacked a platform to leak information. And Kremlin curators discovered such a popular platform as Telegram. At the end of 2016, it was the leader in publication of fake insider information. And everyone read it".

Moreover, he added, no one paid attention that occasionally such "insider information" was stolen from newspapers, or those were "totally crazy" conspiracy theories from political scientists. The Kremlin saw that and realized "it had to join the medium".
It was the Kremlin that did the most for the popularity of the messenger, according to IT expert, former Deputy Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine Dmitry Zolotukhin.

In 2017, an epic with an attempt to block Telegram began in Russia. Allegedly, the messenger was used by the suspects in the explosion in the St. Petersburg underground, and therefore Durov was required to provide keys for decrypting the correspondence. Durov refused. After that, Russian authorities attempted to block Telegram, justified by the need to deprive the terrorists of the communication channel.

"But why just the Telegram? Why not other messengers? Why not the secret chats on Facebook?" — Zolotukhin asks, considering the story with the blocking unnatural.

He believes that Durov is cunning when speaking of confrontation with the FSB and the Kremlin. "There are reasons to believe that Durov officially says that he does not care about all the requirements for placing servers in the Russian Federation, but unofficially continues to cooperate with the authorities," Zolotukhin stated in a commentary to LIGA.net.
Rubin also believes that Durov could have transferred encryption keys, and optionally intelligence agencies in the Russian Federation can keep track of the messages, but only in open chats. It is believed that they cannot view secret chats yet. "Yet, it is generally believed that the FSB has the keys to Telegram," the Russian journalist says.

The fact that in February-March 2018 the topic of blocking Telegram became high-profile for federal channels in Russia is even more suspicious. Just like that, without the consent of the Kremlin, it is impossible to deliver any message on the government-controlled TV. "Tens of millions of Russians addicted to television learned that such messenger exists, to begin with," Zolotukhin adds.

The Russian establishment started investing in creation of hundreds of anonymous Telegram channels. Contractors received cash from the Kremlin and paid the authors, who agreed to post anything for the money, Rubin says. At the same time, they rarely limited their investments to creation of a single channel. Customers invested in entire networks of anonymous public accounts to reach a larger audience.
"The popularity of Telegram is inflated by the Kremlin"
Dmitri Zolotukhin
While in the past everyone turned to tabloids to "kill off their opponents", these days Telegram has occupied this niche, according to Rubin. At the same time, a Russian official may pay for blocking, so that the discrediting information is not published.
Telegram is primarily a commercial site. And the channels will publish anything if they get paid for it. Now it is completely impossible to understand who publishes what and for whom. That was the objective of the Kremlin
Mikhail Rubin
Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Project publication in Russia
The profit of anonymous users in Russia (per one post in terms of UAH): approx. UAH 40,000 on such channels as NEZYGAR, above UAH 12,000 on channels having over 50,000 subscribers, above UAH 2,000 on small channels having 20,000 subscribers.

Channels charge money for each post. "We can write that our opponent eats babies for breakfast and take it to the Telegram channels, which are most likely to post this. The cost is the only issue," Rubin says.
The Kremlin still uses Telegram to discredit persona non grata, Rubin mentions. At the same time, in view of the low confidence in the information published on anonymous channels, the authorities decided to invest in the promotion of channels of famous personalities.

A typical example is when the Russian propagandist, head of Russia Today Margarita Simonyan, joined Telegram. "The people in charge of Telegram in the Kremlin took part in the promotion of her channel and herded it with subscribers," Rubin says.

In general, the journalist calls the situation in the Russian Telegram "surrealistic". "We have intertwined people who work as journalists in state-owned media and people who deal with Telegram. Often those are the same people," Rubin adds.
These days, Russian Telegram resembles LiveJournal on the decline, when LJ turned into a trash bin for political fakes
Andrei Brodetsky
Author of Technology, Media, and Society Telegram channel
The most popular political channel in the Russian Federation is Stalingulag — 482,000 subscribers. In May 2019, the author of the channel revealed his identity: it turned out that the channel was run by a 27-year-old Internet trader Aleksandr Gorbunov. Zolotukhin does not believe it was done at the behest of the author.

"I believe it was an agreement with political heavyweights, which attracted even more attention to Telegram. And the analysis of the channel content shows that the author, on the one hand, criticizes the Russian authorities, but, on the other hand, fully supports the annexation of Crimea and spreads fakes about the fire in the House of Trade Unions in Odessa," the expert says.

One of the most famous Russian channels NEZYGAR (280,000 subscribers) remains anonymous. Journalists at Project connect it with Vladislav Klyushin, the owner of the Katyusha media monitoring system used by the Ministry of Defence and the Presidential Administration of Russia.

And we will need this information in the next part of our article.
Anonymous expansion in Ukraine

How Russia entered the Ukrainian information space
The Russian invasion of the Ukrainian Telegram segment happened at the turn of 2018-2019 — at the zenith of the presidential campaign. During this period, close to 15 new "Ukrainian" channels were created.

Now, try to keep track of the names and chronology. In March 2019, the pro-Kremlin NEZYGAR shared a post of the newly created Razvedchik channel (which had just 200 subscribers at the time). "This is done so that people learn about new channels and join those narratives that are being promoted there," Zolotukhin says.

Such scenario is very similar to the Russian one, Rubin says. "The interest of the pro-Kremlin channels in Ukraine at the election stage was huge. It is the same even now. I am convinced there was such an attempt (of expansion — ed.)," he stated.
"Excitation started in 2018"
Dmitri Zolotukhin
The new so-called Ukrainian anonymous channels completely repeated the Russian experience. Every day, they flood dozens of pieces of fictitious insider information, supplement them with emotional comments on the current events, or report completely obvious or unpredictable things ("an official will resign in the near future"). This creates the feeling that, first of all, the subscribers read a "Ukrainian". Secondly, the subscribers are let in on secrets. Yet, is that true?

Ukrainian politicians decided to enter the new niche for real only before the parliamentary elections (spring-summer 2019). But the objective, from beginning to end, copied the behaviour of the Russians: to hide behind the anonymity of the channel and drag opponents through the mud.
We asked the representatives the Security Service of Ukraine for a comment. They said in a conversation with LIGA.net that the special services of the Russian Federation use Telegram to disseminate dirt and fakes — and the Service keeps these records. The objective of the Russians is to artificially aggravate the situation in Ukraine.

Another source in the Security Service of Ukraine stated that the so-called Ukrainian anonymous Telegram channels are divided into two types: locally administered (Ukrainian phone numbers), as well as those using Swiss, Swedish and other phone numbers outside the reach of the Ukrainian special services.

The source mentioned a recent special operation in Kyiv as an example of work in the "first category," when the Security Service of Ukraine busted a bot farm arranged by Russian citizens with the assistance of the displaced people from the Donbass.

The group registered anonymous Telegram accounts, helped spread misinformation with the objective of "reducing confidence in government institutions".

In addition, the source in the special services said, the Russians were actively using doppelganger phone numbers. "They make an SIM card with a number. For example, yours. And even after checking the number, I will be sure I am texting you in Telegram," the source said.

We also asked the Ukrainian Cyberpolice for a commentary. Its representatives told LIGA.net they constantly monitored Telegram channels. Many of them sell hacked databases and arrange cyberattacks. At the same time, Pavel Durov's administration is obviously not helping to deal with these phenomena — the cyberpolice, as well as the authors of this material, do not have direct contacts with the Telegram office.
According to another version, the Office of the President is behind several popular channels. Representatives of the Office said publicly that they did not run any anonymous channels. "The President's office is a large number of people," said the President's assistant Andrei Yermak. — I cannot speak for everyone. But I can definitely say that the President has no anonymous channel. I have no such channels. And Shefir (Zelensky's first assistant — ed.) has no such channels either". At the same time, answering the question about Telegram channels run by the Chief of the PA Andrei Bogdan or Kirill Tymoshenko, Yermak replied that he had no idea. "If I knew clearly who was behind these channels, I would say regardless of who the person is," Yermak assured.

In the next part of the article, we will explore the links of Telegram channels between themselves in detail to check who is lying, who is telling the truth, and who is probably working for the Kremlin. You should remember and keep in mind the Razvedchik channel (a pseudo-Ukrainian channel) and the pro-Kremlin Nezygar, which made it famous.
The paper plane from Kremlin
Map of FSB channels relationships with the "Ukrainian" channels
Thanks to the Tgstat resource, we have identified ten most popular anonymous channels in Ukraine. Their total coverage in 2019 was more than 166 mn views. This does not mean that each post is seen by millions — views of all posts are summarized. At the same time, views are easily purchased, just like subscribers and voting cheat sheets (we will talk about that later).
Many anonymous channels are linked. This link is easy to follow thanks to reposts / mentions / recommendations on the channel. For example, the Razvedchik channel reposts Legitimny channel entries on a regular basis. Both channels are pseudo-Ukrainian. But they have a lot in common (both in content and in those who made these channels popular).

To study the links between channels based on reposts, we analysed all publications on 14 channels, both anonymous and with publicly known authors: Dubinsky.pro, Temny Ritsar, Max Buzhansky, Rezident, Legitimny, Zhenshchina S Kosoi, Razvedchik, Bely Ritsar, Tainy Deputata, Dzhoker, Trubu Prorvalo, Krokodil, Sorosyata, and Sheptun.

Here is a map of reposts of the Ukrainian and pseudo-Ukrainian Telegram segment, which we compiled using network analysis (based on Tgstat data). Here are the channels whose posts have been reposted more than once by one of our 14 analysed individuals. Try not to get confused. Below, we will focus on the individual relationships that interested us.
In total, 125 Telegram channels are included in our network. Of these, about 30 are geolocated in Russia. Another 20 are pseudo-Ukrainian. At the same time, all the channels of the network, including the Russian ones, are somehow interconnected. To put it simply, the pseudo-Ukrainian Legitimny may not be directly linked to the Kremlin's Nezygar. But through reposts it relays the Russian narrative.

EXAMPLE. Razvedchik channel. When the channel had 200 subscribers, it was recommended by the Kremlin's Nezygar. And it made it famous. Later, the channel with a pro-Kremlin origin reposted the allegedly Ukrainian channel Sheptun (36) and totally Russian VRUB (30) almost the same number of times. Razvedchik reposted the Kremlevsky Bezbashennik Russian channel nine times. In fact, Razvedchik may even belong to a Ukrainian citizen, and may be registered to a Ukrainian SIM card. But content-wise, it supports and disseminates Kremlin narratives.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE. Legitimny channel reposted Kremlevsky Bezbashennik four times. Legitimny has a close relationship with such channels as Rezident (68 reposts) and Zhenshchina S Kosoi (67 reposts).

OTHER EXAMPLES. On the link map, you can see an independent group of three channels: Bely Ritsar, Pravda Kachury and Derenyuga. Pravda Kachury is the channel of the Servant of the People MP Aleksandr Kachura, and the Bely Ritsar posts flattering reviews of the current government and is the antagonist of the Temny Ritsar, which criticizes the government.

Much can be said by the "first announcement" — the one who made the channel popular in the first place (as in the case of Nezygar, which brought Razvedchik into the narrative). We found out which popular channels were the first to repost the messages of the Temny Ritsar, the Legitimny, and others.

Temny Ritsar. The channel was reposted for the first time by the MPs from the Servant of the People party Maxim Buzhansky and Aleksandr Dubinsky, as well as the Politicus channel, which is run by journalist Sergei Lyamets. It is noteworthy that the among the popular channels, Dubinsky.pro was the only one to repost Lyamets. By the way, Dubinsky was among the first (along with Igor Mosiychuk, Temny Ritsar, and Anatoly Shariy) to repost the Dzhoker.

Thanks to the analysis of the first reposts, the connection of "Ukrainian channels" Legitimny, Zhenshchina S Kosoi, Sheptun and Rezident becomes obvious. For example, the first serious contribution to the popularity of the Legitimny was made by the Zhenshchina S Kosoi, Sheptun and the channel of ex-official in the days of Yanukovych Klymenko Time (Aleksandr Klimenko hiding in Russia, last seen in Moscow). The Rezident was first reposted by the Legitimny and the Zhenshchina S Kosoi.

We have created conditional groups in Ukrainian Telegram. For this infographics, we have analysed who reposted whom, who mentioned whom and recommended to read (at least once). Key conclusion: pseudo-Ukrainian channels are a gasket between the outspoken Kremlin and public channels in Ukraine. We will provide examples below.
Yet, Telegram will not replace other media. Some things which, for example, Anatoly Shariy does not repost himself — are reposted by his website. Therefore, it is significant which of the online media refer to the largest pseudo-Ukrainian channels and, thus, retransmits the Russian narrative while simultaneously drawing readers into the network of Russian channels.

EXAMPLE. The Legitimny channel regularly becomes a news source for Shariy.net (at least 10 times). And the Rezident and Razvedchik channels relay the Znaj.ua website, which regularly praises Viktor Medvedchuk and violates journalism standards.

Now, let us go back to December, 2019. NEZYGAR recommended its subscribers to subscribe to Legitimny, the posts of which it also reposts on a regular basis. In turn, the channel essentially recommended by the Kremlin was reposted 16 times by Shariy on his page. Bottom line: it takes just two clicks to infiltrate the Kremlin's narratives into Ukrainian information space.

We have taken one obvious example. But that is how almost all the analysed channels operate: the Kremlin's narrative — the liner — the public broadcast and the entry into the Ukrainian media space.
WHO IS BEHIND THE CHANNELS? Through the example of Klymenko Time. Aleksandr Klimenko is the former Minister of Revenue and Collections in the government of Viktor Yanukovych. In February 2014, Klimenko fled Ukraine, and a wanted notice was issued. According to law enforcement officials, Klimenko and his associated businesses have caused damages to the national budget worth approx. UAH 6 bn.

In 2018, Klimenko was spotted by journalists in Moscow at a lecture by journalist Yury Dud. The ex-official has been constantly trying to get back into Ukrainian politics and even created for the purpose the Successful Ukraine party, but for two years he has not been engaged in promotion of either his personal blogs, or his own party. He is just involved with the Telegram channel and an eponymous pseudo-media YouTube channel.

Next, we will focus on several channels and tell about their connections in detail. And then we will explain how it all works from the inside, how anonymous channels are administered, what are the tasks, and how much it costs.
Легитимный
Subscribers: 64,000

Date of creation: December, 2018

Topics. At the turn of 2018-2019, the channel posted horror stories about the mass closure of universities in Ukraine and the split among nationalists because of Bandera's birthday.

Its relation to Russia. The pro-Kremlin NEZYGAR has included the Legitimny in the TOP telegram channels along with the Kremlevsky Bezbashennik and Russian propagandist Margarita Simonyan. The most popular post in 2019 (150,000 views) referred to a "source in the Kremlin" and reported on the contents of Zelensky and Putin's conversation. The message was reposted by NEZYGAR and another well-known pro-Kremlin channel Karaulny.

19 times it reposted the pro-Kremlin channel NEZYGAR, 10 times — the Razvedchik channel, 4 times — the Kremlevsky Bezbashennik.

Who relays it in Ukraine. Legitimny's posts regularly become news sources for Anatoly Shariy's website. One can also find links to the channel on the websites of Gordon, Dilova Stolitsa, Apostrof and Delo.ua.
Темный рыцарь
Subscribers: 72,000

Date of creation: September, 2019

Topics. It was one of the first to describe the daily activities of the Servant of the People faction. It was regularly running text broadcasts from the meetings of the faction in Parkovy, which resulted in suspicions of the channel being run by one of the MPs from the party.

Several sources in the faction and one source who wrote for similar channels told LIGA.net that MP Maxim Buzhansky was the key author of the channel. First of all, the style of the messages is very similar to that of Buzhansky. Secondly, Temny Ritsar rarely reposts anyone, but when it does, among the chosen ones are Buzhansky, Aleksandr Dubinsky and 1+1 journalist Yevgeny Plinsky.

"Most likely, the content creation technique is as follows. Buzhansky and Dubinsky provide information and ideas for the posts, and two or three authors write and publish these posts on Temny Ritsar. I do not think the channel employs many people. It would be very difficult to maintain the proper stylistics," says the source experienced in working for anonymous channels.

On January 21, Temny Ritsar published a screenshot of a post by lawyer Yuri Okhromeev criticizing the head of the Servant of the People's faction David Arakhamia. At the same time, one can see that the screenshot was made by the lawyer Klim Bratkovsky, since his reaction "Ha-ha" is still the only one under the post. Here are two options: either Bratkovsky writes for the Temny Ritsar, or kindly shared the screenshot with the authors. Bratkovsky read our message with a request to comment on the situation, but ignored it.

In the Google archives, one can find a video of the 2015 press conference at which Bratkovsky and Gennady Korban talk about the symbolism of the UKROP Party, created with the support of Igor Kolomoisky.

Its relation to Russia. Lately, as the audience increased, the channel started throwing in the Russian narrative. For example, a recent post about "whether Ukraine's decision on association with the EU" was correct, Ukraine "made a wrong turn", Ukraine "does not need European integration" and "who even cares about Europe these days".

Who relays it in Ukraine. News pieces based on the posts of the Temny Ritsar were published by Shariy.net, Depo.ua, Delovaya Stolitsa, Glavkom, 24, Vesti, and 112.
Резидент
Subscribers: 32,000

Date of creation: December, 2018 (first post — September, 2019)

Topics. Reposts channels calling Poroshenko's party the "war party". It positively comments on the head of the PA Andrei Bogdan, who recently, according to the Rezident, "put in place the Prime Minister who was out of line". At the same time, the channel regularly writes about Assistant to the President Andrei Yermak, who plots and schemes at the PA.

In particular, on January 28, the Rezident wrote that Yermak was not pleased with the speech prepared for Zelensky for his visit to Poland. At the same time, the publication's source in the management of the PA denied this information, saying that, on the contrary, Yermak was very pleased with the accents in Zelensky's speech.

Its relation to Russia. The most popular post by Rezident of all time (over 100,000 views) is the repost of a pro-Kremlin channel Razvedchik saying that Soros would like to buy all the Telegram channels.

The Rezident often reposts LEGITIMNY (22 times).

WHO RELAYS IT IN UKRAINE? The channel's messages are relayed by the pro-Russian media dumpsters Znaj.ua and Ukraina.ru.
Джокер
Subscribers: 78,000

Date of creation: October, 2019

Topics. It posts screenshots of correspondence with politicians and officials. Allegedly, the author of the channel is in charge of communication. The first victim of the Dzhoker was the main character of the sex scandal Bogdan Yaremenko, with whom he communicated on behalf of Attorney General Ruslan Ryaboshapka. The Dzhoker posted this correspondence on October 31. And the Strana.ua website posted the same correspondence the day before, on October 30. Allegedly, the Dzhoker contacted the website and gave them screenshots before the channel was created.

Recently, the channel is experiencing a clear decline as politicians become more attentive to who writes them.

Its relation to Russia. Anatoly Shariy made the channel famous. He posted on his Telegram channel: "Now there will be a lot of interesting things. And what will not be there, will be on my channel".

Who relays it in Ukraine. The Dzhoker's messages are mainly relayed by Strana.ua.
Женщина с косой
Subscribers: 25,000

Date of creation: December, 2018

Topics. In its first message, the channel positioned itself as "the conscience of Yulia Tymoshenko", who will tell all the secrets of Ukrainian politics. On the eve of the presidential election, Petro Poroshenko and his "hand-fed dog" Vitali Klitschko were the main objects of criticism. Also before the election, the channel praised Tymoshenko's trolling of Poroshenko. In May 2019, the channel analysed an interview with Kremlin political scientist Aleksei Chesnakov, as well as Poroshenko's alleged cooperation with Viktor Medvedchuk. In October 2019, it wrote about the growing rating of Shariy's Party.

Its relation to Russia. It works in cooperation with the pro-Kremlin channel LEGITIMNY (35 reposts of the channel).

Who relays it in Ukraine. Zhenshchina S Kosoi's posts are included in their collections by Gordon publication. Also, a piece of news with a link to the channel was found on the little-known Sbu.ua (Union of Bloggers of Ukraine), which in October 2019 published an alleged list of the full personnel of the Azov battalion.
Крокодил
Subscribers: 23,000

Date of creation: January, 2018

Topics. In the beginning, it posted exceptionally Russian news hooks. In the summer of 2018, it switched to criticism and ridicule of Poroshenko. It even used Adolf Hitler with Poroshenko's face as its avatar.

It actively expressed its position on reintroduction of the SBI hinting there was nothing good about it. It also wrote about Andrei Portnov without criticism.

In November 2019, Krokodil published some materials compromising the head of Ukrenergo Vsevolod Kovalchuk, and advised to wait for the "story to be continued" on the channel of "one famous blogger". The blogger turned out to be Shariy, who reposted a message from Krokodil, and a few days later said "hello" to the same Kovalchuk. The reason is that the head of Ukrenergo allegedly sued Shariy and his wife Olga.

It is possible to buy advertising on the channel. The Krokodil channel asked UAH 2,500 for a repost.

Its relation to Russia. It works in cooperation with the pro-Kremlin channel Legitimny (17 reposts).

Who relays it in Ukraine. We found the link to the Krokodil on the Antifashist website. In the top banner of the website, there is a link to the Committee of Salvation of Ukraine under the leadership of ex-Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. Recently, an interview with him was published on the site.
Шептун
Subscribers: 15,000

Date of creation: March, 2019

Topics. In one of the first posts it wrote about the union of Yulia Tymoshenko and Sergei Taruta on the eve of the presidential election. It was supposed to reinforce Tymoshenko's position in the southeast. Sheptun refers to political scientist Kost Bondarenko, who cooperated with the Party of Regions. Also, the channel has complementary posts about Aleksandr Vilkul — ex-MP from Rinat Akhmetov's entourage.

Its relation to Russia. The public recommended its subscribers to read the pro-Kremlin channels Razvedchik, Zrada Chy Peremoha, the Union of Bloggers of Ukraine.

Who relays it in Ukraine. Sheptun was included in its collection by Russki Dozor website, which regularly publishes the reports of the "militia of Novorossiya". And one of the sections of the website is called "Little Russians or Ukrainians".
Разведчик
Subscribers: 18,000

Date of creation: March, 2019

Topics. The channel deals with spreading the Russian narrative. The first post: "Ukraine. Some participants in the presidential race may not suspect, but the CIA does not leave witnesses". The authors of the channel actively described how Putin met some Russian officials, rewarded them with something.

Its relation to Russia. Razvedchik, with its 200 subscribers, was made popular by pro-Kremlin NEZYGAR. In addition, it was reposted 30 times by the Russian channel VRUB, which in July 2019 wrote that Dmitry Yarosh "called for taking Italians coming to Ukraine hostage".

Who relays it in Ukraine. Razvedchik's posts were used for news pieces by Znaj.ua, Delovaya Stolitsa and Comments.
LIGA.net talked to the author of a network of Ukrainian Telegram channels, who told about their operation on condition of anonymity.

"This fall, I was approached by an acquaintance of mine, who offered me to work as an author on three anonymous channels. I had to provide the content, they were dealing with promotion," the source says, who wrote for such channels for about two months.

The first channel was a news channel — without much distortion, the source says. The second channel — the pro-government one — was supposed to look like "inside information from Bankova St.". The third channel was supposed to be an oppositional one.
Where did the inside information come from? At first, I tried to get information through the sources. At one point I was told directly: "What are you doing? Just make it up
Two or three authors worked on all three channels, we were paid US $1,000 a month. The scheme to writing posts was approximately as follows: 33 % — true, 33 % — half-true, and the remaining 33 % — fake. The managers cited the Russian NEZYGAR as an example of content, the source said.

At first, the organizers promote the channel with bots and bring the number of subscribers to a more or less significant figure. Then the money is invested in promotion: they pay popular channels for the publication of links to the public. A person follows the link, sees that more than 10,000 people have already subscribed to the channel and thinks: "Am I not as good as those guys? I would also like to read insider information with the others". Although they do not realize that in most cases, 50-60 % of subscribers are just SIM cards.

So, you still do not believe that everything is that simple? In the next part of the article we will show how for mere US $200 one can create a popular anonymous Telegram channel in Ukraine. We did it (hopefully you are not one of its subscribers).
Experiment
How we created one of the most popular anonymous channels
Both Russian and Ukrainian anonymous channels operate based on the same scheme: primary promotion by bots and driving up the number of views to create the effect of popularity of the channel. Then — advertising the channel on the related sites. LIGA.net decided to experiment and create a popular anonymous Telegram channel. How long will it take and how expensive is it? The only thing we did not do was that we did not order advertisements in other public accounts. Although many agreed to advertise us.
STEP 1
We created a channel titled
Flat Earth Society. It has two followers (those are us). It is absolutely empty.
STEP 2
We wrote a conspiracy post in the worst traditions of anonymous publishers. We ordered promotion to up to 20,000 subscribers (UAH 2,900) and 25,000 views (UAH 1,995). The order took us just two minutes.
STEP 3
We achieved 25,000 views within 30 minutes after placing the order.
STEP 4
We reached 20,000 subscribers within two days. That is it. We have created one of the largest conspiracy theory public accounts. All we had to do was to buy ads on other channels.

UPDATED February 7th
Four days after publication Telegram deleted our channel.
One can buy not only subscribers and views. The voting cheating also works (you just have to choose the option that you need to drive up). One can buy "package offers" when 10,000 to 20,000 views will be automatically added to each post on your channel within one hour after posting plus 5,000 subscribers per day for each subsequent post (for example, the next 15). One can also create a package for their own purposes and create the most popular public in Ukraine. 100,000 subscribers? Your wallet is the only limit.

Those lazy to come up with the name and content of the channel can easily order all-inclusive services. We called one of the agencies and asked how much it would cost to create a channel from scratch, fill it with content, and promote it constantly. We chose 50,000 subscribers as a target. The answer was: creation of the channel and its content — up to UAH 25,000, ads — US $600-800 monthly. A political anonymous channel will cost more. On average — US $5,000-8,000 monthly, say the sources of the media familiar with the market.

How much can one make on Telegram advertising? The cost of advertising depends on the number of subscribers. The largest domestic channel Ukraine 24/7 (462,000 subscribers) will post an ad for UAH 9,000. Since the beginning of the year, one can find at least ten posts suggestive of advertising (this is approx. UAH 90,000) on the channel. On another major channel, Ukraina V Shoke (204,000 subscribers), ads are placed for UAH 3,000. The number of subscribers looks fantastic. How many of these people are bots, one can only guess (by comparison: Pavel Durov's Russian-speaking personal channel has just over 150,000 subscribers).
The Telegram itself is not scary. It becomes really dangerous when it is cited by traditional media. This is how leaked information and fake news are legitimized. For example, the Strana.ua website made Dzhoker popular, and the Gordon media recently launched a series of publications citing the anonymous channels — and it cites stovepiping by Legitimny, Rezident, and other pro-Kremlin public accounts. Thanks to some website editors and some TV channels, the Russian narrative entered the Ukrainian space. And it became commonplace.

Digital Communications and Internet Marketing Expert Alyona Denga shares her experience when TV channels made whole stories based on her post in Telegram. "It proves that one can write anything in a post and feed it to journalists," she adds.
Chief of Security Service Ivan Bakanov has recently stated: the authorities know who is behind the anonymous channels, but they will not be disclosed to avoid extra advertising. In turn, the Ministry of Culture has drafted bills on media and misinformation that should oblige the authors of anonymous Telegram channels to provide information about themselves. But no one knows how to force the administration of the messenger to influence users in practice.
"There will be other platforms after Telegram"
Dmitri Zolotukhin
Blocking Telegram is also a dubious decision. If Ukraine goes down the path of blocking, it will not change much, Zolotukhin believes: "When people have the task of constantly dragging through the mud, then they will do it regardless of Telegram's existence, and regardless of its anonymity."
Date: 03.02.2020
Text: Yuri SMIRNOV
Editor: Petr SHUKLINOV
Graphics: Alexander NADELNIUK and Evgeny ADAMENKOV
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