DM and the IMI report an organised smear and pressure campaign by anonymous Telegram channels
"Detector Media" and the Institute of Mass Information report pressure and obstruction of their journalistic work via an organized smear and blackmail campaign targeting the two organisations, that has been initiated by a group of anonymous Telegram channels.
The smear campaign against the DM and the IMI started with a post by a resource featured in a revealing investigation by the Institute of Mass Information, the anonymous Telegram channel "Monaco Battalion" (over 1 million subscribers), shared through other anonymous Telegram channels, including "Good evening, we're from Ukraine" (over 0.5 million subscribers) and "Joker" (160 thousand), and also actively promoted by "Trukha" (over 2.5 million subscribers) and its regional network of Telegram channels.
These Telegram channels are spreading false claims that the DM "pays in rubles" for Russian services and "funds the war." For some reason, they use a screenshot from an IMI study about fakes and manipulation by anonymous Telegram channels and garbage outlets that make money from jeansa, advertise gambling and capitalise on sensitive topics such as the risk of Russian shelling. Later, the "Monaco Battalion" published a "poll" offering the audience to choose a way to take revenge on the DM and the IMI, and some anonymous commentators suggest liquidating these organizations, burning down their offices, etc. Still, other commentators sided with the two organizations and accused the Telegram channel of slander.
The IMI has used the free version of the service TGStat service, which was created by Russians, as an additional (not the primary) tool for analysis. This service allows researchers to access the statistics of the largest sample of Telegram channels, as Telegram was also created by a Russian, Pavel Durov. At the same time, the IMI uses its own automated methods, collects and systematises the channels' data by way of programming. The free data from TGStat was only used to determine how the Telegram channels rank among Ukrainian users, which allows for a better analysis of the Russian disinformation spread in Ukraine primarily through those channels. The IMI has also used TGStat in their previous research, as have other disinformation watchdogs, to estimate the audience size and the engagement with the channels' content. These statistics can be accessed for free with just a login.
We remind you that Telegram has not yet been banned in Ukraine, but the security of Ukrainian users' data in this messenger app is very dubious. "Detector Media" and the IMI have repeatedly published revealing materials about the work of anonymous Telegram channels, investigations into their owners, as well as media workers' responses to the government flirting with such anonymous channels, so we perceive the widespread harassment campaign as a reaction to our criticism.
Recently, Maksym Lavrynenko, the administrator of the Telegram channel "Trukha", among others, was invited to meet Volodymyr Zelensky. In response to the indignation of the media community, the adviser to the head of the President's Office, Mykhailo Podolyak, said that the invited Telegram channel owners "are not anonymous" and assumed that they were "ready to face legal liability."
Formally, however, the owners of these channels, which have a considerably large audience, have not yet disclosed any information about themselves to the public; in particular, they have not registered their channels as online media, thus trying to avoid legal liability for spreading disinformation.
We urge our audience not to use anonymous Telegram channels to learn important information about events in Ukraine and to be aware that those channels spread fake news, rage baits and unverified information.
What we plan to do
Currently, the DM and the IMI are preparing a statement to the police over with pressure and obstruction of professional journalistic work (according to Part 2 of Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which stipulates liability for persecuting journalists due to their reporting).
Also, Part 1 of Art. 94 of the Civil Code of Ukraine stipulates that a legal entity has the right to the inviolability of its business reputation. If those who spread such false information with the purpose of undermining the business reputation of the DM and the IMI do not refute it on their social media pages, we will also take legal action to defend our rights.
We appeal to the President as the guarantor of the constitutional rights and freedoms under Part 1 of Article 102 of the Constitution of Ukraine with a call to take control of the investigation into pressure and intimidation against independent media outlets registered in accordance with the law.
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