Digital Tin Cup: A Significant Number of Pro-Invasion and Pro-Putin Agitprop Accounts Solicit Donations Using A Netherlands-based Donation Streaming Service called DonationAlerts.com. Does this violate sanctions in any way?
This is will likely be erased as I dig more into this issue tomorrow, but it’s been nagging me that no one has seemed to write about this yet. I’ll be diving into this more, and I have some ideas about what might be happening with this service and the funding of pro-invasion content. I’ll write new posts as they are warranted, but first off, I have to ask…
Does anyone have any idea if this is legal?
I’ve read about how Amazon’s Twitch suspended payments to Russian streamers. This was way back on March 5th as the world recoiled in disgust at Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Considering that the Russian internet is much like the sophisticated Russian tourists one finds on holiday in Georgia or the French Riviera — fully online and completely often fully dependent on social media and the international banking system for their livelihood. If that’s the case, then suspending little Sasha’s access to Twitch donations so that he can’t ask for money as he plays League of Legends is probably wise. “During the Great Patriotic War, Sasha, your great-great-grandmother lost three husbands. During Putin’s War your mother was forbidden by the imperialists from using Apple Pay at the tanning salon!”
Suspending Russian access to Twitch payment systems was absolutely the right move by Amazon — if for only the fact that American companies have bent over backwards to work with an authoritarian regime that turned around and followed their infant man-child, Tsar-wannabe President as he wantonly broke all international norms anyway.
Since the war began, as I have begun diving into Russian language, pro-invasion content online, I have started noticing an interesting trend — it sure seems as if some of the most pro-Putin/pro-invasion content asks users for donations and requests that users use the DonationAlerts platform.
If you haven’t heard of DonationAlerts.com before, you aren’t alone. I hadn’t heard of it either. I was curious as to why YouTube channels like “Putin’s Brigades” aka “otryady_putina” and a YouTube page linked to Wagner contractors in Syria were requesting donations using a streaming donation service. Wouldn’t this donation service have been shut down? Why are all of these overtly pro-Putin accounts asking for donations using a service I hadn’t heard of before? This was something that after I spotted, I knew I needed to dig into deeper.
I first came across this possible link between DonationAlerts and a network of Russian propaganda accounts through the above mentioned “Putin’s Brigades.”
Some time ago I noticed that “Putin’s Brigades” promoted a Clubhouse meeting in February:
The Clubhouse page listed a donation link. After I read more about the history and goals of the Krasnodar-based “Putin’s Brigades” I got more interested in the link.
In a whole other odyssey worthy of a separate post, I decided to alert Clubhouse to the “Putin’s Brigades” account on their platform that was using the opportunity to put out a digital tin cup to ask for money.
The history of the brigades and Clubhouse was reason enough to alert Clubhouse, which I did in an email I sent a few weeks ago.
Here’s the email:
I discovered something today that is both hard to believe and true. As soon as I saw I new to alert you all to this — both because of the possible implications for community moderation on your platform.
As you may or may not be aware, just last year, a Russian media outfit called ““Отряды Путина”” which means “Putin’s Detachment” or alternatively “Putin’s Brigades” ran videos which denounced the Clubhouse app and called for it to be banned in Russia.
You can find a video of that app here:
You can also run a Google search for “Закрыть аморальный Клабхаус!” to also find the original video, and a significant number of news articles related to how this group, “Putin’s Detachment” ran the video calling for Clubhouse to be banned.
The term “Закрыть аморальный Клабхаус!” means something like “Close the immoral Clubhouse!” This article details what’s being said:
Now, I know some Russian speakers who are looking at this, but it seems clear that the “Putin’s Detachments” group simply pays elderly people to read scripts. The elderly people seem to refer to the Clubhouse app as “the organization” in the sense of it being a non-governmental organization. They clearly don’t know, or probably use the app.
After seeing that this “Putin’s Detachment” group had defamed and called for the banning of Clubhouse in March 2021, I was very surprised to see that this same group took to using Clubhouse in 2022.
As you can see from their previous tweets:
This group started using Clubhouse to sing the praises of Putin.
I find it humorous that a Russian language account tied to a media outfit that called for the banning of your app would eventually find a home on it. I would guess that you all, as a company, don’t appreciate this.
I think you can tell, if you look at the content put out by this group, that they are very likely breaking some of your community guidelines.
I would like to take this opportunity to say that the very presence of this group and of the @otryady_putina account is, in some way, a violation of your community guidelines or terms of service. I would ask that you consider banning this account, and prohibit this account from holding additional Clubhouse chats.
I am researching this account, and I think this account will likely be included in the rubric of accounts engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” at some point in the near future. I will carbon copy security from Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok so you can all compare notes.
To some up, I want everyone at Clubhouse to be aware of the following issues:
This @otryady_putina account is connected to a group of accounts known as “Putin’s detachment” or “Putin’s brigades.” While these accounts purport to be an “informal” organization supporting the Russian leader Putin, they are producing a large amount of professionally produced content for platforms such as TikTok. This looks to be the work of a digital or viral content marketing agency.
The Clubhouse account for @otryady_putina displays the URL to a fundraising website called Donation Alerts: https://www.donationalerts.com/r/otryady_putina — this seems be encouraging the transferring of money to support pro-Putin content. I believe that how this Donation Alerts company is incorporated (in the Netherlands) means that it could be in violation of sanctions.
In the coming days I will be contacting the Dutch Financial Security Service (the F.I.U.) to investigate if these accounts are utilizing donationalerts.com to evade sanctions and/or launder money.
I’ve used Clubhouse, and I enjoyed it. I don’t think it should be used by a media outlet that trashed your company, then used it to promote Putin and his war machine. I believe it would be best to remove this account:
And deny this organization one more avenue to spread vile content that promotes the fascist Putin regime.
Thank you for looking into this, I am looking into additional aspects of this, but I felt it was important to get this off to you as quickly as possible.
Not surprisingly DonationAlerts is a subsidiary of Mail.ru. Less surprisingly, it’s not based in Moscow. It’s actually incorporated in the Netherlands and has an engineering office in California.
Want to see who else is using DonationAlerts? You’ll find some interesting things if you search online.
Take YouTube for example. Try a search for the DonationAlerts url in YouTube’s search box:
But, wait! There’s more!
One of the most prominent social media accounts that solicits for funds using donationalerts.com is a cheesy military YouTube channel called the “Grey Zone” most of their content is from the war is Syria, and appears to show Russia mercenaries doing the cheesy stuff you’d expect Russian mercenaries to do while working for the butcher Assad.
Here’s an example video:
To recap: it’s real odd that a streaming service like DonationAlerts is being used by a significant number of questionable accounts. I don’t know if this violates sanctions (I suspect it might, if the company is in the Netherlands, and if they are actually their payment infrastructure to facilitate payments.
DonationAlerts, unlike Amazon’s Twitch, hasn’t come out with a forceful statement about the war. Something for me to look into.