What’s the Russian Translation for “RickRolled?” — How I Turned My Extreme Dislike for gTLDs Into A New Tool to Fight Kremlin Propaganda
The Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine brought with it a slew of new catch-phrases, hashtags, memes, Tiktoks — all purposely designed to spread across social media and online communities. Symbols such as “Z” and “V” were rolled out with the deliberate care of a viral marketing campaign, introduced on the same day across social platforms by the official accounts of Russian universities, media outlets, and political figures. The large-scale state-sponsored misinformation efforts like this pose a daunting question: Is there any way to turn the tide? Can the hashtags and memes work against Russia’s deadly war and propaganda campaign?
The answer may surprise you! (It won’t, and the short of it is: yes and yes).
A Quick Introduction to the Kremlin’s Nefarious Social Media Tricks.
The invasion of Ukraine was accompanied by introduction of various hashtags and symbolic imagery. After the invasion began, symbols such as “Z” and “V” were rolled out in a cynical centralized marketing attempt, indicative of a well-researched and scheduled web marketing campaign. If you or your company contributed to the introduction of these vile symbols to the world, you can be found, you can be tracked, and your contributions to the Kremlin’s war effort will be cataloged and not soon forgotten.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the hashtags and phrases introduced concurrent to the invasion and now used online to promote the war:
- #СвоихНеБросаем = “We Don’t Abandon Our Own”
- #силавправде = “Strength is in truth”
- #зет = the foreign (to Russia) “Z” character. The meaning is purposefully ambiguous, but it wouldn’t be incorrect to understand it as Putin’s attempt at Russian revanchism.
- #запобеду = “for victory”
- #замир = “for peace”
- #заправду = “for truth”
A TikTok video from March 6th that has generated nearly 12 million views. This video utilizes the #СвоихНеБросаем “We Don’t Abandon Our Own” hashtag.
An Instagram video posted on April 28th, 2022. This music video utilizes both “Z” imagery and the #силавправде hashtag.
A Tweet from February 25th from twitter user @1rossiaru that utilized the #зет hashtag to promote a “Z” branded video.
A tweet in the Spanish language from April 21st of 2022. This tweet utilizes the #запобеду (“for victory”) hashtag to spread pro-Kremlin narratives on Twitter.
An Instagram post from April 27th 2022 that uses the #замир (“for peace”) hashtag to promote a “V” image that is supportive of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine
A March 1st post on Twitter from Twitter user @_m_weld encourages users who support the war to incorporate “Z” or “V” symbols in their profile pictures. This Twitter post utilized the #заправду (“for truth”) hashtag.
Taking the Orwellian nightmare to the next level, the Kremlin is attempting to use modern-day social media marketing techniques to bend reality towards an archaic worldview where the Soviet Empire still holds any relevance.
Guiding Russian Social Media Users to a Reality Check
Despite official “social media bans” by the Russian government, large numbers of Russians are still logging and accessing social media platforms by using VPN. Virtual Private Networks allow users to mask their location and IP, thereby circumventing “blocked” content.
VPNs have been popular in Russia long before the war in Ukraine began. The general intolerance for free speech and exchange of dissenting opinions by the Russian government, has only encouraged its own citizens to find alternative means to accessing basic free democratic standards that are the foundation of the modern world wide web.
“Never Gonna Give You Up, Never Gonna Let You Down”
The term “Rickrolling” has become synonymous worldwide with good-natured online pranks — share a web link that leads to an unexpected video of Rick Astely’s 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up”. We’ve all seen our fair share of it after clicking on links from friends and practical jokers.
Inspired by Rick Astley, I too am no stranger to “love” — especially the love of redirecting users to reality checks on the current war in Ukraine and helping them share web links to unexpected, but positive outcomes.
For some time now, it’s been possible to purchase domains that consist of non-Latin characters. While there’s a host of technical problems that have limited their widespread adoption, it is possible to head to a URL and type in a Cyrllic word or phrase, followed by a domain, and then have it head to a website.
Here’s an example of a domain I now own: “сила-в-правде.com”
That’s right, I own the domain for сила-в-правде.com This is based on the #силавправде (“Strength is in truth”) hashtag mentioned earlier. As mentioned above the hashtag “#силавправде” is an easy way to find social media accounts that amplify the Kremlin’s preferred narrative. Here’s an example from Twitter:
Some time ago, I also purchased СвоихНеБросаем.com — #СвоихНеБросаем = “We Don’t Abandon Our Own”:
And redirected it to a website where Russian families can get information on whether their relatives serving in the Russian army have been captured or killed in action in Ukraine:
Rickrolling the hashtags
Using social media replies and retweets, with a generous dose of memes to redirect attention to these, or other domains that inform users on the realities of war in Ukraine can help shift the tide.
If the domain is blocked in Russia, it can be accessed via VPN. And even if it can’t be, we can at least rest easy knowing it won’t be used to host another host for misinformation and propaganda.
An example of a hashtag promoting the “сила-в-правде.com” domain. The hashtag strongly discourages the user to not enter “сила-в-правде.com” into their URL. If the user does, it will take the user to a YouTube video of President Zelenskyy’s speech that was directed to the Russian people.
George Orwell and a Cyrillic language URL. The meme mentions the СвоихНеБросаем.com domain, which was popularized by the #СвоихНеБросаем (“we don’t abandon our own”) hashtag. This domain now leads to 200rf.com.
Widely recognized Soviet-era imagery. The СвоихНеБросаем.com domain, when typed into a URL, now leads to a website offering information about Russian soldiers captured by Ukrainian forces.
The “most interesting man in the world meme” — encouraging users to type зет.com into their URL. The term “зет” was widely promoted after the invasion began. Typing зет.com into a URL will, unexpectedly, take the user to a Ukrainian website about Russian losses in the conflict.
I personally encourage everyone to browse these hashtags on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and report each use of them as hate speech. Any casual browsing of the use of these hashtags will likely result in users understanding that their use isn’t authentic and it isn’t peaceful.
I would also also like to announce that I am currently in control of the following domains:
I believe that even something as silly as this prank can contribute to a global discussion into ways that the free world can combat Russia’s genocidal wars of imperialism.