Taking on Putin Through Porn

Updated: Jul 20

Little moderation, huge audiences and biddable owners make porn and gambling sites a safe haven from censors - a powerful digital loophole to disseminate the truth about the invasion of Ukraine to audiences in Russia.


Poster of Putin being held up by an anti-war protester

At about the same time as Marina Ovsyannikova interrupted Russia’s Channel One evening news with a sign saying ‘No War. Stop the war. Don't believe the propaganda. You are being lied to here,’ and an unknown pilot traced a route over western Poland to convey a robust view of the Russian leader with a 73 mile wide expletive, Anastasiya Baydachenko took a different approach. She made a plea for money: not for weapons or supplies, but for adverts.


Vladimir Putin has turned Russia’s internet into a fortress but, as a CEO at a Ukrainian digital marketing company, Baydachenko knew a way to get past the walls. Her plan was simple: buy ad space across websites in Russia and Belarus and use them to link to independent news on the war in Ukraine and get the truth out there.


Her mission was to establish a modern-day samizdat (the Russian word for clandestine material) network. At first Baydachenko purchased ads on high traffic sites like Google, YouTube and Facebook. But the introduction of Russia’s “fake news” law catapulted the country’s internet into a darker realm. So Baydachenko moved into a darker one too: the world of online gambling and pornography. These sites were perfect - little moderation, huge audiences and people behind them whose allegiances were to the highest bidder. She ended up taking on Putin through porn sites.


As money for ads poured in, Baydachenko now reckons that her strategy has reached hundreds of millions of Russian internet users. “Informational resistance works,” Baydachenko says with confidence.


This is just one example in a growing list of people and organisations exploiting digital loopholes in Russia to challenge Putin’s control. Last month alone, hackers turned the mobile version of news radio station Kommersant FM into a jukebox of Ukrainian anthems and have placed an appeal to end the war on smotrim.ru, the main website for accessing state-run TV channels and radio stations.


Putin can ban journalists all he wants. He can slam protesters with hefty prison terms and fines. He can block independent, critical sites. Yet it's heartening to know that resourceful people are finding ingenious ways to get the non-airbrushed truth out and to pass the message on to Russians.

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73 Mile Wide Expletive Aimed at Putin: An unknown pilot traced a route over western Poland to convey a robust view of the Russian leader via flight tracking websites.


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