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After the full-scale war began, Telegram emerged as the primary source of news for Ukrainians. A September study conducted by Detector Media found that 76 out of the top 100 most popular Telegram channels in Ukraine are anonymous. The phenomenon of their widespread popularity can be attributed to several factors, including their efficiency, use of “simple” language, and, of course, the presence of “insightful” content.
Anonymous Telegram channels often employ phrases such as “our source in the President’s Office,” “the source reports,” “my spies,” or “rumors have started in the corridors.” These phrases may give readers the impression that they are receiving inside information that is not available to the general public or that is being concealed by the authorities. However, in reality, such phrases merely indicate that the source of information is unknown, unverifiable, and likely to be disinformation.
When Telegram channels report “insides,” their reliability is often difficult to verify. Nevertheless, as with fortune tellers, time usually reveals the truth. Recently, Detector Media conducted an analysis of the “inside information” shared in October 2022 by four Telegram channels - Legitimnyi (Legitimate), Rezident (Resident), Kartel (Cartel), and Zhenshina s Kosoi (Woman with a Scythe) to find out how many of them actually transpired.
It’s important to note that not all “insides” shared on Telegram channels are related to specific predictions or forecasts. Some “revelations” are formulated in such a way that they cannot be verified, even over time. For example, two weeks before the city was liberated, a Telegram channel stated something like “Zelenskyy is pushing Zalyzhnyi to hurry with the battle for Kherson,” without providing any details on the context or outcome. In some cases, such insights may prove to be accurate, while in others, they may be entirely baseless.
It’s worth mentioning that in the specific example mentioned, there was never a direct battle for Kherson, as the Russian forces ultimately retreated from the right bank of the Dnipro river following the destruction of their supply lines by the Ukrainian army.
Some “insides,” like the one quoted by the Kartel channel, are scarcely distinguishable from predictions made by “clairvoyants”: “There are rumors that within the next two decades, Ukraine and Poland will experience disputes and significant conflicts based on ideology and nationality.” Obviously, we’ll find out in those twenty years.
Nonetheless, the majority of these reports can still be verified and confirmed over time. Take, for instance, the claim made by the Legitimnyi channel on October 10, following the initial wave of Russian mass missile attacks, that the European Union embassies in Kyiv had been instructed to evacuate. However, as of the end of February 2023, despite at least a dozen more massive missile strikes, this has not yet happened.
Occasionally, anonymous “insiders” may prove to be accurate in their claims, although this is a rarity. Such accuracy is typically confined to cases where the information provided is already self-evident. For instance, after a missile attack, a message stating that “Our source reports that Zelenskyy has directed the government to address the issue of restoring energy infrastructure” is an example of such self-evident information.
Similarly, anonymous “insiders” may prove accurate when it comes to warnings about Russia’s terrorist intentions, particularly in regard to their continued missile attacks against Ukraine. The Legitimnyi channel, for instance, substantiates such claims by stating that “Our source reports that the Western partners have warned the Office of the President.” However, it is probable that the channel linked to the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate is more privy to the Kremlin’s plans.
Detector Media has collated all the insights from the four channels and conducted an analysis to determine how many of them were factual and how many could not be verified or were untrue.
Only 12% of 75 insights came true.
Four months ago, The Rezident channel reported on the Russian space forces being placed on high alert and the destruction of satellites over Ukraine. However, to date, these satellites still remain in orbit.
Legitimnyi channel claimed that the President’s Office was intending to publicly accuse Commander-in-Chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi of incompetence in managing Ukraine’s air defense system. As of now, no such public statements have been made, and the air defense system continues to effectively intercept Russian missiles and drones.
In late fall, Zhenshina s Kosoi reported that the government was planning to increase electricity tariffs. However, no such increase was implemented throughout the winter season.
On October 31, Kartel channel speculated that someone intended to sink one of the grain ships and pin the blame on Russia. However, like all other unfounded rumors related to the grain corridor, this speculation turned out to be false. Notably, the claim was also quite specific, with Ukraine being accused and Russia being pre-emptively justified.
It appears that many of the so-called “insides” provided by these channels are primarily intended to support Russian propaganda in Ukraine and around the world. These channels seem to treat Russian statements as undisputed facts, and their “inside information” often promotes unfounded claims that align with Russian propaganda.
For example, Zhenshina s Kosoi channel perpetuates the Russian myth that “The entire elite is really afraid that Zelenskyy will decide to implement the case of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, blowing it up and flooding Russian positions.” By propagating this claim, the channel creates a false belief in the reader’s mind. Rather than whether Ukraine is planning such an act, the question is whether it will have the audacity to execute it.
These channels seem to offer similar “insides” regarding almost every Russian information campaign or significant news event. For instance, in a bid to disrupt the supply of Western weapons, the Rezident channel reports, “Our source in the President’s Office has disclosed that the President’s Office is pushing for the supply of long-range missiles, including ATACMS, for the sole purpose of being able to deliver a dirty nuclear bomb.” The so-called dirty bomb was a favored topic of Russian disinformation in the fall of last year. However, it appears that this phrase is now used less frequently as the Russians have shifted their focus to other topics.
At times, anonymous Telegram channels attempt to legitimize what clearly are their own assessments by referring to quite credible sources, such as in this example: “According to our source, the President’s Office benefits from a deteriorating situation in Ukraine, with a higher number of casualties resulting in greater gains for them.”
Curiously, some of these channels also purportedly reveal confidential plans of the Ukrainian army to its citizens, as in this example: “According to our source within the President’s Office, the Ukrainian army is planning a full-scale offensive along the entire frontline.” However, as is often the case, neither this prediction nor the majority of other purported “insides” turns out to be true.
Indeed, it seems that a significant portion of the “insides” provided by these channels are not inside information at all but rather lies intended to capitalize on people’s fascination with all that is mysterious and concealed to promote Russian disinformation.
To safeguard oneself from the dissemination of disinformation through anonymous Telegram channels, it is advisable not to read or trust these sources. Instead, individuals can opt to subscribe to quality media sources from the Institute of Mass Information’s list if they prefer to receive news via Telegram.
It is also crucial to avoid Kremlin-linked Telegram channels identified by Detector Media.
Collage: Yaroslav Zubchenko/Detector Media