The UK is utilizing its new counter-disinformation unit to buy ads on Russian social media to disseminate London’s view on the conflict in Ukraine, the Telegraph claimed on Saturday. The Government Information Cell (GIC) is operated between the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, the first such unit since the end of the Cold War. The social media platform mentioned in the article has refuted reports that it showed British government ads.
The unit’s “crucial audiences” are in Russia and Ukraine, the article highlights. After Moscow blocked Twitter and Facebook, the Telegraph reports, the GIC has turned to advertising agencies to “target” Russian users on sites such as VK, that country’s most popular domestic social media platform. VK’s press service has already refuted the claim, telling Russian news site RBC that “all ads go through verification and have to follow VK’s and Russia’s law.” The website rules in any case prohibit political ads.
The tactic is described as reaching the devices of people “who would never have thought to seek out the view of the British Government.” Some 35 full-time staff were reportedly pulled out from numerous departments, including the Foreign Office, Home Office, Ministry of Defence, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, and the Cabinet Office.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss revealed the unit’s creation in late February, days before Moscow attacked its neighbor. Back then she outlined in an interview with the Mail that the unit’s task is to expose and fight “false information.” Details of how the unit is countering supposed “Kremlin disinformation” were given in the Telegraph’s report.
The unit identifies so-called “Russian disinformation,” exposes it as false and then creates “new content” to be spread online. It also apparently distributes reports to NATO and EU allies, together with Australia and New Zealand. The unit also coordinates with embassies abroad to translate content around the world, into Mandarin, for example.
The article gave an example of the sort of content the unit disseminates. One of the videos from late February involves Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing Russians in Russian saying that “I do not believe this war is in your name.” The unit claims that more than eight million people viewed this video, according to the Telegraph. VK’s audience is nearly 79.3 million as of October 2021.