Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia · Ukraine

The study of the effect of blocking sites in Ukraine after a month

Before somebody shrieks about the poor translation, this is a translation of Russian from Google Mail, Gmail.  The translation is clunky, at best. 

I received the mailing from Bellingcat who wrote this report, I believe, for DFRL labs. The details of that arrangement are unclear to me.

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Do not look for me on VKontakte? The study of the effect of blocking sites in Ukraine after a month

by DFRLab

This article was originally published on DFRLab .

Pages «avdeevka – my homeland” on Facebook (left) and VC (on the right).

In the evening, May 15, 2017 President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko announced the blocking of several popular Russian sites in Ukraine, including the service of “Yandex” and social networks ” VKontakte ” (VC) and “Classmates”. Media reports about blocking up the next morning, May 16.

Soon after locking @DFRLab published an analysis of the ” What’s to lose Donbass after blocking websites? “Which focused on the popular online communities of Ukrainian citizens living in the front line. In this analysis, we have indicated that 78% of Ukrainian Internet users have accounts in the VC, and said:

Immediately after the introduction of locking saw an influx of Ukrainians on Facebook, which is visible on the creation and growth of popularity of Ukrainian pages and groups in the social network. However, the number of members of these groups are still far less than their counterparts in the VC.

What can be said about the use of Ukrainians living in the front line in the Donbass, VK and Facebook a month after about blocking ads?

Avdeevka – my homeland!

In the course of our investigation we have used in the VC group and Facebook “avdeevka – my homeland!”. After studying them, we have outlined the general trends of inflow or outflow of Ukrainian users of social networks. We chose this online community, active in two different social networks, for several reasons:

  • Avdeevka – one of the largest Ukrainian government controlled settlements on the front lines and the hot spot of conflict that makes it important to measure the activity of its inhabitants. In this group, the locals often share information about military operations, the provision of public services (eg water supply) and the possible supply of humanitarian aid. Therefore, we can say that this group contains information important for the health and welfare of local residents, and not just the memes, funny videos and the like.
  • This online group is pro-Ukrainian orientation, which means that many users may be willing to voluntarily renounce the use of Russian sites, rather than trying to find alternative methods of access to them, for example by using VPN.
  • This online group is very active. In VC it ​​has tens of thousands of subscribers every day many posts appears in it. This ensures the availability of a large array of data.
  • This online group had a page in the VC, and on Facebook, before and after the lock that allows you to get a fairly large amount of data to measure the user migration trends.


In our data set included the number of likes, census, comments and views (only VC) for 1799 posts in Group “avdeevka – my motherland!” Into the VK and Facebook May 3, (two weeks in advance of blocking ads) on June 22, 2017 of the year. Every day in the groups in the VC and Facebook posts were placed around the same themes and content. For example, May 8 and 9 in the group accounts in Facebook and in the VC mostly placed the same photos and videos dedicated to Victory Day. Our dataset is available for viewing and downloading in the Docs the Google .

On each of the following graphs vertical red line indicates the May 15, 2017 – the date when the President Poroshenko announced the blocking of Russian sites in Ukraine. Because of inconsistent administration of locks, it is impossible to name the exact date on which each Ukrainian Internet and the cellular provider began to execute the decree requirements.

Do not look for me VKontakte?

Around May 15 there was a significant surge of activity in the VC group and Facebook caused by two main factors. The first was the tragic death of 13 May four civilians who visited his home in Avdeevka. As a result, the boy was left an orphan. Posts related to this event led to a significant surge in activity before locking; some posts have received more than 20,000 views. Another major event was the announcement of the lock itself, which led to the fact that many users logged in to the site in search of news about blocking and, probably, of the future group Avdeyevka in VC. Further, at the end of May and beginning of June there is a slight downward trend in the number of views of posts in the VC. However, the sharp decline to the June 21 and 22 may be due to the fact that not all users at the time of data collection had to view these posts.

Number of hits on the VC

Escape to Facebook?

Administrators group “avdeevka – my motherland” after locking try to place on their Facebook page more content. As seen in the graph below, after blocking Facebook in the number of posts per day has increased dramatically in relation to the number of posts on a popular page in the VC. Although in the beginning of May was located only a few posts on Facebook the day after the announcement of the locks was to appear on a daily basis for more than ten positions. However, the number of blog VC after the lock is not changed much compared to the number of positions to it.

We calculated the proportion of posts on Facebook out of a total number of posts, that is, the number of posts shared on Facebook for the sum of the number of posts in the FB and VC. This means that if, in Facebook and in the VC would have the same number of posts per day, share posts on Facebook amounted to 0.50. 6 was published in the May 5 Facebook posts, and in the VC – 31, that is, the share of Facebook was 0.16. In other words, the total number of positions in the two pages of 16% have been published on Facebook. By June 22 the share posts on Facebook has increased dramatically: 18 posts were published in the Stock Exchange, while in the VC – 21. The share of Facebook was 0.46, which means that 46% of the total number of posts in the group for the day were posted on Facebook .

The share posts on Facebook

More interactions on FB, but still far from the VC

However, the number of blog – only half of the equation. Followed if end users eg administration Avdiivka group expanded the activity in Facebook after blocking VC in Ukraine? June 7 Gemius research group published a report, which indicated that the audience of Facebook in Ukraine grew by 2.2 million real users after about blocking ads, while the VC during the same period lost 3.7 million real users. These figures are partially confirmed by analysis of the proportion of user interactions (likes, comments, and census) with the content in the group Avdeyevka on Facebook compared to its analogue in the VC.

Engagement rate is on Facebook

Facebook and VK for a particular day. The fall of the last few days is difficult to assess, since it can be represented as the outflow of users to Facebook in a month after the lock, and the lack of time to become familiar with the content. It is clear that in every post in the EC is still a lot more interaction than on Facebook: only three times during the study the number of interactions on Facebook, compared with the VC has reached at least 20%.

What will happen next?

According to our data, many Ukrainians living in the front zone of Donbass, moving from the VC in Facebook. It is important to continue to monitor the group “avdeevka – my homeland”, since it is vital information for local residents, ie an outflow of users can create a vacuum that will be required to fill out another information portal or instant messenger, such as Viber and WhatsApp.

Although there is a marked increase in user interactions on Facebook and decrease it in the VC, we should not overestimate this shift, since the VC is still popular Facebook. In the following months in the case of growth of a VPN can “bounce” to return to the VC users who are not accustomed to the Facebook interface. We will continue to monitor the impact of locks, focusing on communities experiencing the most serious consequences of the war.

Thank you Klementa Andersa of Bellingcat team for data analysis and visualization. Our dataset is available for viewing and downloading in the Docs the Google .

Watch out for violations of the Minsk agreements hashtag@DFRLab #MinskMonitor .

A more detailed analysis of our regional experts in the materials of the Eurasian Center Dinu Patriciu Atlantic Council. You can also subscribe to UkraineAlert .

DFRLab | July 1, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Tags: Vkontakte , Facebook , censorship | The URL:

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