Ukraine Advertising on Gambling, Porn Websites to Inform Russians on War

Posted on: August 8, 2022, 01:45h. 

Last updated on: August 9, 2022, 01:09h.

The Ukraine government has disclosed that it has been purchasing media spots on Russia-facing gambling and pornographic websites. It claims it is doing so in an effort to better convey the tragedies and impact the ongoing war is having on the Eastern European nation.

Ukraine Russia war conflict gambling website IAB
Anastasiya Baydachenko oversees Interactive Advertising Bureau Ukraine. She says Ukraine is trying to circumvent Russia’s disinformation by running pro-Ukraine political ads on Russian-facing porn and gambling websites, which tend to be less censored. (Image: Adsider)

At the direction of its President Vladimir Putin, Russia greatly censors content that reaches its public. Numerous reports have surfaced of Ukrainians struggling to convince their families living in Russia of the casualties and devastating consequences that Putin’s invasion has had on the country.

Putin has maintained that his “special military operation” to demilitarize and “de-Nazify” Ukraine was crucial. The controversial leader has accused Ukraine of Russophobia amid claims of genocide.

With that message continually hammered home in Russia, many in the world’s largest country by area believe its war is just. But Ukraine, which has the support of several global superpowers, says Putin’s conflict was unprovoked, a position shared by US officials and President Joe Biden.

Other observers contend that Ukraine’s dance with NATO membership and its talk about nuclear weapons unnerved the Russians, prompting them to act.

Ukraine says online gambling and pornographic websites tend to be less censored in Russia. As a result, Ukraine has run some of its political messaging campaigns on such websites.

Gambling, Porn Loopholes

Gambling in Russia is largely prohibited outside of four specially designated zones. But today, legal casinos in Russia are only found in Vladivostok in the Primorye Krai remote region.

While Russians are legally prohibited from gambling online, hundreds of online casino websites cater to the country’s 145 million residents from offshore destinations. And those platforms, Ukrainian officials believe, are likelier to display a pro-Ukraine advert to a user in Russia than other websites.

Adult and gambling sites have a Russian audience, and ad platforms can sell us this traffic,” Anastasiya Baydachenko, the chief executive of Ukraine’s Interactive Advertising Bureau, told Insider, an American online news site known for its business reporting.

“We strongly believe that we should try to deliver truthful messages to those who have been under decades of state propaganda,” Baydachenko continued.

Compared with more prominent websites and social media platforms, such as YouTube and Facebook, Baydachenko says a political ad on a gambling or porn site is more likely to reach its intended audience in Russia.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau is a US-based international nonprofit that seeks to develop and implement online advertising industry standards. Member nations agree to abide by display standards as established by the IAB.

Ukraine has been an IAB member since January 2018.

Mixed Reception

Even if a pro-Ukraine political advertising message reaches someone in Russia, marketing experts say the Russian propaganda machine often still wins over the viewer.

We should be aware that when adverts on the war are seen, they might not always have the intended reception,” explained Jemimah Steinfeld, editor-in-chief of the Index on Censorship, a London-based nonprofit whose mission is to promote the freedom of opinions.

“When you’ve been given a one-sided story, the other side could just be dismissed,” she added. “We’ve seen that social media can work against free expression — algorithms can be blunt tools, blocking as much crucial information as they do misinformation. But, we shouldn’t underestimate its role in terms of informing us on warfare and human rights violations.”