Russians have cloned YouTube: propaganda galore, no viewers

A new Russian video service “Platforma” delivers Kremlin propaganda straight to your smartphones, laptops, and tablets. The problem is that this YouTube” clone attracts essentially no viewers.

Unlike most Western tech and social media platforms, the Google-owned YouTube is not yet banned in Russia, an increasingly authoritarian country, and actually boasts over 93 million users. Still, a ban is probably incoming, according to experts.

The authorities are getting ready. Meduza, an independent Russian news website, reported in late 2023 that VK, an online social media service, was developing a “YouTube killer” in case the vastly more popular platform was banned in the country.

It’s now faking video views and is full of porn and pirated content and is not exactly causing problems for YouTube which has turned off monetization in Russia after it invaded Ukraine in 2022 anyway.

But Platform, developed by Rteam which belongs to the parent company of RT, a state propaganda channel, is literally a YouTube clone (see for yourselves). That was done on purpose, so that users would not have to change their habits, the service’s developers told Meduza.

There is search, a main menu with playlists, viewing history, separate categories of videos, the “like” and “dislike” icons, a comment feed. Users can also post and watch Shorts or broadcast live videos.

"Everyone believes that YouTube has freedom of speech, but this freedom of speech is not for everyone," claims the presentation video of Platforma. The voiceover is unhappy YouTube blocks Russian state media channels and “patriotic” bloggers.

Restrictive Russian laws are followed – Platforma prohibits posting videos that contain nudity, LGBT content, or firearms (even though pro-Russian content from the war in Ukraine is seemingly allowed).

Vladimir Putin, the ruler of Russia, is praised in several videos but in general, there’s just not too much content. For instance, controversial blogger Artemy Lebedev is one of the most popular personas on the website but his account only has around 450 subscribers.

“The main page of the service currently features videos that have collected several dozen views, and slightly less frequently, those with more than a hundred views. Some videos are not watched by anyone,” Meduza points out.

“On the Trends tab, you can find three videos with views from a thousand to one and a half thousand. Two of them are about video games, and another is about Russian missiles.”

Of course, it’s early days but finding Platforma on the web is already not easy, Meduza says. So far, the main search engines only provide news about the new platform – not a direct link to its official website.

Moscow needs to provide alternatives to the country’s internet users because Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal media and telecommunications agency, has been blocking undesirable websites left and right over the past few years.

A series of other laws require social media platforms to remove “illegal” content and impose fines on or ban websites, including international ones, that fail to block such content. Facebook, Instagram, and X were all banned in Russia after it attacked Ukraine.