Russia’s Response to Wikipedia: Propaganda or Common Sense Encyclopedia?
In late August, Russian authorities launched what they described as an alternative to Wikipedia — Runiversalis or “Runi.”
The state-backed website calls itself an “encyclopedia of common sense” and bears many similarities to the popular Wikipedia site, which is written and edited by volunteers in more than 300 languages.
The authors of Runiversalis even claim that they are former editors and administrators of Wikipedia.
The site was launched by Moscow in the midst of the war in Ukraine, when many internet platforms were facing pressure from Kremlin censorship.
The Russian authorities have fined and threatened to silence Wikipedia for posting ‘banned material’ and “fake” war content.
Search engines are now obligated to inform online users in Russia that Wikipedia is breaking the country’s laws, and companies risk penalties for deliberately sharing so-called “fake news” about Russian entities abroad.
Moscow has criminalized the use of the words “invasion” or “war” and instead calls its aggression in Ukraine a “special military operation”.
And Runiversalis’ article on “the special military operation” repeats the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia wants to “denazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine.
The website also says its authors will only promote “traditional values” on topics including gender and sexuality, raising concerns within the LGBTQ community.
“Editors will not start from what is written in Western scientific journals that have succumbed to pressure from the LGBT lobby,” said a statement from Runiversalis on its Telegram page.
“When you start reading Runiversalis, you notice that it is a platform for Kremlin disinformation and propaganda stories,” said Eto Buziashvili, associate researcher for the Caucasus at the Digital Forensic Research Lab ( DFRLab) from the Atlantic Council in an interview with Euronews.
“Another interesting point is that when you go down to the references, the vast majority of sources are official Kremlin platforms like the Defense Ministry or Kremlin-controlled media,” the researcher said.
In his report, Eto Buziashvili wrote that Runiversalis is not Wikipedia.
“Wikipedia has transparent editing policies and editorial oversight. Runiversalis, on the other hand, is a propaganda website masquerading as a wiki, using Wikipedia’s stylistic trappings to give it a veneer of credibility.”
A recent DFRLab report found that Runiversalis suffered a “rocky start” online.
The website became temporarily unavailable just days after its launch due to a cyberattack.
According to its Telegram page, Runiversalis was restored on September 12 before being the target of another cyberattack, which did not take down the website.