Jun 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Ukraine enlisted a White House alum to fight Russian propaganda

Illustration of the trident from Ukraine's coat of arms surrounded by threatening cursors.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Ukrainian government pressed major social media companies to crack down on Russian propaganda, records show.

Driving the news: Days after Russia's invasion, Ukraine's Digital Transformation Ministry enlisted a former White House official to press U.S. government officials and the companies themselves, according to newly released documents.

  • Cameron Hardesty, who served in the White House press shop during the Obama administration, has contacted TikTok and Facebook parent company Meta on the Ministry's behalf regarding Russian-aligned content, according to foreign agent disclosures.
  • She's also reached out to officials at the State Department regarding information operations surrounding Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and to reporters at leading Washington news outlets.

Why it matters: Public perception is crucial to Ukraine's ability to continue securing international aid, and to Russia's efforts to control fallout from its costly and poorly managed invasion.

The details: Hardesty is working for the Ministry on a pro-bono basis, according to foreign agent disclosures filed with the Justice Department last week.

  • She is "advising on messaging for communications with U.S. business representatives, U.S. media representatives, and U.S. government officials," according to her filing.
  • Hardesty's "opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and compassion for the Ukrainian people motivated registrant to assist the Ukrainian government representatives on a volunteer basis."
  • She did not respond to Axios' requests for comment on her work.

The big picture: Russian forces have used social media in attempts to spin their invasion as a success and sow disinformation about the conflict.

  • Pro-Russian and Kremlin-affiliated accounts have leveled baseless claims about Ukrainian atrocities and U.S. involvement in the conflict.
  • At home, the Russian government has severely restricted social media use in an attempt to stymie domestic opposition and shut down content about what is widely considered a dismal military campaign thus far.

Between the lines: Hardesty's work began in late February, and coincided with public pressure on leading tech companies to crack down on Russian information operations. Within weeks, a number had done so.

  • Meta aggressively purged its top platforms, Facebook and Instagram, of Russian disinformation content.
  • TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company Bytedance, removed tens of thousands of videos during the first week of the Russian invasion that it said violated its policy on "harmful misinformation."
  • Other platforms such as Twitter and Google, which owns the YouTube, have also cracked down on Russian information operations.
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