May 23, 2022

While major social networks such as Facebook and Instagram have been blocked by state authorities in Russia in recent days as the Kremlin seeks full control of the war narrative in Ukraine, Ukrainian face-swapping app Reface has voluntarily gone offline. located outside of Russia.

After Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine late last month, the startup made an early decision to try to use its app as a conduit to circumvent Kremlin media censorship — urging users to promote anti-war messages as well as support sanctions against Russia. And photos of the devastation caused by Ukraine. Also redesign geo-targeted messages specifically for Russian users, urging them to take to the streets to protest against the war.

The anti-war campaign resulted in millions of anti-war messages sent to Riface users in Russia. In today’s blog post, the startup says it has sent about 13 million anti-war push notifications (the app has about 2 million accounts in Russia).

However, the anti-war content generated immediate — and, as it turned out, permanent — negative reviews from users in Russia, who bombarded the app with one-star reviews, as noted in the blog post below.

image credit: reface

The Reface blog says this explains the negative user feedback in Russia as “the Russian public doesn’t care about destroyed homes and murdered women and children in Ukraine”, noting that there was some involvement that was not enough. ) is negative (but most of it was written there).

“We realized that our efforts are not enough to compete with the total government propaganda in Russia, so we decided to remove the ReFace app from the Russian App Store and Google Play,” the message says. “Those who downloaded the application before March 10 can use it. But new downloads and subscriptions are disabled.

“We do not want to make a profit on the Russian market and are not connected with it in any way. Everyone in Russia should feel the consequences of sanctions and technological isolation as a result of their state’s brutal war against Ukraine,” Refes said.

Dima Shvets, CEO and co-founder of the startup, confirmed that only Riface made the decision to get its applications from Russia.

“We are not limited” [by Russia’s Internet censor]he told gaming-updates. “After a massive information campaign, we decided to stop because we don’t want to share anything with Russia.”

Screenshot: Natasha Lomas / gaming-updates

This is another small sign that the Internet experience in Russia is becoming alienated and disconnected from the mainstream – not just Russian banks, appointed business leaders, and a few other organizations in the country (such as the infamous Internet Against the Formal West). a ban on research agency troll farms), but a voluntary exit from the market of large and small technology companies.

While the AI-powered face-swap effect that the Reface app was made for was originally intended for pure entertainment — like allowing users to pose as celebrities in famous movie scenes — the arrival of the war in the homeland of the Ukrainian team made it clear — and explicitly shifted – the context in which they are comfortable working.

“Before, Reface users had fun trading for Jack Sparrow and Iron Man. Now we call on everyone to change for President Zelensky and revive the pictures with the anthem of Ukraine. Zelenskiy now has more followers on Instagram than Kanye West. What a deadline!” Here’s how Reface sums up the changing consumer landscape on his blog.

He continues to use his app to encourage support for Ukraine outside of Russia – users can swap faces in a selection of viral video clips of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky or uploaded by users. You can choose from images of Ukrainian soldiers.

It tags the resulting pro-Ukrainian synthetic media with the #StandWithUkraine hashtag and encourages users to share these visual messages of support on their social media.

In a more recent twist of this parallel information war being waged online in Ukraine alongside the real war on the ground, deepfakes of the Ukrainian president have surfaced online to try to undermine the country’s war effort: Zelenskiy’s false surrender has been exposed on social media including Telegram, Facebook and competitor VKontakte.

It’s unclear where these fakes come from, but earlier this month the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications warned that Russia could be using modified videos to try to manipulate public perceptions of its invasion.

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