TikToker’s Old Phone Enables Social Media Updates Behind Russia’s ‘Iron Curtain’

London – Natalia, who lives in Russia’s second largest city, St Petersburg, opened the TikTok app on her phone earlier this month to find she could only see videos from inside Russia.

“Everything that’s on the outside, we can’t access it…I didn’t notice it at first, then I was like, ‘Wait a second. Every person I follow is just Russian bloggers,” she told CBS News in a phone interview.

US social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been blocked or restricted in the country. TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, has intentionally limited its platform to Russian users so that they can only see new videos uploaded in Russia.

Wanting to stay connected to the outside world, 24-year-old Natalia, who we refer to only by her first name to protect her identity, tried to switch on an older phone she still had in front of her. The software on it hadn’t been updated for years.

“The first thing I saw was, I think, like an Addison Rae dance or something. It’s so typical of American TikTok. I was like, ‘yeah, we’re into it!’ I had no plans to create a channel at all, I was just scrolling and was happy to finally be back with my videos.

But Natalia soon discovered that people outside Russia, including many Russians living abroad, were speculating on social media about what life was like inside the country under the unprecedented sanctions imposed on the President Vladimir Putin. “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Due to the Russian government’s recent crackdown on media access, people posting from outside Russia were unable to get responses. Many independent and international journalists working in Russia have had to either stop publishing or leave the country due to a new ‘fake news’ law, under which anyone who publishes information about the Russian military or authorities that the Kremlin deems offensive can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

“No one is actually reporting from upcountry,” Natalia told CBS News. “I consider my English to be good enough to be understood, so I thought, well, I’ll take this, this mission to point it out.”

Natalia created an anonymous account and began posting videos, which she called “Iron Curtain Updates”, about daily life in newly isolated Russia. His videos quickly made thousands of views.

“Masks are now banned on public transport,” she said in one of her recent videos. “This is done to obviously help with facial recognition, especially for people who were attending the protests.”

An independent monitoring group says more than 15,000 people have been arrested by Russian authorities for taking part in protests against the country’s assault on Ukraine since Putin launched the invasion on February 24.

“In many countries, including Russia, we have an SMS service if you need to inform people of an upcoming storm,” she said in another report. “Now they are using the services to tell people, if you notice anyone spreading false information regarding the actions of the Russian military, then please tell us, please do so. know us, and there’s a form you can fill out… We used to think of this whistleblower phenomenon as something that’s way back in the past, and now it’s coming back, and we don’t know exactly how much it will get worse.”

Natalia said Western sanctions have not radically changed the daily lives of the majority of Russians. At least not yet.

“If you pay attention, you might notice some things change. But if you continue to live your life and if you’re lucky enough not to be among the businesses that have closed, I don’t think your life has changed that much. “, she said. “When the sanctions started and people, the younger generation, started to lose their minds about Zara closing and McDonald’s closing, it was mostly people from big cities. But where did my family, they went to McDonald’s once in their life when they visited St. Petersburg.”

Natalia said she wanted to use her platform to tell the outside world that just because not all Russians are taking to the streets and risking arrest for joining the protests doesn’t mean they are agree with the invasion of Ukraine by their country.

“It’s important to me that people know that not everyone thinks what we’re doing is right. Because I see a lot of people think that because we don’t have mass protests like in other country, that means we don’t have ‘ But the laws applied to Russians are getting tougher day by day.

Natalia said many Russians, especially older generations, having lived so long under repressive governments, simply don’t believe they can make a difference.

“I talk to my mother, I talk to my relatives who are a bit older, and I say, ‘Well, why don’t you want to change something?’ But they always answer: “But you can’t change anything. Nothing. You cannot influence anything. That’s all. The government decided everything for us. There’s nothing you can do.” When most people believe that, it’s hard to change their minds.”

Natalia, who, like many young Russians, has only known the rule of Putin, said she chooses her words carefully in her videos to avoid saying anything that could get her in trouble under the new “fake news” law. But his goal is to maintain an open bridge between the Russians and the outside world.

“By cutting us off from every aspect of culture and every aspect of the outside world, you are helping our government close the iron curtain it has been building for so many years,” she said of the organizations that blocked access to their services in Russia or to international events that prohibited Russians from participating. “That’s exactly what they want.”

Natalia had a hard time guessing what her increasingly isolated country might hold.

“I’ve learned over the past month that you hit rock bottom and you think, ‘well, it can’t get any worse,’ but then it drops,” she told CBS News. “So I really don’t have any predictions for the future. I just have hopes.”

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