David Kharebov–In January this year, Russia’s state-run television channel Rossia-24 aired a special report featuring an anonymous political blogger. His face was concealed behind a black mask and his voice artificially altered.
Appearing on a wall-to-wall screen in front of a guest panel, the blogger explained he wasn’t interested in reaching a mass audience. He was publishing for a niche demographic of political specialists and Kremlin insiders.
“We think of it as our responsibility to inform critical observers,” the blogger, who called himself NeZygar, said. “We don’t publish in the traditional blogosphere. We publish for those who understand and can evaluate.”
In the months leading up to the interview, NeZygar had won notoriety for publishing scandalous insider information about the inner workings of the Kremlin. The scoops were published entirely on Telegram, an instant messaging service similar to WhatsApp or Viber. Some of it even turned out to be true.
After the program aired, NeZygar mocked Rossia-24 on Telegram for airing an imposter. “[I’m] surprised,” he wrote. “I don’t give interviews. I don’t like balaclavas. I don’t know a Pankin or a Bankin,” he said parodying the presenter’s name. “And I don’t want to.”
Whether NeZygar gave the interview or not, his cameo hurled into the spotlight a new phenomenon revolutionizing political gossip — anonymous bloggers spilling the beans on Telegram, the secret messaging service with Russian roots.
A Controversial Start
Telegram was launched by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov in 2013 when he was CEO of VK, Russia’s largest social network. In 2014, he was forced from VK and announced soon after that he was fleeing Russia.
Meanwhile, however, he had been working on an encrypted messaging service. It rivaled popular messengers like WhatsApp, while promising to protect users from third party interference.