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The Russians using emojis to evade censors

As Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, an image of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, the number seven, and rows of the “person walking” emoji began to circulate on social media.

The news: The emoji of Pushkin began circulating social media platforms since Russia invaded Ukraine. Here, the meaning was clear to those in the know: a location (Pushkin Square in Moscow), a time, and a call to protest the government’s actions.

  • According to human rights group OVD-Info, the emojis alluded to a code used in Russia for years to refer to protests – one that is so well known by the authorities that it is barely a code at all.

What’s going on: Unauthorized protests have been prohibited in the country since 2014, with first-time violators facing up to 15 days in prison. Repeat offenders face sentences of up to five years in prison.

  • Since then, activists have frequently used coded phrases to organise themselves online.

What are they saying: “It’s like, ‘Let’s go for a walk to the centre,’ or ‘The weather is perfect for a walk,'” says one participant. Maria explains, she’ll text this to her friends to let them know she’ll be attending a protest.

  • According to Maria, what began as a means of avoiding government censorship has almost become an inside joke or a meme.
  • Nonetheless, not using this language can have serious consequences.
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