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The Art of Media War. Why Pavel Durov is a brilliant PR man

We disassemble his chess game around the blocking Telegram, digital resistance and TON.

Pavel Durov – perhaps the most media IT-businessman from Russia. For Durov, publicity is not a compulsory measure, as for large state officials, and not a material necessity, as for the stars of show business: for him this is a very effective tool for solving problems.

In 2013-2014, in the most difficult period for the founder of VKontakte (the criminal case for hitting DPNK , selling a stake in the company , trying to take Telegram off by the UCP fund ), Durov was already showing how he could manage the media war: he managed to completely nullify the negative effect of the criminal case (now they do not even remember it), it is quite expensive to sell its share (360-480 million dollars) and not lose the new project, which he is now engaged in. Then everything collapsed – and now, on the contrary, everything is being built, and it seems that Durov is much more carefully and calmly planning his moves.

A few centuries ago the art of media warfare consisted of preaching, most recently propaganda. Now it’s PR-technology. The way the founder of Telegram played the game around the blocking of the messenger in Russia and took place against the backdrop of collecting money for TON, is worthy of a separate chapter in PR textbooks (and such exist ).

Lesson # 1. Be precise and do not say too much

Durov is always surgically accurate in formulations. All the information that he releases to the public, he carefully doses: nothing superfluous, just what is needed.

I have not seen a single case that someone was catching on a lie, but he does not need to openly lie. He is engaged in the curvature of reality – about the way that Steve Jobs did.

Example: words about the correspondence of terrorists, removed in 2017 due to inactivity. Nobody, except Durov, does not know when exactly it was deleted, but from his words an impression is created that this happened before the FSB request, so Telegram here “could hardly be of use.”

Another example is the misconception of the general public that the keys to encrypt the chat rooms in Telegram can not be transmitted to the special services in principle. From secret chats that are protected by end-to-end encryption, the keys of the messenger do not really exist – they are stored only on the users devices themselves. However, from the usual, “cloud” chats encryption keys Telegram have – because they are stored on the company’s servers, the user can access them from different devices.

At the same time, Durov writes: “The keys to decrypt the correspondence of all of its users, neither Telegram, nor other messengers, could not issue at all desire. This is due to the technical features of encryption in 2018 “. Yes, all correspondence can not be technically given, but some can. But Durov also has a logical answer to this : the requirement to provide universal encryption keys for the correspondence of all users is unconstitutional – that is why the lawyers of Telegram have been fighting in the courts for more than six months.

Lesson number 2. Do not part and do not exchange

When the stakes are high, any move is worth something, or something brings you. Durov is not a part with his public speeches, he does them only on important occasions, he calculates time and degree.

If desired, they can even see a certain increasing rhythm. While there was a court, there were few applications, they were made once a month. After blocking, Durov paused, until it became clear to everyone that the Telegram team was successfully resisting the actions of Roskomnadzor – and went on the offensive. First – the action with aircraft , then the wish to make the action regular, then a rally in Moscow , then in Petersburg.

If Durov published a lot of noise in his main information channels (the page in VKontakte, twitter, the channel in Telegram), for example, he would joke, discuss news, share photos – his important public actions would not have such a charge. Namely, because he for many years formed a sensitive attitude to his posts in the media community and wrote only important, they have such a force of spread and influence.

Lesson number 3. Find the best lawyers who will work for you for free

Having thrown a cry about legal assistance to Telegram, Durov was able to choose the best of the best lawyers – and they cost him 0 rubles. As explained by Pavel Chikov, lawyers from the “Agora” defend Telegram in court against the FSB for free for ideological reasons.

In addition, the Agora is perhaps the most media lawyers in Russia who deal with such matters (protecting freedom of speech and other human rights). Including thanks to them, the case was able to receive international publicity.

Lesson number 4. Do not revel in your own victories – leave the jubilation of supporters

Durov does not attack Roskomnadzor personally and does not pazervstvuet, savoring how Telegram can keep working capacity in Russia despite the actions of the regulator – although it is recognized that without the factor of successful resistance to blocking the remaining moves would not be so effective. But Roskomnadzor itself, on the contrary, admits even very childish mistakes in PR .

But Durov can repost himself on the wall in “VKontakte” someone else’s video or drawing, thereby stimulating the army of fans to create more. On his page there is even a separate album with an eloquent title “There will be new photos for the press service,” where he adds work on the topic of digital resistance – this is a good online showcase.

Lesson number 5. Become an Invisible Leader

As the army of fans and supporters formed significant, the movement needed to be shaped – that’s how “Digital Resistance” appeared. And although Durov is in fact the leader of digital resistance, he skillfully abstracted from it, creating a symbol in the form of a dog in a hood – so the structure is more decentralized and can give birth to leaders within, while Durov still remains an ideological inspirer, watching from far away.

An example of the emergence of new leaders within the community is Mikhail Svetov, who was remembered at a meeting on April 30 with appeals for lustration. There was even a local scandal around it: Svetov accused popular Internet publications that none of them mentioned his speech at the rally, allegedly afraid of his slogans (he was told that Svetov was simply boring and marginal). But Durov did not ignore him and in the reporting, spiritualized post, following the results of the rally, he published a video entirely consisting of Svetov’s speech. In the recording of Durov, Svetov became “the organizer of the rally“As far as I know, there were several organizers from the Libertarian Party, and Svetov is far from being the main one), and from a man who was a well-known character, but in narrow circles, suddenly became one of the leaders of the protest – one might even say, a palpable avatar of Durov. So the Russian service of the BBC wrote about the rally on May 13, which was organized byPARNAS, “Demyborom”, “Yabloko” and other parties and gathered a little more than 2 thousand people: “The first rally, April 30, brought together 12 thousand people. Its organizer, a member of the Liberalarian Party, Mikhail Svetov, called the current action a failure. The action was not supported either by oppositionist Aleksey Navalny or the creator of the telegram messenger Pavel Durov. ”

The symbol in the form of a dog is also certainly good. He is new, he has no previous connotation – everyone puts into it what he wants. It is easy to print on a T-shirt, it’s easy to put on an avatar, to make your own sticker on its basis – it’s an iterated image, a ready meme. And with all this the dog as a symbol since the time of “VKontakte” is clearly associated with Durov. This all works for decentralization and the image of Durov as the leader of the movement, but does not impose any responsibility on him.

Lesson number 6. Do the resistance of someone else’s hands

The action with the aircraft was a breakdown of the soil, preparation of the audience for more decisive actions, but initially started by Durov. Despite the criticism, this is a very simple action, which should not carry any real changes, but creates a huge information background: everyone either discuss it – ask friends if they will launch the aircraft, or scoff at it, or publish photos and videos. So the word-of-mouth radio works offline: even those who did not read the news on the Internet and were not aware of what was happening for the past two weeks are included in the action. In addition, during such actions, people see their supporters personally: thanks to this, it is easier to proceed further.

But the rally on April 30 was organized by someone else’s hands: Durov here only from a distance urged people to use all opportunities to protect their interests, although this call was unprecedented for him. Look at the text of the call : everything is said very carefully and at the same time inspires passionate actions.

Someone will say that the rally will not change anything. This is not true. Russia is at a crossroads – full-scale censorship has not yet been introduced. If inactive, Russia will lose Telegram and other popular services. Your active participation can change the course of history.

Pavel Durov
founder of Telegram

The organizers of the meeting managed to agree even with Navalny. We do not know if Durov himself applied this to his hand, but it is obvious that with the guarantee of his information support to Navalny it would be much easier to call his supporters to such a rally. Durov could hardly have invited the audience to a purely anti-Putin rally, organized specifically by Navalny, but for a separate action against Roskomnadzor and Telegram blocking – please.

And for the fact that people really take to the streets, Durov supported them with such warm words that he had never said before in public: “The passionarity of speakers has struck – these speeches create the history of countries”, “Such a combination of natural conditions and people’s energy is possible only in St. Petersburg, […] thanks to St Petersburg for their steadfastness and courage, “” I’m proud to be born in one country with these people, “” Your energy is changing the world. ”

Lesson number 7. Quickly extinguish the negative

For all the past months, Telegram has probably had only one puncture in terms of PR. The Outline, founded by the former chief editor of The Verge, apparently, against the backdrop of all the activity with TON, decided to rummage in the messenger more reasonably – and found out that there are full pirate channels. For Western readers, this is a red rag: in the States they revere copyright.

The reaction of Telegram is to close the access to pirated channels on iOS within 24 hours . Because so Apple does not dig out, and Google on Android, as always, does not care. Publicly Durov did not say anything: it was not worth it.

True, it is not easy to extinguish the negative and it is not always possible. In the case of the story of the former technical director of VKontakte Anton Rosenberg about the inner kitchen of Telegram, the society seems to have trusted more than Durov, and his opponent – the founder of Telegram for too long kept silent, the story of Rosenberg was too detailed and convincing, his opponents and failure to appear in court. But in the end, the conflict still managed to pay off – for compensation of 1.5 million rubles.

Lesson number 8. Maintain interest in yourself (if there is anything)

In between the major information guides Durov skillfully maintains interest personally to himself through photoshoots in Instagram . This is an old trick Durova, repeatedly tested in the “VKontakte”: highlight your own sexuality, attracting the attention of beautiful women, who in turn lead the men.

While the female part of the audience, including the married Ksenia Sobchak, writes to him in the comments, what he is a prince, the others generate memes around the pathos of such pictures. Win-win.

Lesson number 9. Communicate with journalists himself, but be reserved

Durov sometimes communicates with journalists and occasionally even gives interviews (although he has not done this for a long time), but he does not scatter comments – journalists can always turn their essence if they understand the situation differently. Durov uses his own channels of information delivery, and journalists have to draw it from there, where all the others do it. In addition to controlling the essence of the message (if it is inverted, it is easy to prove by checking with the original), this forces the media to compete in who will deliver the next published statement faster and better – because Durov’s popularity as a media person is easily converted into traffic.

Simultaneously, maintaining contact with journalists (if you need something to explain not for the record) and having your own channels of information delivery, Durov towers over other sources of information on the topic – in one post he can “move” any statement of the opponent, because the attention and confidence in him will always be higher.

Lesson number 10. Create a picture for media that they need

Among the mainstream Western media, it is not customary to write about Russia anything good. This is understandable: it is usually interesting for them what works on their confirmation bias – the stereotypes about Russia that have already become standard: corruption, the power of the siloviki, violation of human rights, poverty and backwardness. In the Russian media, Durov can have the image of a hero simply because he created an excellent product – but on western journalists, his Russian roots act in this context ottorgayusche. However, Durov has repeatedly used the story of FSB agents expelled from Russia to support his image as a fighter for freedom and privacy of the data in an interview, and now it is no longer sparkling with novelty.

In general, Durov can easily live without the support of Western media, but it is better if they are on his side – and for this they need to understand very well who he is and what is the peculiarity of his product. The rallies for Internet freedom and at the same time in support of Telegram are an excellent occasion for the Western media to talk again about Durov, especially at a time when the largest Western companies (greetings to Mark Zuckerberg) suffer reputational losses due to scandals with data privacy. And it works.

Photo by Anton Makhankov

Lesson №0. Earn while others are talking about you

The whole chess game with the ban of Telegram in Russia was played out against the background of quiet collection of money for TON – Telegram Open Network . It seemed that the purpose of the whole adventure was clear from the very beginning: to maximize the new project, in order to get maximum financing under it.

But so far Durov has never stated about TON publicly (except for refuting fraudulent sites that tried to make money on the opacity of information), never once used his public media resources to attract money. Nevertheless, he managed to collect about $ 1.7 billion from private investors – this is 3-4 times the amount that Durov left from VKontakte after the sale of his stake, that is, the funds Telegram used to live all these years .

According to The Wall Street Journal , Telegram has completely refused the public part of its ICO (if it can be called so now), and everything is very logical: sometimes you need to know the measure at which to stop. Excessive noise around the sale of tokens to users would draw the attention of the US Securities Commission, and possible conflicts with the US government for Telegram to nothing. In addition, why put yourself under charges in a self-piracy for the sake of the money of ordinary users, so that they then demanded from you that it is not clear that when you can raise financing for the future platform from private investors and you do not owe anything to users?

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