Nexta, a Belarus-based online media, has become a key source of information for many as reports said internet service had been “significantly disrupted” in the country since Sunday’s elections.
The online organisation, which is not state-run, has an encrypted Telegram channel that has over 1.3 million subscribers.
Online monitor NetBlocks said that internet connectivity in Belarus had been significantly disrupted as of Sunday 9 August 2020 amid tense presidential elections — an incident that the observatory said was ongoing as of Tuesday afternoon.
Protests continued to flare after people flooded the streets in their thousands opposing early results that indicated longtime authoritarian leader Lukashenko had secured a massive win.
Euronews spoke to Roman Potasetich, Nexta’s Editor in chief, to find out more about the blog.
Euronews: What is Nexta?
Potasetich: Our channel is called “Nexta,” which means “somebody” in Belarusian. That’s our specialty. Telegram is an anonymous platform, it’s a place for the secure transmission of information, and “Nexta” is a network of thousands of Belarusians who are sharing information, who send it to us and thus share the information with the whole country. They tell the stories that should be heard, which will never be heard on Belarusian television or in the official Belarusian media.
Your team consists of professional journalists — how do you verify information?
That all depends on the information. We have people in each sphere, verified sources with whom we have been communicating for a long time. These are the people who provide information that is always 100% accurate. These are the people who send us internal documents from various agencies, including the security service.
In terms of mass protests, first of all, we observe the situation because we receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of messages per hour. We are able to see the bigger picture and we immediately see when something corresponds to reality, and where there is an obvious provocation, exaggeration, or disinformation — including by the special services, which also throws us information quite regularly.
We try to verify the usual information using cross-verification. If several clearly-unrelated people write to us and tell us the same thing, then we basically considered this information verified, because we certainly cannot receive any information from officials.
Do you consider yourself a media organisation or a blog?
I would say that Nexta is a decentralised media organisation of the 21st century. We use several sites, we do not have a central website, we do not have any central page. It’s a few channels in human-friendly formats — messengers and YouTube. As our experience has shown, this format is really in demand. Especially given that the way information is consumed changes very quickly.
Telegram channels allow us to deliver information as quickly and clearly as possible, and for a person, it is all literally available with one click: you do not need to go to any sites, you can read news and correspondence with friends at the same time. Thanks to this structure, news spreads much faster.
Why are you so popular in Belarus?
We have a lot of exclusive information, we have many government insiders, a lot of documents from some small government agencies or enterprises. We also have a lot of documents and classified information from high-ranking officials, including the president’s administration, as well as law enforcement agencies. People know that they can read what will never be said anywhere else, simply because if ordinary, independent mass media in Belarus wrote it, they would be subject to controls immediately, pressure from special services would start, warnings would be issued and the publication could be closed down.
Aren’t you afraid for the safety of your informants and employees?
There virtually have been no cases where people had serious problems, except for a couple of cases. We often ask people what they can divulge away, what is best to smear, for example. There have been a few cases where they have been found out, but this is mainly in one small cross-section. In law enforcement agencies, it went so far that employees were forced to take polygraph tests. Those who failed the inspection were punished for spreading official information.
Were you ready for the fact that the internet would be cut off across the whole country? How did you work under these conditions?
The good thing about Telegram is that it’s the only platform that worked somehow. Even when no media downloads, at least it worked a bit. Most people in Belarus saw only a text version of messages, but at least this way they got information about what was going on.
A large number of subscribers from abroad also came to us and everything worked perfectly well. This news really spread all over the world. I think it’s great, because even most government sites in Belarus still aren’t working. At the moment, it’s even impossible to enter the site of the Belarusian CEC (Central Election Commission of Belarus), because the internet has been blocked to such an extent.
This is the beauty of this new media format — when there’s no centralised site, when it’s impossible to block or ban in any way, because everyone has access to it and this access is unconditional.
Did you advise your readers on how to get around the block?
Yes, we actively advised our subscribers to use proxies, VPN, Tor, and other ways to bypass the total blockage of the internet, which continues in Belarus for a second day. But the proxy-servers were so in demand that the addresses we gave immediately went down.