In late August, Russian authorities launched what they described as an alternative to Wikipedia — Runiversalis or “Runi”.
The state-supported website labels itself “an encyclopedia of common sense” and bares many resemblances to the world-famous Wikipedia site, which is written and edited by volunteers across more than 300 languages.
The Runiversalis authors even claim that they’re former editors and administrators of Wikipedia.
The site was launched by Moscow amid the war in Ukraine, as many internet platforms faced censorship pressure from the Kremlin.
Russian authorities have fined and threatened to silence Wikipedia for publishing “prohibited materials” and “fake” content about the war.
Search engines are now forced to inform online users in Russia that Wikipedia violates the country’s legislation and companies face penalties for deliberately sharing so-called “fake news” about Russian entities abroad.
Moscow has criminalised the use of the words “invasion” or “war” and instead refers to its aggression in Ukraine as a “special military operation”.
And the Runiversalis article about the “special military operation” repeats the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia wants to “denazify” and “demilitarise” Ukraine.
The website also states that its authors will only promote “traditional values” on subjects such as gender and sexuality, raising concerns from the LGBTQ community.
“Editors will proceed not from what is written in Western scientific journals that have succumbed to pressure from the LGBT lobby,” claimed a statement by Runiversalis on their Telegram page.
“When one starts to read Runiversalis, you notice that it’s a platform for Kremlin narratives of disinformation and propaganda,” said Eto Buziashvili, a Research Associate for the Caucasus at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) in an interview with Euronews.
“Another interesting point is when you go down to the references, the vast majority of the sources are Kremlin official platforms like the Ministry of Defense or Kremlin-controlled media,” said the researcher.
In her report, Eto Buziashvili wrote that Runiversalis is no Wikipedia.
“Wikipedia has transparent editing policies and editorial oversight. Runiversalis, in contrast, is a propaganda website masquerading as a wiki, using the stylistic trappings of Wikipedia to give it a veneer of credibility.”
A recent report by the DFRLab found that Runiversalis had endured a “rough start” online.
The website became temporarily unavailable only a few days after its launch due to a cyberattack.
According to its Telegram page, Runiversalis was restored on September 12 before being targeted in another cyberattack, which didn’t take down the website.