- Reddit users have flooded the “Ask a Russian” forum with questions about life in Russia today.
- Some posts have blamed Russians for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, sparking feuds.
- Users told Insider they enjoy discussing the war on Reddit but want people to be more “respectful.”
A Reddit community known as “Ask A Russian” has seen a dramatic uptick in comments and posts since the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and some users argue that the discussions are unproductive and offensive to Russian people.
r/AskARussian is a subreddit with 71,000 members. It was created in 2013 with the original purpose of allowing people to connect with Russian citizens and ask questions about Russian culture.
While posts from less than a year ago typically asked about Russian food, regional accents, and memes, posts from the past few weeks are asking Russians how the current conflict and sanctions are affecting their lives, and even blaming them for supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Reddit has been a popular but controversial space for discussion about the Ukrainian conflict. According to Mashable, the “r/Russia,” subreddit was quarantined by the platform, meaning it would no longer appear in searches because it was deemed to be spreading misinformation.
Longstanding members of the “Ask a Russian” subreddit told Insider that while the community used to be a space for appreciating Russian culture, it has now been “hijacked” by non-Russians who are using the forum to insult or pressure Russian people to take action against Russia’s government.
Users say Russian voices have been drowned out, defeating the purpose of the subreddit
From January to March 2022, the number of comments in the “Ask a Russian” subreddit has risen from around 300 to more than 6,000 a day. The number of daily posts has also risen, from around 25 to a peak of 325 in early March.
Subreddit member “Bpmtapperkun,” who did not want to be named, told Insider that after the invasion, “there was a surge of new users who hadn’t followed the subreddit before,” and who wanted to talk about the war.
“I personally felt they were more interested in guilt-tripping the Russian people than genuinely asking about their perspective,” he said.
Victor, a member of the subreddit for a year and a half, who wanted to be identified by first name only for privacy reasons, is not Russian himself, but told Insider he’s noticed that posts by Russian people do not tend to get as many upvotes as they did before, meaning they don’t appear as prominently in the community feed. As a result, he said that most posts at the top of the feed are from non-Russians, and the voices of Russian people are not being adequately heard.
As someone with an interest in Russian culture, Victor said, “It’s really annoying going on the subreddit because I go there hoping to find information about the situation in Russia from Russian people. Instead, I now have to sift through an overabundance of nonsense from Westerners who take it upon themselves to answer questions for the Russians.”
Many posts are openly hostile to Russian people, some of whom say they have felt demoralized
One post in the community with 45 comments but with zero upvotes accuses Russian people of committing “genocide” against Ukrainian people, likely referring to the fact that Ukraine has formally accused Russia of committing genocide before the International Court of Justice.
Many comments under the post are from Russian people who say the statement is untrue, suggesting ordinary Russian people do not want war with Ukraine. In Russia, thousands of citizens have taken to the streets to protest the war, and on social media, Russian influencers are using their platforms to voice opposition to the invasion.
Several Russian users have made posts in the community, asking “Western” Reddit users to stop making accusations against “ordinary Russians,” who they say have nothing to do with the government’s actions. These posts each have hundreds of upvotes.
Dmitry, a 21-year-old Russian member of the community, who wanted to be identified by first name only for privacy reasons, told Insider that critics in the subreddit “think that all Russians support this war and each of us voted for Putin, which is ridiculous.” Voting data from the 2021 Russian election showed that around 50% of Russian voters did not vote for Putin, and the election itself was riddled with claims of fraud and ballot-box stuffing.
Dmitri told Insider he thinks negative comments have gone too far and moderators in the group should ban discussions about the invasion because this was not what the group was intended for. The moderators of the subreddit did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Members of the community continue to discuss political events on social media to facilitate open conversation
In spite of the critical comments and arguments in this subreddit, most contributors Insider spoke to said they still believe Reddit is a productive place to have conversations about politics and world events.
Many of them said they prefer social media to traditional sources of information like broadcast news. They said they do not trust media outlets to accurately portray the Russian perspective, so turn to forums like “Ask a Russian” to hear first-hand accounts of the conflict.
It echoes an ongoing trend for turning to social media for “authentic,” first-hand accounts of the war.
Dmitry told Insider that Russian people like him may not mind sharing first-hand information online as long as conversations are more “respectful and informative.” He said he wants to continue to talk about his experience on Reddit because “the key to finding truth and understanding is actually to talk to people.”
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.