Reporters Without Borders unlock censorship with lottery numbers

reporters without borders turn to lottery numbers to beat censorship

Reporters Without Borders has launched a striking initiative with DDB Germany in which it will use national lottery numbers to fight government censorship.

The initiative, called ‘The Truth Wins’ is in partnership with the digital and innovation studio Hyperinteractive. 

Launched to coincide with the World Day Against Cyber Censorship on 12 March, it shined a light on the importance of press freedom. 

‘The Truth Wins’ uses an innovative strategy to provide easy access to censored articles and independent information by prominent journalists from Russia and Turkey, the countries most responsible for forcing Twitter to quash dissident voices, as well as Brazil, notorious for disinformation and journalist harassment. 

From last Friday onwards, in these countries, simply typing the national lottery numbers into Twitter will direct readers to information that is otherwise extremely difficult to access – archived through uncensorable blockchain networks. 

These constantly changing access codes keep the truth moving too fast for state censors – and do so by actually hijacking the same state-owned media responsible for publicising these numbers.

Media censorship on the rise

Censorship is on the rise, globally. In particular, social media are being pressured by autocratic states to remove content and accounts that challenge their authority. 

There has been an especially rapid increase in takedown requests on Twitter, above all by the Turkish and Russian governments. 

Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is being flooded with requests for support from censored Russian media. 

Every time a journalist is censored, another source of independent information is lost – and in many countries this makes it harder and harder to find the truth online. 

But even in countries with tight control of the media, one thing always gets through: the lottery numbers.

In Russia, the censorship situation is unfolding at great speed. RSF is partnering with OVD-Info, a human rights organisation whose website has already been blocked by the state, and whose reporting on ongoing Russian protests is becoming increasingly crucial given today’s events. 

Collateral Freedom programme

RSF is also now focusing its efforts and resources on its ‘Collateral Freedom’ program: using mirrors to provide access to blocked websites via new servers. 

“The Russian authorities try in every possible way to silence anti-war voices and solidarity: thousands of peaceful protesters were detained, many independent media were covered by the wave of blocking”, said Denis Shedov of OVD-Info, a Russian human rights organisation. 

“To suppress anti-war statements, the Russian authorities are using their many years of experience: mass detentions, arrests, and blocking of independent media. 

“And this censorship is tightened by the police force and repressive legislation.”

reporters without borders turn lottery numbers into access codes
Beat the system: RSF turn government lottery numbers into access codes to beat censorship.

Christian Mihr, Managing Director Reporters Without Borders Germany, said: “Especially in times of crisis, access to independent journalism is essential. 

“More than ever, we need to fight for the right to seek and share information online. Civil society, governments, and tech platforms all share responsibility for guaranteeing this right.”

Can Dündar, Turkish journalist in exile in Germany, said: “Unfortunately Turkey has become one of the biggest jailers of journalists in the world and many media companies are under the control of Erdogan and his government.”

And Patricia Toledo de Campos Mello, Brazilian journalist, said: “With all the attempts to silence critical and independent media, with the avalanche of disinformation and manipulation – it has become increasingly hard to find the truth online.”

Sandro Heierli, Senior Art Director, DDB Berlin, said: “I think the campaign provides an interesting user experience. 

“Typing the lottery numbers into the twitter search bar and seeing that it works, makes you feel like you just hacked censorship on your phone.”

Saurabh Kakade, Creative Lead Digital, Hyperinteractive, said: “The beauty of using blockchain for this initiative is that the information that was banned elsewhere is saved in a decentralised manner, making it free and resistant to any kind of manipulation or censorship. 

“Blockchain technology is thus perfect for the mission “freedom of speech”.