A tiny startup in Redmond, Wash., is taking on the big task of trying to get the truth into and out of Russia as the country wages war against neighboring Ukraine — and the free press.
Targetings is a social media automation platform that helps publishers get their content out on various channels. Since 2015, the startup has worked with news publishers all over the globe, including in Russia.
Since the start of the war, the company has dedicated itself to helping independent media continue to report on the war and counter propaganda pushed by the Russian government and state-owned media. The work became especially vital after Western news organizations such as The New York Times, CNN, ABC News and others vacated their Moscow bureaus in the wake of a new law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.
“We realized that we were working with the majority of those independent media outlets that were being directly affected by the bans, both operating within Russia and operating outside but being banned within Russia,” said Chris Deco, Targetings general manager for North America.
The company’s tools are helping Targetings’ partners avoid detection by setting up mirror websites or publishing full-text content on social media networks or messaging platforms such as Telegram.
Targetings detailed its efforts in a LinkedIn post last week and said its technology helped get a now-viral video out to the world, in which a Russian journalist staged an anti-war protest during a broadcast on state-run television.
“That segment, the social media coverage of that, was originally published using our platform,” Deco told GeekWire. “Media outlets that were banned … were able to use [Targetings] to successfully distribute that content, which we think is vital.”
While Russia blocks most foreign social networks, Targetings says readers have turned to VPNs (virtual private networks) or Tor to use the internet securely and anonymously.
Val Khotemlyansky, the company’s VP of product, originally co-founded Targetings in Israel with Michael Passov. The company now employs six people.
During a call from his office just east of Seattle this week, Khotemlyansky relayed the story of one partner working at a Russian media outlet who abruptly ended a recent call by saying Russia’s Federal Security Service was coming. Targetings has not heard from that partner since.
“We are not intending to be part of the war,” Khotemlyansky said. “We’re just a software company that developed an AI product that was good for publishers.”
But the company does believe strongly in freedom of speech and freedom of the press, no matter what countries are involved in the current conflict or any future ones.
“We’re going to continue that fight,” Deco said. “The good news is that technology continues to evolve so fast that it keeps allowing new opportunities for the flow of information.”