As the Kremlin tightens its control on the information Russians can access online, a group of Slovakian creatives are trying to get news past the wall of censorship via dating app Tinder.
The scheme has been called ‘Special Love Operation’ and uses photographs and messages to help spread genuine news about the war in Ukraine in the hope of reaching the Russian people.
It’s being led by creative director Alex Strimbeanu and his colleagues at Slovakia-based marketing agency Jandl.
“I come from Romania. Lots of Ukrainian refugees are going through Romania now. We are very close to it and we feel it,” Strimbeanu told The Drum.
Back in February, it had been reported that some Russian soldiers were contacting local Ukrainian women through dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble. This absurd news story served as a catalyst for Strimbeanu and his team.
“You go there to kill people and you appear on Tinder. It’s unbelievable. It’s a surreal thing,” he said.
Alongside his colleagues, Strimbeanu took to Tinder to spread this message: ‘Dear Russians, the west does not hate you. We hate the war. We hate the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army is killing innocent people while Putin is lying and hiding the truth from you. Your brothers and sisters are dying because of the madness and delusion of a dictator. Spread the truth. Make love, not war.’
Strimbeanu said from the conversations he’s had with Russians on the app “it seems that they understand that the war is not OK.”
The group is now encouraging people around the world to share information via Tinder to reconnect Russian people with what the rest of the world is seeing.
On a dedicated website it is hosting photographs and news detailing the realities that Ukrainians are facing, from burning buildings and makeshift hospitals, to soldiers carrying young children and people hiding underground.
For Tinder users the steps to follow are simple: change your location to cities in Russia, take a selfie holding up a picture of the war in Ukraine, edit your ‘about me’ section with the message provided on the website and swipe right on all the Russians that show up on your screen.
Strimbeanu said that he does have to restart his account frequently as some people do report him. But the team is currently trying to work with Tinder on how it can formally support the cause.
Alongside a Russian government-enforced social media blackout, many major holding companies have pulled out of the country, with Omnicom announcing its withdrawal yesterday.
Brands such as McDonald’s, Netflix and P&G have also pressed pause on Russian operations – although some have been criticized for moving too slowly.
Kyiv-based creative agency Banda has released two short films coming directly from the warzone that call on the international community for support and then follow up with a thank-you message.
Strimbeanu said of the creative efforts of other agencies and brands: “We are able to do this ridiculous thing. This freedom allows us to still have silliness or creativity. That’s the difference between the world that Putin is projecting and ours.”