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Google Restaurant Reviews Hijacked to Share News From Ukraine With Russian Citizens

Online reviews aren't always known for being honest and accurate, but these are a different story.

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Moscow restaurants have become the target of people wanting to share news about the crisis in Ukraine. Pictured: The Kotelnicheskaya embankment building stands on the city skyline at dusk in Moscow.
Andrey Rudakov/Getty Images

This story is part of War in Ukraine, CNET's coverage of events there and of the wider effects on the world.

Around the world, news of mounting casualties and destruction from Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues to make headlines. But in Russia, the story being told to residents looks very different. 

Many Russian citizens are aware of and disagree with their government's actions, as evidenced by the massive protests that have taken place in Moscow and across the country. But with attempts by the Kremlin to suppress social networks and spread its own narrative via state-sponsored media, it's hard to know how much accurate news the people of Russia are able to access.

There are ways around the problem, however. People are using tech and the internet to ensure Russian residents are hearing the truth about what's happening in Ukraine. On Monday, Vice reported that a face-swapping app was using push notifications to deliver news to people within Russia. And throughout Monday and Tuesday, at the urging of a Twitter account associating itself with hacker collective Anonymous that credited a Polish Twitter user with the idea, people have been posting Google reviews for restaurants in Moscow and St. Petersburg with information about the events unfolding in Ukraine.

"Leave 5 star reviews (unless its Russian State owned, then feel free to leave 1 star ratings). The point is to push information to the Russian civilian population being lied to by Putin," tweeted user @YourAnonNews.

Grand Cafe Dr. Zhivago, a famous fine-dining restaurant in Moscow with Kremlin views saw an influx of Google reviews early on Tuesday. Some people attached pictures of destruction wrought by the Russian military.

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A fine dining restaurant in Moscow received an influx of reviews.

Screenshot by CNET

One person even used the question-and-answer function, which lets people ask other patrons and the restaurant questions about their experience, to write a message to Russian citizens.

"Your government is lying to you about conflict in Ukraine," said a user named "stop war." "It's not a rescue operation, there are no nazis there! It's a war started by Putin against a whole nation, against children, women and men."

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The reviews and comments were later deleted.

Screenshot by CNET

But later in the day, many of the reviews had been deleted. It turned out that the influx of new reviews had been noticed by Google.

"Due to a recent increase in contributed content on Google Maps related to the war in Ukraine, we've put additional protections in place to monitor and prevent content that violates our policies for Maps, including temporarily blocking new reviews, photos, and videos in the region," said a Google spokesperson in a statement.

This avenue of passing information appears to be closed for now, but with a little ingenuity, technology will likely continue to provide opportunities to inform the Russian people about what's happening in Ukraine and beyond.