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‘Z’: on Russia’s tanks and capturing the public’s military mindset

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The 'Z' sign has become ubiquitous on cars in Moscow, clothing and across social media profiles on the Russian internet


The ‘Z’ sign has become ubiquitous on cars in Moscow, clothing and across social media profiles on the Russian internet – Copyright AFP –

Since Russia moved troops into Ukraine, the letter “Z” — emblazoned on Moscow’s advancing armoured vehicles — has gripped the country’s public consciousness on social media, in manicures and on an athlete’s uniform.

There’s no consensus on what the letter actually signifies, but almost two weeks into Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine it has become synonymous with the Russian army.

And increasingly, it’s being used as a rallying cry either in support of the operation in Ukraine — or against it.

“Z”, a letter that features in the Latin alphabet but not in Cyrillic, first appeared several weeks ago on military vehicles rolling towards Ukraine, possibly to distinguish them from Ukrainian forces and avoid friendly fire.

But the sign has since become ubiquitous on cars on the streets of Moscow, clothing and across social media profiles on the Russian internet — a trend the authorities are eager to encourage.

The official Instagram and Telegram pages of Russia’s defence ministry prominently show messages starting with the letter, such as “Za Pobedu” (For Victory), “Za Mir” (For Peace), “Za Pravdu” (For Truth) and “Za Rossiyu” (For Russia).

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The government-aligned Kommersant business daily this week published aerial photos of some 60 children and their families forming the shape of the letter in the snowy courtyard of a hospice in Kazan, central Russia.

Several days later, 20-year-old gymnast Ivan Kuliak stepped onto the third-place podium step at the World Cup in Doha, Qatar, wearing a “Z” affixed to his chest — a Ukrainian athlete stood to his right, having snagged gold.

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The International Gymnastics Federation responded by calling for an investigation into Kuliak for his “shocking behaviour”.

He however told Russian media that, if he could, “I would do it again”.

“I saw our military was wearing it, and I looked at what the symbol represents. As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and I will play for peace,” he said.

– Flash mobs –

Among theories swirling, one is that “Z” stands for the first letter of the Russian word “Zapad”, which means West, a reference to forces of the Western military district.

Some observers noted it was the first letter in the surname of Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky.

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Regardless, an array of politicians, celebrities and influencers want to show off their patriotic zeal by splashing the symbol that is emblematic of allegiance to the Kremlin.

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator, which has recently been working to block media critical of the military operation, accordingly edited its profile on the Telegram messenger to capitalise the “Z” in the agency’s name.

Beyond Moscow and Saint Petersburg, flash mobs and demonstrations of support have sprung up in far-flung regions under the slogan “We do not abandon our own”.

Women have been singing with choir members wearing a “Z” on their chests, taxis have displayed a “Z” on their windows and cars have parked in the shape of a “Z”.

In the region of Barnaul in southern Siberia, a huge “Z” was on the snow, in the orange and brown colours of the Saint George ribbon, a historical symbol of Russian and Soviet military successes.

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Business-savvy minds have seen that T-shirts with the “Z” logo are now being sold online.



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Meta Announces WhatsApp Cloud API to Provide Hosting Support for SMBs

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Meta Announces WhatsApp Cloud API to Provide Hosting Support for SMBs

After previewing the option back in 2020, today, at its first-ever ‘Conversations’ messaging conference, Meta has announced that it’s launching the WhatsApp Cloud API, which will provide free, secure cloud hosting services for businesses.

As it sounds, the WhatsApp Cloud API will essentially host your conversation data on Meta’s servers, which will improve connection and speed, but will come with a degree of privacy trade-off.

The main benefits will be improved speed in messaging response, while it’ll also help to eliminate server expenses, which could be a big benefit to smaller businesses, in particular. It’ll also facilitate faster access to new WhatsApp business features as they become available.

The downside is that it will mean more reliance on Meta, while you’ll also need to dilute WhatsApp’s messaging security measures:

As Meta described in its original announcement:

If a business chooses to use a third-party vendor to operate the WhatsApp Business API on their behalf, we do not consider that to be end-to-end encrypted since the business you are messaging has chosen to give a third-party vendor access to those messages. This will also be the case if that third-party vendor is Facebook.”

As such, WhatsApp will include new notifications on consumer-to-business exchanges conducted through Meta hosting.

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WhatsApp message prompts

How you feel about such trade-offs will come down to your personal perspective, but the offering could be highly valuable for smaller businesses looking to build out their tech stack, without having to sign on to a third-party hosting vendor, or buy their own hardware.

But again, that does also mean increasing your reliance on Meta, which has notoriously changed the rules on businesses in the past, leaving many in the lurch.

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The real benefit, however, will likely be in developing regions, where WhatsApp is the dominant messaging platform, and many small businesses are looking for ways to maximize their reach and transactions in-app. If Meta can assist them in building their business, that could be a big step in making WhatsApp a more critical utility, for many more users, while also, eventually, providing a direct revenue pathway for the messaging platform.

Though it does feel like a bit of a honey trap. Meta has already flagged that it will eventually introduce charges for these additional elements, without specifically outlining what those costs will be. Once businesses are reliant on such, it’ll be too late to back out, and Meta could ensnare them via incremental increases, that may eventually become a big earner for the company.

On another front, Meta also announced Recurring Notifications on Messenger, which will enable businesses to re-engage people within a messaging thread. The feature is only available to premium users at present, which doesn’t cost more to be part of right now, but will in future as Meta looks to incorporate new charges for its messaging and hosting tools.

You can check out replays of the Conversations conference presentations here.

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