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How investigative journalism flourished in a hostile country

The Russian language has introduced a few words that in recent years have been widely used and misused in English: disinformation, kompromat, Novichok.

But the one that blows my mind is “probiv.” It’s drawn from the word that means “to pierce” — or to enter something into a search bar. Today, it refers to the practice by which anyone can buy, for a couple of dollars on the social media app Telegram or hundreds on a dark web marketplace, the call records, cellphone geolocation or air travel records of anyone in Russia you want to track. Probiv is purchased by jealous spouses or curious business partners, and criminals of various sorts. But it has also been used recently, and explosively, by journalists and political activists, overlapping categories in Russia, where the chief opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, often makes use of the tools of investigative journalism.

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