This review was originally written as a part of a presentation on Russian Internet during the recent GV Citizen Media Summit 2010.
Internet penetration in Russia reached 38 % (almost 40 mln. users [RUS]) in 2009. The most popular blogging platform in the country is Livejournal.com, however blogs.mail.ru and liveinternet.ru are also important [RUS] and influential. Internet access prices in Russia vary from city to city (from $10 to $50 for the same service [EN]). The usage of blogs is highly centralized: 50% of Internet users are from Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, 67% of top-bloggers are from Moscow [RUS]. Demographics are close to global: the majority of bloggers are from 15 to 30 year old, female users being more present than males.
Main tendencies in 2009-2010
- Regionalization: rapid growth of blogs and forums in the regions [EN].
- Twitterization: growing role of Twitter (in last 6 months more and more bloggers started to tweet. Twitter is especially popular among oppositionary bloggers);
- Growing involvement of the government in blogosphere (government's measures are both negative (content filtering, censorship) and positive (launch of blogs and social networks, inviting bloggers to important events) towards the blogosphere)
- Blogs are gaining trust as an information source (for younger generation of Russians Internet is a more credible information resource than radio [EN])
- Virtual campaigns becoming more and more popular.
Russian blogosphere’s Wins
In extreme situations bloggers are the first to spread the word, aggregate information, keep the information pressure. The role of blogs and new media was crucial in coverage of Moscow bombings [EN], „Nevsky Express” crash [EN], Perm fire [EN] and other disasters. Sometimes, blog campaigns sometimes lead to real-life changes (“Live barrier” case [EN], saving of the tourist in Indonesia [EN], Oleg Kozlovsky's foreign passport issue [EN] and others). However, the situation is far from ideal – list of Russian blogosphere's failures to provide change is longer than a list of it's wins.
Russian Blogosphere and Society
- In most of the cases virtual campaigns do not lead to the real-life change (especially in big-time cases). One of the major examples is the situation with mayor Dymovski's case [EN]. Although his video address was overwhelmingly popular, he was arrested and no changes were made in his police department. The same happened (in the sense that nothing happened at all) with Lukoil's top manager Alexander Barkov who apparently was in a car when it hit two women in Moscow [EN]. Barkov avoided any criminal charges although it looks like evidence against him was pretty convincing.
- Blogs are being used by the government as a channel to vent critical and even radical opinions while keeping an authoritarian political system intact.
- Blogs fail to provide independent investigation (although sometimes they try). Sometimes, those bloggers that provide independent investigation are being punished by the police. This happened to Mikhail Afanasiev [RUS], Hakassian blogger who tried to propose an alternative version of Sayana-Shushenskaya dam crash.
- Hierarchy as a reflection of the Russian social structure. Livejournal with its friendship relations has become a highly hierarchical system with top-bloggers and all others. To cast a voice in this system, one of the popular bloggers has to promote a link or a user.
- Paid bloggers: human, bots, splogs. All the things present in the global net are flourishing on RuNet, which leads to severely biased opinions of networks of popular bloggers in a number of cases.
- Trolling (in certain cases allegedly sponsored by authorities).
Government's influence in the blogosphere
Forms of government influence on RuNet are becoming more prevalent. Below are some of them:
Negative forms of involvement:
- Content filtering and prosecutor's checks [EN] on the basis of the list of extremist materials [RUS]. Providers are prosecuted [EN] if they refuse to block certain Web sites. The only good thing about this form of involvement is that the legal basis of blocking is more or less transparent. However, the whole process of defining extremist material is far from transparent. As Dmitri Soloviev's case showed, socio-linguistic check resutls can vary depending on the place where the check was performed.
- Direct blocking (phone call site blocking) is a case when the site is blocked after the direct threat from authorities. A number of cases are documented here and here [EN]. Situation with filesharing sites like torrents.ru and ifolder.ru also fits this practice, although the motives in this case aren't political but commercial.
- DDOS-attacks on newspaper Web sites (Vedomosti [EN], Kommersant, Novaya Gazeta [EN] have been DDOS-ed last year).
- Criminal cases against bloggers and other forms of harassment (Irek Murtazin [EN], Sergey Peregorodiev [RUS] and others).
- Anonymous publishing of compromising materials against opposition leaders (so-called “Mumugate” [EN]).
Positive forms of involvement:
- Numerous openings of politicians’ blogs. The rating of top government is available here [EN].
- Launch of party social networks (Soratniki [EN], Berloga [RUS] and others).
- Governor councils [RUS] with bloggers (so far practiced only in one region but might be used in others) as a form of cooptation/involvement.
As a conclusion, Russian Internet is becoming more politicised and more regulated place. Together with more trust and number of readers, bloggers gain more attention from the authorities. At the same time, the structure of the blogosphere tends to reproduce the offline social structure with its biases and hierarchy.