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Russia: Paid and Unpaid Bloggers Against the Moscow Mayor

Yuri Luzhkov holding a football trophy

Yuri Luzhkov holding a football trophy, photo by Yelena Rybakova

An ongoing TV and online campaign against Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, is currently one of the most discussed topics both in the mainstream and citizen media.

Most bloggers appear to support the attack on the politician. At the same time, independent observers have noticed a significant number of paid blog posts. The fact that bloggers were being used in a political campaign by the mayor’s opponents changed the tone of the discussion, while making it clear that both paid and unpaid bloggers were unhappy with the city authorities.

Yuri Luzhkov, 73, has served as the mayor of Moscow since 1993. He is also one of the co-founders of the ruling United Russia party and a co-chair of the party's highest council. His wife, Yelena Baturina, is Russia's richest woman and the 279th richest person in the world. Very popular among the so-called “TV-watchers,” Luzhkov is nevertheless criticized for many things. The most important issues are transport collapse and the interest-seeking development policy, as well as… corruption at an epic scale.

On Sept. 10, 2010, NTV, a TV channel owned by Gazprom, aired a documentary (part 1 [RUS] and part 2 [RUS]) about Luzhkov, accusing him of corruption, lack of efficiency and a failure to help the Muscovites during the wildfires. The film was done in a popular genre of a propaganda attack. Recently, a similar documentary about the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, has been broadcast by the same channel.

Oleg Panfilov, a Tbilisi-based opposition blogger, commented [RUS] on the Luzhkov video:

Посмотрел.
И удивился.
Во-первых, ни слова о политике.
И поскольку российские телеканалы.
Жестко контролируются властью.
Представляющую партию “Единая Россия”.
То в фильме не слова об этом.
То есть, пропагандоны сделали фильм.
Об одном из основателей и главных функционеров партии.
А тут – просто преступник.
Как будто партия не несет ответственности за зарвавшегося кепконосителя.
Значит, какая партия – такой и Лужков.
Или наоборот.

I've watched it.
And was surprised.
First, there's not a word about politics.
Because the Russian channels […] are controlled by the authorities […] that represent the United Russia, […] there's not a single word about that in the film.
So, the [propagandists] have made this movie […] about one of the founders and main functionaries of the party.
And [in the film] – [he is depicted as] a mere criminal.
As though the party isn't responsible for the cap-wearing man [Luzhkov] who has gone too far.
It means that the party is [no different from] Luzhkov.
And vice versa.

The announcement of the TV program attracted the attention of many bloggers. Not all of them, however, were sincere in their dissatisfaction with the mayor. After the announcement appeared on TV, about 20 bloggers published posts with similar content. Every post mentioned zakaz-harakiri.ru (“Order yourself a harakiri,” a website where you can vote for a politician or some other celebrity to commit a virtual suicide), along with a message that Yuri Luzhkov was the winner.

Marina Litvinovich, a renowned activist, noticed [RUS] the common pattern and supplied a list of bloggers who posted such messages:

Как интересно, а? НТВ вчера вечером запустило анонс фильма “Дело в кепке”, начав таким образом “официальную” кампанию по мочению Лужкова. […]

И сегодня же – ах, какая неожиданность! – куча блогеров дает ссылки и пишет примерно одинаково про какую-то полнейшую туфту – сайт про харакири, типа там победил Лужков.
И сайт и идея – говно и очень печально, что куча блогеров так радостно его пиарят.

How interesting, huh? Yesterday, NTV launched the announcement of the movie “The Cap Affair,” starting the “official” campaign against Luzhkov. […]
And today – what a surprise! – many bloggers are linking and writing almost the same stuff about some complete nonsense – a website about harakiri, and that Luzhkov has won there. Both the site and the idea are crap, and it's sad that so many bloggers are so happily promoting it.

LJ user pilgrim-67, a blogger famous for several online investigations, published [RUS] a letter from some blogger who had offered to post this type of message in exchange for money:

Screenshot of the message offering a paid post about Luzhkov

Screenshot of the message offering a paid post about Luzhkov, made by pilgrim-67

[Translation of the message in the screenshot above] This will be a post with a flash movie of Yuri Luzhkov committing a harakiri, because the majority has voted for him on the website zakaz-harakiri.

Could you tell me, please, how much such a post would cost?

Pilgrim-67 added that he had not accepted the offer, and, even though he wanted Luzhkov to leave, he didn’t need to be paid for declaring it.

Another blogger, Andrei Malgin, wondered why no one had asked him to write something about Luzhkov, since he would've done it for free. LJ user manjak shared his astonishment [RUS]:

я не понимаю чего-то в этой жизни. неужели на просторах рунета есть хоть кто-то поддерживающий лужкова, что пришлось разводить всю эту бучу с платными постами, тратить деньги на платные посты и т.п.?

There's something I don't understand in this life. Is there a single person in the RuNet who supports Luzhkov, [and if not, why] all this buzz with paid posts had to start?

Blogger re3yc mockingly suggested [RUS] that the website had been created to promote the action movie “Daughter of Yakudza” [RUS], and the campaign against mayor Luzhkov accidentally overlapped with the movie promotion campaign:

[…] Глупые политизированные блоггеры думают, что мочат Лужкова, а на самом деле накручивают счётчик посещений промосайта какой-то говнокиношки.

[…] Stupid politicized bloggers think that they are fighting against Luzhkov, while in fact they are just [increasing the number of visitors to] the promo site of some [class-B] movie.

Although zakaz-harakiri.ru does have a link to the movie's profile, the coincidence seems suspicious.

Demyan Kudryavtsev, executive director of the “Kommersant” publishing house, criticised everyone: Luzhkov's critics, supporters, investigators, and even those bloggers who were unhappy with the propagandist tone of the mainstream media. He concluded that the bloggers’ behaviour wasn't too different from that of one of the TV channels:

Полный Живой Журнал людей, недовольных государственной журналистикой, накинувшейся на Лужкова. Но не потому, что она обижает сирого, а потому, что с Лужковым, мол, все годы было все понятно, с гадом, как можно было молчать раньше, а?

За 17 лет его правления, никто из кричащих не вышел на демонстрацию против тотальной коррупции в Москве. За все годы против сноса памятников – несколько тысяч человек, против федеральной власти и за свободу собраний – столько же, против Химкинского леса и потому что вроде стало можно – столько же, но сразу.

И за все эти годы – ни одной демонстрации против псевдо-муниципальной, а на самом деле частной, но безконкурентной ЖКХ […]. Практически каждый месяц Новая Газета, “Коммерсантъ”, и другие проигрывали мэрии суды по фантастическим формулировкам […], практически каждый день вместо новостей по любому поводу на госканалах всех кормили “повесткой дня”, и только теперь все решили возмутиться?

Мне кажется, что в таком поведении очень много общего с той же журналистикой государственных телеканалов […]. Отличия есть. Принципиальные. Но и общего очень много.

В то время как главный вопрос – кто будет следующим мэром Москвы – опять решается не нами.

LiveJournal is full of people who are unhappy with the [state-funded journalists] attacking Luzhkov. Not because they're attacking an innocent one, but because everyone had known everything about Luzhkov all these years, so how was it possible to stay silent before?

During the 17 years of [Luzhkov's] reign, none of those who are screaming now has gone on a demonstration against the total corruption in the city administration. During all these years, several thousand people stood up against the demolition of historical buildings, and the same number against the federal authorities and for the freedom of assembly, and as many […] to defend the Khimki forest park and just because they could […].

And in all those years, there hasn't been a single rally against the pseudo-municipal, and, in reality, private community services [monopoly] […]. Almost every month, Novaya Gazeta, Kommersant [newspapers] and other [media outlets] have been losing lawsuits initiated by the mayor's office due to some fantastic claims, and nearly every day the state-run channels have been feeding us with nothing but the “official agenda” instead of the real news, and only now everyone has decided to get outraged?

I think that such a behavior has much in common with the journalism of the government channels […]. There are differences. Very important ones. But there are many similarities, too.

Meanwhile, the main question – who will be the next mayor of Moscow? – is once again decided not by us.

This story shows that blog campaigns have become a regular tool in political struggles between the politicians. Political messages are being dispersed via networks of paid bloggers, some of whom are quite influential. It also shows that bloggers demand non-partisan and independent information, and even when a media campaign reflects their own views, manipulations will not be welcome. Finally, this is one of the rare cases when the majority of bloggers (even those critical of the authorities) consciously support a state propaganda attack.

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