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Russia: Exodus from LiveJournal Shows the Power of Networks

The latest Distributed Denial-of-Service attack (the second this year) on the most popular Russian blogging network, LiveJournal, has prompted a mass exodus of bloggers to different platforms and is significantly re-shaping the country's blogosphere. But will their reach be weakened?

The second attack

The DDoS attacks that triggered the first wave of virtual emigration, began on July 27, 2011. In his blog, Ilya Dronov, head of the LiveJournal (LJ) development team, reported [ru] a significant increase in hostile traffic. LJ's English-language blog said the outages were due to internal errors, but the blog post was later edited [ru]. This led some bloggers to accuse LJ of lying to its Russian-language users.

Frank, the symbol of LiveJournal, being choked to death, Illustration by Yelkin.

Frank, the symbol of LiveJournal, being choked to death, Illustration by Yelkin.

While the platform was out for several days, bloggers shared their theories on the origins of the DDoS. Yevgeniy Kaspersky, head of an anti-virus company, insisted [ru] on a non-political theory on the attack, saying that his company did not notice any serious botnet activity. However, this claim was rejected [ru] by LJ's leadership.

Anton Nossik noted [ru] that LJ's non-transparent and non-public position could be even more disastrous for the platform than the attack itself.

Andrei Malgin accused [ru] Konstantin Rykov, a member of ‘United Russia’ party and the creator of many pro-Kremlin portals, for setting up the attack. According to Malgin, during the previous attack, Vzglyad.ru (a propagandist site created by Rykov's team) published an op-ed [ru] by Alexey Andreev, where the main solution for stopping the attack was described between the lines as being: removing the blog of the infamous Alexey Navalny.

Malgin noted that, during the recent July attack, the article re-appeared on the main page of Vzglyad.ruBlogger exodus

Unlike after the previous April 2011 attack, bloggers are no longer convinced they need to remain on the LJ platform. Back then, there were a lot of bloggers who defended the platform, pointing out its unique features. Now, bloggers are considering the “escape hatch.”

This data graph, presented [ru] by Roem.ru, shows the recent increase in Twitter and Facebook use. It is important to note that Russian netizens have moved to these social networks, rather than blogging platforms such as Blogger or WordPress. It proves that LJ, a site that hosted the core of the Russian blogosphere, is more of a social network than simply a blogging platform.

The Russian Twittersphere emerged at the end of 2007, but it truly blossomed in 2010 and continued in 2011. Twitter users such as @Navalny [ru] (an anti-corruption blogger) and @Varlamov [ru] (a photoblogger) were already quite popular, so the resilience of the relations between them and their readers was unaffected. They were also the first to invite their audiences to try the new social networking platform Google+.

Due to the DDoS attack, LJ had to limit [ru] temporarily the length of messages to 2,048 symbols. This led Oleg Kozyrev [ru] and Anton Nossik [ru] (and probably, many more other bloggers) to move their longer-content posts to Google+.

Andrei Malgin, a blogger famous for his criticisms of the government, created a separate Facebook page [ru] and started a list [ru] of other bloggers who had moved their virtual presence to this social network.

The relocated bloggers have nonetheless complained about the alternative platforms they are now using. Habrahabr-user BobrTerminal summarised [ru] users’ comments on the Google+ user interface. Artemiy Lebedev, was perhaps the most precise in concluding [ru] the overall feeling:

Гуглоплюс – это отель. А ЖЖ – это частная квартира. Поэтому как только в квартире снова дадут электричество, поедем обратно.

Google+ – is a hotel. And LiveJournal – is a private flat. So, as soon as the lights are turned on in the flat, we're going back.

Anton Nossik was more sceptical [ru] on the option of the return to “the personal flat,” alluding that SUP, LJ's management company was not interested in fixing it:

Когда у тебя в квартире чинят отопление или канализацию – можно оттуда и съехать на пару дней, но незачем всерьез думать о новом постоянном жилище, если нынешнее устраивает.
К сожалению, ситуация коренным образом меняется, когда ты узнаешь, что твой дом предназначен на слом, и бульдозеры уже в пути.

When someone's fixing the heating in your flat – you can move somewhere else for a few days, but why would you think of another permanent home, if the one you live in is OK.
Unfortunately, the situation radically changes if you find out that your house is about to be demolished, and the bulldozers are already coming.

Although Google+'s requirement for user accounts to bear real names is disliked by many bloggers, it seems to be an good measure against bots and trolls (both serious issues with LJ). A blogosphere composed of only ‘real people’ would destroy the intrigue of anonymity, but would arguably also create more responsibility and trust. Yet, as Anton Nossik noticed [ru], even with more transparency, the issue of trolling is not resolved.

Strength of networks

After LJ experienced the serious outage (regardless of whether a DDoS-attack or ‘deliberate negligence’), the Russian blogosphere reacted instinctively to sustain itself.

Alexey Navalny, one of the top bloggers, was included in the Google+ “circles” of 13,000 readers after only a few days and was ranked #139 in the global rating of all Google+ users. Other popular bloggers who moved to Google+ have experienced high international rankings as well. Despite the fact that the bloggers’ audience on the alternative platforms is still significantly smaller than on LiveJournal (see Figure 1), the speed with which connections are being rebuilt in other digital environments is impressive.

Top bloggers' audience distributed on various platforms. Graph by Alexey Sidorenko.

Top bloggers' audience distributed on various platforms. Graph by Alexey Sidorenko.

The attack on LJ is a great example of the sustainability of network structures. As in the many examples that Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom provide in “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations,” Russian bloggers behaved exactly like any ‘starfish’ organisation – by abandoning the platform, yet saving their relations.

Obviously, the untraceable DDoS attacks have done a lot of damage to the Russian language blogosphere, however, it does not seem likely that the destruction of the platform will spell the end for those communities created already.

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