Russia: Analyzing the Possible Scale of Saturday's Election Protests

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

As the situation with the Russian election results and the country's detained protesters has not yet been resolved (see Global Voices coverage 1, 2, 3), people in many cities are preparing for demonstrations on Saturday 10 December, 2011.

Early on December 8, user mitingmap created a map [ru] that summarizes the protest groups in the Russian cities. Novaya Gazeta has assembled a list [ru] of planned protest events.

Pressure on Vkontakte

Social media groups that have appeared in almost every major city are regarded as a threat. On December 8, LiveJournal user Edvvvard wrote [ru] that some strange things had started happen to his Vkontakte group Rospil (dedicated to support blogger Alexey Navalny's award-winning project

Protest activity map. Screenshot from Yandex.maps

Protest activity map. Screenshot from Yandex.maps

Initially, he thought it might be the policy of Vkontakte users to prevent protesters to communicate. Then, however, he received a response from Pavel Durov, the founder of the social network, saying that the group had reached the daily limit of comments and that he was working on fixing it.

Later on, Durov added [ru]:

Everything's OK. Recently the FSB [Federal Security Service] asked us to close opposition groups, like yours. By principle we don't do that. we don't know yet how it will end for us, but we're standing

Edvvvard wrote that Durov had chosen sides in the post-election conflict and his side was the one of the bloggers.

A few hours later, news site broke [ru] the news that police had proposed to ban anonymity online, since social networks “bear a potential threat to the base of society.” Later Minister Nurgaliev denounced [ru] the proposal calling it “a nonsense.”

So far, however, none of the groups have been closed or banned.

Understanding current online mobilization

Indeed, the digital dynamics seem overwhelming so far. Television channel ‘Rain’ reported [ru] that within the last four days their audience had grown by five times. Within days too, a Moscow Facebook group organized by 24-year-old Ilya Klishin had reached [ru] more than 30,000 members.

I have analyzed data from groups on social networks Facebook and Vkontakte associated with election-related protests and was able to find some interesting results (recorded on December 8, between 11:30 and 15:00 Central Eastern European time).

  • There are only four Facebook groups, all the rest are on Vkontakte. The largest, Klishin's group, in Moscow is hosted on Facebook, probably due to a more westernized audience;
  • The majority of group moderators are born between 1985-1991;
  • Most of the organizers are locals – only a few events have been created by centralized groups;
  • The political views (of those who reveal this information) are either socialist or liberal. There are a few signed up as “indifferent” and “conservative”;
  • About 67,000 people in all locations have said they are going to attend protest events. About 63,000 said “they might go”. Additionally there are about 55,000 users that are members of online protest groups;
  • The sum of the figures suggest that online mobilization alone can bring between 67-185,000 activists to the Russian streets, given they all do what they plan to do. As often happens with online activism, the real numbers might be smaller;
  • At the same time, it is not known what the turnout will be of those who are not social network users;
  • The cities with the largest protest activity are: Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, Perm, Barnaul, Chelyabinsk, Krasnodar, Krasnoyarsk, Qazan, Tyumen, Volgograd, Ulyanovsk, Petrozavodsk, Toliatti.

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.


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