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

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Elections, Freedom of Speech, Media & Journalism, Politics, Protest, Technology, RuNet Echo

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011 [1].

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], 2 [3], 3 [4]), people in many cities are preparing for demonstrations on Saturday 10 December, 2011.

Early on December 8, user mitingmap created a map [5] [ru] that summarizes the protest groups in the Russian cities. Novaya Gazeta has assembled a list [6] [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 [7] [ru] that some strange things had started happen to his Vkontakte [8] group Rospil (dedicated to support blogger Alexey Navalny's award-winning project rospil.info).

Protest activity map. Screenshot from Yandex.maps [5]

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 [7] [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 lenta.ru broke [9] [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 [10] [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 [11] [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 [12] [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).

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011 [1].