The following observations reflect my study of the top 15% most commented-on blogs authored by people in the Russian North Caucasus and hosted on LiveJournal, in addition to another twelve such blogs based on the non-LJ networks Facebook, PublicPost (now defunct), and The Caucasian Knot.
Within the sample described above, the activity of bloggers falls largely into the following six categories:
- reflections about daily personal experiences
- reactions to current events
- curating cultural events
- expressing political opposition against the government
- expressing political support for the government
- studying historical and scientific issues
Bloggers in the North Caucasus first prefer to write about their personal life experiences, with the exception of individuals in Dagestan, where reactions to news events populate the biggest category of blogger activity. The type of person performing this kind of blogging is usually over thirty, and just as likely to be male as female. Much of the personalized writing style resembles an extended “status update” common to online social networks like Facebook.
Bloggers who write predominantly about their private lives often describe firsthand experiences in their local communities, leaving behind intricate records of local activities.
While bloggers who keep records of their daily lives also tend to engage with cultural issues, it is commentary on current events that is the second most common type of writing in the North Caucasus’ blogosphere. Those writing about culture are primarily women between the ages of 25 and 35. Favorite topics within this cluster include cinema, literature, and arts and crafts, among others. (LiveJournal user Vergova, for instance, is a twenty-something Dagestani female who writes about illustration and web design.)
People writing about culture are also the most geographically diverse.
Bloggers writing about current events are more likely to be men over thirty, though Dagestan is again the exception, where “news bloggers” are equally divided between men and women. People writing about current events usually cite articles that appear on newswire websites like Interkavkaz and The Caucasian Knot, or more specialized local sites like Akhavat: A Women’s Site About Islam and Spravedlivaia Rossiia newspaper.
The content usually deals with the region’s current events. Among this group’s writing, it is often unclear whether a particular blogger has witnessed news events firsthand or merely learned about them online or through mass media.
Legal professionals and career human rights activists dominate the political opposition cluster of the North Caucasus’ blogosphere. (Indeed, active blogging has become something of a job requirement for such individuals.) This professional/netizen overlap is unique to oppositionist bloggers. In contrast, people writing about cultural events (for example, reviewing films or books) only rarely make a living in the same field.
One form of political opposition that is notably subdued on blogs based in the North Caucasus is any direct mockery of state and religious officials (such as political cartoons or other kinds of satire).
In more open societies, human rights organizations institute formal public relations campaigns to advance their goals and sustain their place in the public eye, whereas this task falls almost exclusively to individual blogger-activists in the North Caucasus.
Oppositionist bloggers tend to cite their materials rigorously, often identifying mistakes and potential fabrications in mass media reporting. Additionally, these bloggers typically refer to their own professional experiences in legal and human rights matters to inform their criticisms of traditional journalism about the North Caucasus.
Men roughly forty-years-old dominate the oppositionist section of the North Caucasus’ blogosphere, though there are notable exceptions, like Zulikhan Magomadova, a middle-aged female blogger living somewhere near Chechnya. Magomadova cross-posts her Twitter updates to Facebook, often generating large discussion threads on matters concerning regional politics.
Oppositionist blogging is the fifth largest node of the North Caucasus’ blogosphere, trailing (in order of popularity) bloggers who focus on (1) personal experiences, (2) current events, (3) culture, and (4) instrumental issues. The smallest group of bloggers in the region’s RuNet consists of pro-government individuals, who address state actors’ role in local news with an invariably positive spin. Defenders of the government exercise particular caution when discussing the actions of the police. Those writing in this cluster are mostly men between the ages of thirty and forty.
Bloggers in this group make special efforts to deflect accusations against the region’s current administrations and inflate the government’s social prestige. For instance, in a February 2013 post following a police intervention in a bar brawl that killed three people, Gamid Gitinov, the director of Dagestan’s “Bloggers School,” implied that police officers owe their degraded social respect to the decline of Soviet cinema, where the population once learned to romanticize its law enforcement agents. In modern Russia, the most popular form of entertainment related to police work depicts the lives of criminals, Gitinov complains, which “hardly facilitates the creation of an attractive image for the police.” Gitinov goes on to propose a writing competition for schoolchildren, challenging the nation’s youth to draft descriptions of their ideal police officer.
There are only a dozen of bloggers writing about history and other education themes, and they are equally likely to be men or women. People writing in this field tend to draw on library resources and online research hubs, custom-designed for specific purposes (typically to address subjects that are technical and obscure). As with other nodes of the North Caucasus’ blogosphere, these individuals bring to their writing about current events their own honed expertise (in their case, usually in history or science). Unlike the region’s other blogging clusters, this group tends to be more global in its focus, writing about subjects that are often disconnected from the local goings-on of their immediate surroundings.
The Internet phenomenon known as “trolling” is not substantial in the North Caucasus’ blogosphere. What little hate-mongering does exist in the community usually does not generate much interest. For example, LiveJournal user Allkazar is one such “troll” blogger, though his repeated use of homophobic slurs attracts only little attention.
The North Caucasus’ bloggers appear to exist in a bubble, demonstrating little interest in the outside world, short of a fascination with YouTube videos containing clips of popular Western culture, among other things. Some international events do grab the attention of this region’s blogosphere, but the discourse inevitably splits into pro-Russia and anti-Russia camps.
The majority of bloggers writing about the North Caucasus’ various republics also live in those areas, though Chechnya boasts the highest number of expats blogging from homes outside the region (thanks no doubt to displaced people who left in the 1990s early 2000s). (On LiveJournal, most Chechen and Russian bloggers who write about Chechnya from the outside now reside in Moscow or somewhere outside Russia.)