Quantifying Russia's Traitorous Media

Russian disloyalty by the numbers. Images mixed by author.

Russian disloyalty by the numbers. Images mixed by author.

A pro-Kremlin website says it has conducted a quantitative study that ranks Russian media outlets according to disloyalty. Without revealing its full methodology or sharing any raw data, Politonline.ru on March 31, 2014, published a list of the top-20 most “negative” news sources on the Russian Internet. The research apparently involved isolating key words and phrases in content produced by mass media outlets, and then performing lexical and semantic analysis, to determine “emotional sentiment and tone.”

The study treated words like “Anschluss,” “annexation,” and “green people” (a jab at militia troops in Crimea widely suspected of being Russian soldiers incognito) as evidence of a negative attitude toward Russia, whereas words like “unification,” “support for Crimea,” and “polite people” (an approving euphemism for Crimea's militia troops) signified positive opinions. Politonline.ru also tested language surrounding words like “Maidan” and “Right Sector” to judge whether texts offered positive or negative sentiments.

Topping the list of “mass media rated by negativity toward Russia” is Echo of Moscow, followed by TV Rain, Novaya Gazeta, and so on. Curiously, Politonline.ru actually hyperlinks to every media outlet—even the two publications that the Russian government officially blacklisted on March 13.

Politonline.ru's top-20 list of disloyal Russia media outlets.

Also noteworthy is that fact that the Russian nationalist website Sputnik & Pogrom failed to make the list by virtue of the website's vociferous support for Russia's absorption of Crimea. According to Politonline.ru, S&P would have taken the seventh spot on the top-20 list, until Crimea announced its separatist referendum on March 16. After that watershed, the site—which welcomed Russian sovereignty over Crimea—”broke even,” meaning that measurements of “negative” and “positive” sentiments toward Russia balanced out.

Politonline.ru is notoriously critical of Russia's liberal opposition, regularly attacking protest leader Alexey Navalny and others. The website's editorial bent is also openly patriotic and decidedly anti-Western. It's no surprise then that regime-friendly scholars like Aleksandr Dugin and Sergey Markov have drawn attention to “top-20″ study, sharing the research on Facebook. Dugin advocated using the findings as a hit list, suggesting that the rankings of “negativity” should be the order in which the government closes down all the websites. Markov, on the other hand, expressed suspicions about Politonline.ru's methodology, remarking that the banned news portal ej.ru (which placed 14th) should have scored higher.

As we at RuNet Echo and countless others elsewhere have reported for months now, Russian patriotism in the midst of Ukraine's turmoil has reached a fever pitch, accelerating a crackdown on speech, protests, and the press that has been underway since mid-2012. Politonline.ru's attempt to quantify disloyalty is amusing for its apparent utilization of social science, but any entertainment value is sure to evaporate the moment Russian censors ban the next media outlet on the list.


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