The owner of a prominent TV news channel caused an uproar this week when he tweeted a fake news story about Vladimir Putin rushing to Kyiv for emergency peace talks. Aleksandr Vinokurov, owner of TV Rain, exploited the public's heightened interest in Ukraine to shock Russians into considering the potential harm of new regulations on the blogosphere, which take effect next month.
In the midst of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane crash investigation and the continuing tensions in Eastern Ukraine, RuNet users are hanging onto every new bit of news and gossip about the actions of Ukraine, Russia, and the West. Any innocent tweet or post can set the news agenda aflame, especially if it mentions Vladimir Putin.
On the morning of July 20, three days after the MH17 crash, Vinokurov tweeted the following news:
Президент Путин позвонил Порошенко и вылетел в Киев, чтобы обсудить с украинским коллегой варианты мирного разрешения конфликта на Донбассе
— Винокуров Александр (@Vinokurov12) July 20, 2014
President Putin called Poroshenko and flew to Kyiv to discuss the options for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Donbass with his Ukrainian colleague.
He made no other comment, did not provide links or sources, and did not post follow-ups. There was no confirmation of the visit on either of the official Presidential websites. Internet users were at first surprised, then skeptical, then disbelieving.
— MaryEl (@maryel2002) July 20, 2014
@Vinokurov12 Арам Ашотович, перелогиньтесь!
— Кот Навального (@navalny_cat) July 20, 2014
Aram Ashotovich, please login under your own name!
@yesfree33 Винокуров вроде нормальный журналист. Ну посмотрим, что скажу остальные СМИ.
— Russian fun (@Russianhumor) July 20, 2014
Vinokurov seems to be a decent journalist. Well, let's see what the other media will say.
Vinokurov stayed conspicuously silent on social media for the next four hours, while speculation raged among Russian and Ukrainian netizens. Finally, around 10:30 in the morning, Moscow time, he appeared on Facebook. Vinokurov did not directly debunk the information, but instead presented it as a case study in what he called “intellectual provocation.” He explained that his earlier experiment in posting a fake news story was to show how it could go viral — and how such things would no longer be allowed in Russia, after a new “Law on Bloggers” takes effect in August.
“Интеллектуальная провокация” — новый жанр для медиа. Мог бы быть довольно перспективным. Хорошая цитируемость, высокая виральность. Вовлекает аудиторию в тему лучше, чем обычная колонка (opinion). Мог бы. Но с 1 августа 2014 года запрещен в РФ для использования в социальных сетях в соответствии 97-ФЗ.
“Intellectual provocation” — a new genre for the media. Could be a very promising one. Great citation rate, highly viral. Engages the audience in the topic a lot better then a regular opinion column. Could be. But starting on August 1, 2014, it's banned in the Russian Federation for use in social networks in accordance with [Federal Law] 97.
Although Vinokurov claimed his actions were essentially demonstrating the constraints of new Internet laws in Russia, the audience did not take kindly to his “intellectual provocation.”
“Интеллектуальная провокация” — пиздеж на либспике?
“Intellectual provocation” — is that “bullshitting” in liberal speak?
Чем отличается от троллинга?
How is this different from trolling?
Врать запретили! Какая досада!))
Lying is forbidden! What a pity! :)
In his didactic post about the whole affair, Vinokurov refers to one of the several new laws aimed at regulating (and censoring) the Russian Internet. 97-FZ, also known as the “Law on Bloggers,” was adopted in May and comes into force on August 1, 2014. Besides requiring popular bloggers to assume what is basically the status of a mass media outlet, the law demands that these people “verify the credibility of the published information available to the public before it is published and immediately delete published information that has been proven false.” (You can read the full text of the law in Russian here.)
Was Vinokurov's stunt cruel in such a fraught situation, given the already jittery state of media, bloggers, and Internet users? Probably. Was it successful at making a point about the harshness of the new Russian Internet regulations? Maybe. Will it help change the situation and promote the freedom of speech and responsible sharing of information? Probably not.