Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Russian language social media platforms: effective tools for political lobbying.

November 20, 2010

This week I’ve been observing how a scandal, published on the famous social media platform spread to the mass media and within 24 hours caught the attention of Vladimir Putin’s press office.

Unsurprisingly, the story is about corruption and theft during the construction of a pipeline by the state-owned Transneft. A famous Russian blogger, Navalnyj, who has investigated the case for a few months, collected supporting documents and displayed his findings in an earnest and vigorous post , which he ironically called “How do they saw at Transneft”. In Russian there is an expression “ to saw the money “ from something. Usually, it’s used to describe situations where corrupt authorities steal large sums while working on government projects. The main message of the post is to point out that the highest echelons keep stealing and make a mockery of the country. The author passionately encourages his readers to repost and get as much publicity as possible. There is a press release in English for the international media. The post provoked a gush of anger from the Livejournal community and received 10000 comments.

I am fascinated by the role Facebook plays in Russia. As I mentioned in my earlier posts the Livejournal community has always been the place for highbrow discussions where small communities of Russian intellectuals spark debates about sociopolitical issues. However, it has always been limited and never enjoyed a greater outreach to a mainstream audience. I think its structure didn’t provide opportunities for sharing material as easily as Facebook does now. There were no Share and Like buttons. For example, I wouldn’t know about this post as I don’t have a Livejournal account except I saw a link to Navalnyj’s Livejournal post published on my wall, as one of my friends shared it. I was intrigued by the name of the post and, as I know that my friend is peculiarly interested in Russian political affairs sharing newsworthy stuff , I immediately followed it to check it out. Navalny has a page on Facebook with already more than 2000 friends. On the wall his status update says that he is not sure how to use Facebook and what kind of opportunties it has for dissemination of information and asks people to share the link.

Alexey Navalny

It looks like it’s going to be a great case study of how to use social media in Russia while lobbing political parties. Alexey Navalnyj directly asks the government to comment on the story and start an investigation. He suggests that top managers of the construction company should be arrested for theft and corruption. So far the story has received coverage in an influential business-focused Russian media outlet Vedomosti The mainstream media like Pervj kanal typically praises the opening of a new Transneft pipeline. It’s amazing how the situation is changing. Just a while ago to draw attention to such a dangerous story you had to go to great lengths to convince editors to publish it and make available it to public. Nowadays, a well written post creates such a fuss and gets noticed by the premier within 24 hours. Great news for Russia and I am going to keep an eye on this event which will make it into the textbooks of political PR.


How Russian bloggers fought wildfires, and the official introduction of Internet censorship.

August 22, 2010

Recent wildfires in Russia and the failure of the authorities to deal effectively with the disaster  has provoked another wave of grievances with the present political regime. During this catastrophe the Russian blogosphere was full of negative remarks and discussions about the incompetence of the government. As far as I know, many intellectual and open-minded Russians are not satisfied with the current political regime which they see as corrupted, hypocritical and leading the country away from democracy, freedom of expression and human rights.

Nowadays more Russians believe that social media is the only trustworthy source of information and get the news from blogs, ignoring traditional mass media. This makes sense as major media outlets belong to the state or oligarchs who have strong connections to Putin and Medvedev’ team. Thus, main media outlets don’t cover news damaging to the reputation of the government, so people acquire a biased picture of everyday life in Russia.  Medvedoputi Медведопуты, a new term in Russian denoting Putin and Medvedev’s government and their supporters who controlthe mass media, seeing the Internet as the only place where reality can be covered adequately.

The way information about wildfires was presented in the media reminds me  of the soviet style communication system, when biased news was disseminated to people and strict censorship was the norm.History is repeating itself as the Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu is reassuring the public from TV screens across the nation that the situation is under control while it clearly wasn’t.

Many bloggers volunteered to assist in firefighting while others reported on a progress of their efforts as volunteers or correspondents kept informing about the state of firefighting efforts and encouraged people to participate and help each other. I enjoyed reading a witty and insisive post by a young woman, volunteer, who published her letter to Shoigu,responsible for dealing with wildfires all over Russia. This humorous and critical post received a huge response from bloggers and achieved 2368 comments! Another  good example of the increasing significance of social media is when the highly respected editor-in-chief of the Russian radio station “Echo Moskvy” Aleksey Venediktov re-posted a letter addressed to Putin from one of his listeners. In the letter a man explained why wildfires were so hard to stop, accusing civil servants and local authorities of theft, indifference and corruption. A great video called Civil Servants in English on this topic can be found here. Interestingly, Putin responded to this post with explanations of why it’s difficult to extinguish fires.

Undoubtably, the Russian government is monitoring blogosphere very carefully and there are many concerns in the online community about the introduction of Internet Censorship. The first step to restricting the freedom of speech has been taken with introduction of the ”one day rule”. In June the Supreme Court of Russia gave the right to Roskomnadzor, a federal service that supervises Internet and mass media communications for the Russian Ministry of Telecommunications to force websites to delete comments within one day of being notified or risk losing their mass media registration.When Roskomnadzor finds a comment they consider  inappropriate they will serve a notice to the outlet by email with a screenshot of the comment  The comment must then be removed within 24 hours,come to the  ” one day rule”. If the comment is not removed within the required time the outlet might lose their media registration.

Obviously,the purpose of this law is to prevent a dissimilation of unhealthy content sparkling racist violence and other dangerous behavior. However, it also opens the door for authorities to tighten their grip on the Internet media. Especially, taking into consideration the famous Russian corruption, when local authorities abuse their power and pursue individual goals by manipulating laws. I believe that the issue of censorship is going to be one of the top topics discussed  within online communities and I’ll be keeping a close eye on this topic.

Why Facebook won’t beat Russia’s Vkontakte?

July 1, 2010

Russia is on the priority list of countries which Facebook is planning to ехpand into  in the near future. According to an article in the  Financial Times Mark Zuckerberg is planning to make Facebook the leading social networking utility on Runet. The ultimate goal of Zucherberg is to reach 1 billion users by 2012. He admitted that organic growth is not enough to turn such an ambitious plan into reality. Currently the Facebook team are seeking different ways penetrating non- English language online audiences.

I am very curious to see what kind of strategies Facebook is going to implement to win the audience of the main Russian social networking players such as Vkontake and Odnoklassniki . Vkontakte is  the most popular social network utility in Russia. The number of Facebook users in Russia is  1, 244 ,280 while Vkontake has 75, 604 ,275  members . There are many online conversations on Runet about Facebook’s plans to invade Russian cyberspace. I’ve observed that the majority of Russian bloggers are quite sceptical about Facebook’s intention to conquer Russia.

As an active member of  both platforms, I can compare them from an ordinary user perspective. Vkontakte has a few drawbacks, and the most considerable one is an ongoing problem with the security of personal accounts. From personal experience, my account has been hacked  a couple of times and used for sending out spam and viruses. As far as I know, many users have become victims of viruses spread via Vkontakte. Facebook is much more robust in this regard and I haven’t got any viruses through this network. Also in my opinion,  Vkontakte has a less user-friendly interface than Facebook. For instance, you have to navigate from page to page if you want to chat online or check the news feed. Alerts about comments on my pictures are sent to my email only and not always on time. While Facebook sends a notification to your main page immediately when another uses comments on your status or pictures. Vkontakte doesn’t allow you to be logged in and appear offline, which is inconvenient if you don’t want to reply to messages instantly or to be noticed online. Finally, Vkontakte doesn’t have the Like button, allowing users to subscribe instantly to the content they find interesting. In general, Facebook is much more convenient to use, it offers a broader range of features and a more comprehensive security system.

Nevertheless, Vkontakte offers a special feature which attracts more new members daily and makes them spend a lot of time online. Members are able to view thousands of pirated copies of domestic and foreign movies dubbed into Russian. In addition, it’s possible to upload and download video and audio files via the VK Tracker application. This is the most significant advantage of Vkontakte over Facebook. It can be perceived that the majority of Vkontakte members will not be as easily persuaded to join Facebook and to give up their convenient online entertainment. Indeed, Facebook may offer a broader range of features and the possibility to interact with an international crowd. However, this may not be enough be for the ordinary user.  Yet, professionals and companies may favour Facebook’s features to use as a social networking utility for business purposes.

Obviously, some media holdings such as Amedia are very unhappy with Vkontakte, as they have already been accused of piracy several times, but criminal intent hasn’t yet been proven. In my opinion, the best strategy  for Facebook in Russia is to join forces with other frustrated companies and lobby the Russian parliament to reform copyrights laws on the Internet.  While the online piracy of movies and music in Vkontakte continues to exists, it will be extremely hard for Facebook to compete with the third most visited website in Russia. However, what kind of serious competition can there be between two companies which have the same investor? Interestingly enough, Mail.Ru Group (formerly Digital Sky Technologies),  the Russian Internet investment company which has a 32.5% stake in Vkotakte, last year paid £125 million for a 2 per cent stake in Facebook. So I believe that Facebook and Vkontakte will coexist successfully in Russia and hopefully members of both networks will only benefit from some  healthy competition.

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