Twilight of the Gods?: How Internet Users Challenged Russian News Frames in the Winter Protests of 2011-12

TitleTwilight of the Gods?: How Internet Users Challenged Russian News Frames in the Winter Protests of 2011-12
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Oates, S. A., and T. Lokot
Affiliation (1st Author)Philip Merrill College of Journalism University of Maryland
Section or WGPost-Socialist and Post-Authoritarian Communication Working Group
DateFri 28 June
Slot CodePOSF4a
Slot Code (Keyword)POSF4a
Time of Session16:00-17:30
Session TitleJournalism cultures and the public sphere
Submission ID5325

Russian internet users have created an alternative media sphere online, but so far it has failed to redefine the Russian news agenda. Rather, online and traditional media exist in almost completely separate spheres with distinctive levels of state controls, agendas, frames, and audiences. This paper explores how long this state of one nation and two medias can exist without crisis – either a collapse of the reality crafted by the Kremlin or a destruction of online freedom through crackdowns by the Russian state. To explore this state of tension, we examine the difference and interplay (or lack thereof) of traditional broadcast and online framing of the protests surrounding Russian elections in the winter of 2011-12. The work uses an archive of television news from November and December 2011, recorded and analyzed under one author’s direction (Oates) by the Higher School of Economics in Russia. This material will be compared with archived blogs and other online discussion archived by the Berkman Center as well as the Center for New Media and Society in Moscow. At issue is the contrast in framing between the traditional media, which used classic Soviet propaganda tactics including framing events, distorting facts, and providing kompromat (negative reporting) on opponents to the Kremlin, and the online outlets, including independent media, blogs and other social content. For the first time in post-Soviet history, the Kremlin’s ability to control the news agenda was significantly challenged not only by the scale of the protests, but by the way in which internet users were able to disseminate news and evidence of the breadth of the activity. A key misstep of the Kremlin attempts to belittle and denigrate the protestors was an attempt to frame the protestors as extremist individuals under foreign influence who wanted to destabilize the state, a frame that went down particularly badly due to the broad base of support for the protests and the compelling evidence of electoral falsification posted online. While the Russian state weathered the crisis without serious challenge, the study of the coverage of the protests both online and in traditional media can illuminate some key issues about protest, the internet and its users, and post-Soviet states. How did the online framing and agenda setting differ from that of the traditional broadcast media (the state-run First Channel and commercial NTV)? At what points were the lies and distortions made most obvious by the online coverage? What elements of the online sphere – key bloggers, organizing tactics, videos, direct evidence of election cheating – were the most disseminated and discussed in the Russian internet? What different agendas and frames emerged in online media and how were they disseminated? Overall, how long can an authoritarian regime survive with two distinctive media spheres and what are the specific pressure points that the internet appears to make most vulnerable in Russia?

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