Online Social Networks Now Most Important Means to Mobilize Russian Voters, Political Technologists Say

Montage of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Logos, adapted from image at nps.gov

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, December 14, 2018)

In “the new political reality” Russia has entered, one in which anti-elite attitudes are predominant, political technologists say that online social networks and especially Telegram are now far more important tools to mobilize voters than any of the traditional political methods.

That is the conclusion offered in a report prepared by the committee on political technologies of the Russian Association for Ties with Society on the basis of interviews with 80 political technologists. Significantly, 83 percent of them agreed with the thesis that Russia is now in such “a new political reality” (rbc.ru/politics/14/12/2018/5c12814e9a794783f8363ef4).

Two years ago, a survey of this same group concluded that door to door visits, medica campaigns and advertising on the media were far more important than social networks; but now with growing anti-elite attitudes, the role of social networks has risen while these other tools have declined in importance.

The political technologists mentioned Telegram most often as an influential social network. It was followed by VKontakte, YouTube, Instragram, Odnoklassniki, WhatsApp, and Facebook. Two years ago, the three leaders were VKontakte, Facebook and Odnoklassniki, the study says.

It further argued that “Telegram is viewed as an effective means of influence not so much on the mass audience as on elites.” The regime’s efforts to get Telegram to turn over its keys and Telegram’s refusal to do so, the study says, only served to attract attention to it as a channel that powers that be are afraid of, Yevgeny Minchenko of Minchenko Consulting adds.

The study’s main conclusion is that there has been “a sharp change in the structure of information consumption and the factors of success in elections,” the sociologist continues, one driven less by technology itself than by the growth of distrust to elites, traditional media and VIP agitators.”

What the Russian electorate wants now, Minchenko says, is dialogue, “a new sincerity,” and a sense of emotional involvement. That follows a worldwide trend when voters are moving away from the “rational” models of the past toward more “emotional” reasons for the votes they cast.

Other Moscow analysts caution against making too much of the report’s conclusions. Andrey Kolyadin, former head of the Presidential Administration department for regional affairs, says that “the Internet is only one of the communication channels … and far from the most effective” in particular locations.

“For example,” he says, “in Vladivostok, radio is comparable to television in terms of influence on electoral outcomes, and in a number of districts of Primorsky kray, local newspapers enjoy the greatest level of trust.” Meanwhile, government employees with higher educations there “actively use information from WhatsApp.” In short, each region is different.

Vyacheslav Smirnov, a Russian political technologist, agrees that Telegram channels have great influence on journalists and bosses but argues that “70 percent of the materials in the political channels is commercially placed” and that consumers of these channels are well aware of that fact and do not put too much trust in them.

Other social networks, like Odnoklassniki, WhatsApp and Instagram, have more influence because they spread rumors that help people decide what to believe from television and mainstream media outlets. They also use these and Telegram to try to divine what the bosses in fact want.

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/12/online-social-networks-now-most.html]