With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the Berkman Center is undertaking a two-year research project to investigate the role of the Internet in Russian society. The study will include a number of interrelated areas of inquiry that contribute to and draw upon the Russian Internet, including the Russian blogosphere, Twitter, and the online media ecology. In addition to investigating a number of core Internet and communications questions, a key goal for the project is to test, refine, and integrate various methodological approaches to the study of the Internet more broadly. This working paper analyzes the Russian blogosphere, with an emphasis on politics; it is the project's first public research release.
We analyzed Russian blogs to discover networks of discussion around politics and public affairs. Beginning with an initial set of over five million blogs, we used social network analysis to identify a highly active ‘Discussion Core’ of over 11,000. These were clustered according to long term patterns of citations within posts, and the resulting segmentation characterized through both automated and human content analysis.
Key findings include:
Unlike their counterparts in the US and elsewhere, Russian bloggers prefer platforms that combine features typical of blogs with features of social network services (SNSs) like Facebook. Russian blogging is dominated by a handful of these “SNS hybrids.”
While the larger Russian blogosphere is highly divided according to platform, there is a central Discussion Core that contains the majority of political and public affairs discourse. This core is comprised mainly, though not exclusively, of blogs on the LiveJournal platform.
The Discussion Core features four major groupings:
Politics and Public Affairs (including news-focused discussion, business and finance, social activists, and political movements)
Culture (including literature, cinema, high culture, and popular culture)
Regional (bloggers in Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Israel, etc.)
Instrumental (paid blogging and blogging for external incentives)
Political/public affairs bloggers cover a broad spectrum of attitudes and agendas and include many who discuss politics from an independent standpoint, as well as those affiliated with offline political and social movements, including strong ‘Democratic Opposition’ and ‘Nationalist’ clusters.
The Russian political blogosphere supports more cross-linking debate than others we have studied (including the U.S. and Iranian), and appears less subject to the formation of self-referential ‘echo chambers.’
Pro-government bloggers are not especially prominent and do not constitute their own cluster, but are mostly located in a part of the network featuring general discussion of Russian public affairs. However, there is a concentration of bloggers affiliated with pro-government youth groups among the Instrumental bloggers.
We find evidence of political and social mobilization, particularly in those clusters affiliated with offline political and social movements.
The online ‘news diet’ of Russian bloggers is more independent, international, and oppositional than that of Russian Internet users overall, and far more so than that of non-Internet users, who are more reliant upon state-controlled federal TV channels.
Popular political YouTube videos focus on corruption and abuse of power by elites, the government, and the police.