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Papers and Research Results from Berkman's Russian Project

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society is preparing to release a series of working papers and research results based on our three-year study of the Russian Internet.  This research is generously supported by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.  

We welcome feedback on these materials.  Comments are welcome on the Internet & Democracy blog or can be sent directly to the authors. We will be releasing a variety of different material over the coming months so please stay tuned.

Exploring Russian Cyberspace: Digitally-Mediated Collective Action and the Networked Public Sphere
By Karina Alexanyan, Vladimir Barash, Bruce Etling, Robert Faris, Urs Gasser, John Kelly, John Palfrey, and Hal Roberts 
March 2, 2012

This paper summarizes the major findings of three-year research project to investigate the Internet’s impact on Russian politics, media and society.  We employed multiple methods to study online activity: the mapping and study of the structure, communities and content of the blogosphere; an analogous mapping and study of Twitter; content analysis of different media sources using automated and human-based evaluation approaches; and a survey of bloggers; augmented by infrastructure mapping, interviews and background research.

Public discourse in the Russian blogosphere: Mapping RuNet Politics and Mobilization
By Bruce Etling, Karina Alexanyan, John Kelly, Robert Faris, John Palfrey, and Urs Gasser
October 19, 2010

In this paper, we analyze 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.

Mapping Russian Twitter
March 20, 2012
By John Kelly, Vladimir Barash, Karina Alexanyan, Bruce Etling, Robert Faris, Urs Gasser, and John Palfrey

Employing methods similar to those used in our blogosphere research, we draw from a corpus of over 50 Million Russian language tweets collected between March 2010 and March 2011. We created a network map of 10,285 users comprising the ‘discussion core’ in Twitter and clustered them based on a combination of network features.  The resulting segmentation revealed key online political constituencies active in Russian Twitter.

Salience vs. Commitment: Dynamics of Political Hashtags in Russian Twitter

April 10, 2012

Social media sites like Twitter enable users to engage in the spread of contagious phenomena: everything from information and rumors to social movements and virally marketed products. In particular, Twitter has been observed to function as a platform for political discourse, allowing political movements to spread their message and engage supporters, and also as a platform for information diffusion, allowing everyone from mass media to citizens to reach a wide audience with a critical piece of news. Previous work suggests that different contagious phenomena will display distinct propagation dynamics, and in particular that news will spread differently through a population than other phenomena. We leverage this theory to construct a system for classifying contagious phenomena based on the properties of their propagation dynamics, and apply our system to a dataset of news-related and political hashtags diffusing through the population of Russian users of Twitter. Our results show that news-related hashtags have distinctive propagation dynamics, but that political hashtags have many different dynamic signatures.

Comparing the habits, attitudes of Russian-language and English-language bloggers
June 28, 2012

This research shares the results of a sample of popular and long tail bloggers to understand the issues they prefer to write about, basic demographic information, and their level of trust in various Russian institutions.  This research builds on surveys of English and Middle Eastern bloggers carried out by the Blogging Common team at the Berkman Center, and will be available at
Blogs as an Alternative Public Sphere

Blogs as an Alternative Public Sphere: The Role of Blogs, Mainstream Media, and TV in Russia’s Media Ecology
Bruce Etling, Hal Roberts, Robert Faris
April 29, 2014

Applying a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, we investigate whether Russian blogs represent an alternative public sphere distinct from web-based Russian government information sources and the mainstream media. Based on data collected over a one-year period (December 2010 through December 2011) from thousands of Russian political blogs and other media sources, we compare the cosine similarity of the text from blogs, mainstream media, major TV channels, and official government websites. We find that, when discussing a selected set of major political and news topics popular during the year, blogs are consistently the least similar to government sources compared to TV and the mainstream media. We also find that the text of mainstream media outlets in Russia (primarily traditional and web-native newspapers) are more similar to government sources than one would expect given the greater editorial and financial independence of those media outlets, at least compared to largely state-controlled national TV stations. We conclude that blogs provide an alternative public sphere: a space for civic discussion and organization that differs significantly from that provided by the mainstream media, TV, and government.

Media Cloud:  A tool and automated method for identifying agendas in blogs and mainstream media

In this paper we describe the technical specifications of the Media Cloud tool and the methods we use to compare media sets (primarily thousands of blogs and mainstream media sites) in both the English and Russian languages.  We also use human coders to test how well the Media Cloud tool identifies agendas in English and Russian stories.

Comparing political issue salience and dynamics in Russian Twitter and the Blogosphere

We identify and then track over one year the popularity of a series of pro-government, oppositional and big news stories occurring between March 2010 and March 2011. 

Publications 01

Mar 2, 2012

Exploring Russian Cyberspace: Digitally-Mediated Collective Action and the Networked Public Sphere

This paper summarizes the major findings of a three-year research project to investigate the Internet’s impact on Russian politics, media and society. We employed multiple methods…