A new article by Florian Toepfl and Anna Litvinenko is forthcoming in the journal New Media & Society. It is entitled "Transferring control from the backend to the frontend: A comparison of the discourse architectures of comment sections on news websites across the post-Soviet world". Its abstract reads as follows:
This study compares how comment sections were implemented, as of summer 2016, on the 179 leading national news websites across the 15 post-Soviet countries. In order to pursue this aim, a novel coding scheme is developed that facilitates assessment of the degree to which the discourse architectures of comment sections transfer control over the content published from the backend to the frontend of a website. Accordingly, each comment section is assigned a value on a ‘control transfer index’ (CTI). The study identifies the level of press freedom/democracy of a country as the only significant predictor for whether, and how openly, comment sections were implemented. The popularity of comment sections and their CTIs decreased with the openness of a regime. However, even in the most closed regimes, comment sections were still a relatively commonly observed phenomenon. We interpret this latter finding by drawing on theories of citizen participation under authoritarian rule.
The accepted version of the manuscript is available here.
Anna Litvinenko has published a column on the website of ZOiS (Centre for East European and International Studies, Berlin). The original text can be found here; we
republish it below.
It is hard to convince journalists from Russian state media to give research interviews. When you ask them, they usually say something about corporate culture. They are not allowed to give interviews without special permission, they say. It is the same for CNN, they add. The comparison with Western media comes up often in discussions with journalists from Russian state media, who stress they are just the same as their Western colleagues. They talk about business models and audience orientation. And they say nothing about censorship or political bias. If asked directly, they say, ‘But a certain bias is common for all media: CNN and Fox News also have their owners and have limitations because of it.’
When my colleague Florian Toepfl and I began to study the discourse of Russian journalists for our research project Mediating (Semi-)Authoritarianism: The Power of the Internet in the Post-Soviet Space at the Free University in Berlin, we expected to find differences between the rhetoric of Russian and Western journalists. However, it was not the differences but the similarities that struck us. If you don’t know that you’re reading an interview with a journalist from a state news agency, you can mistake it for an interview with an editor from Reuters.
As researchers, we take into account that the way journalists talk to us is different from the way they talk to each other. But it is still the discourse that they articulate to the outside world, and it matters. We observe this pattern not only in the journalistic community but also in political communication: in Russia, democratic rhetoric and authoritarian practices often go hand in hand. Toepfl described this paradox in a recent paper, which made a plea for a discourse-based approach to studies of the relationship between media and politics. As his research showed, democratic rhetoric is prominent in the political news of Russia’s First Channel. Russian TV audiences regularly watch news pieces about members of the President’s Council for Human Rights meeting Vladimir Putin or about officials addressing online petitions. Seen through the TV lens, policies in the country seem transparent and democratic.
Decorating authoritarian practices with democratic words is often perceived as a trick of the regime. Political scientists describe this tactic as a typical feature of modern hybrid regimes. But is it really a tool of the regime, or just the absence of a coherent narrative? When you talk to journalists, especially the younger generation, they seem to be fluent only in the language of democracy. This rhetoric is a legacy of the time of democratic transition that post-Soviet societies went through in the 1990s. The elites have adopted the new language, and now there is no substitute for it. So today, despite authoritarian trends in Russia, political elites still talk using democratic rhetoric. And journalists who were socialised in the 1990s and early 2000s often adopt phrases from Anglo-Saxon journalism textbooks.
It may seem that this is just diluted rhetoric and that it doesn’t really matter what kind of words the elites use. However, this so-called decorative rhetoric does have some power. It was in part this discrepancy between words and deeds that triggered the recent schoolchildren’s protests. In their textbooks, Russian millennials were taught that Russia was a democracy that respects human rights and freedom of speech. They have been listening to this rhetoric their whole lives, and now they are demanding that these concepts should work in the country. And they are not afraid to speak out, because elites still insist that Russia is a democracy.
These young people increasingly stop using state media, which merely imitate freedom of speech. Instead, they create spaces for free speech themselves—on YouTube or in clubs that organise verbal battles between rappers, such as the recent battle between hip-hop stars Oxxxymiron and Gnoyny. Young people also create their own language that corresponds to their reality but seems incomprehensible for older generations as well as for state media. The latter have recently tried to flirt with rappers’ fans, but have failed to reach them. Instead, pro-state media received warnings and fines from Roskomnadzor, the federal service for the supervision of mass media, for sharing YouTube videos containing swear words.
Member of the Emmy Noether Group Andrei Zavadski has co-organized a conference entitled “Public History in Russia: Museums for the Past or the Past for Museums?”, to take place on June 15-17, 2017 at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, Russia.
The conference will look at the museum as one of the key institutions actualizing the past in the public space. Speakers will discuss the evolution of the museum’s role in the public discourse on the past, the specificity of Russian historical and memorial museums, and the place of collective memory in museum displays. What is the specificity of Russian historical and memory museums? What place do events of the 20th-century history of Russia, from the Revolution of 1917 and Stalin’s Great Terror to the socio-economic and political transformations of the 1990s, occupy in the expositions of Russian museums? How do contemporary museums use digital technologies for the creation of historical narratives? What past do Russian museums need, and what museums are necessary for the Russian past?
The conference brings together over fifty museum practitioners and researchers from Russia, Germany, USA, France, and Britain. Keynote speakers will include New York University professor Mikhail Iampolski, artist, author, and curator Felicity Allen, and professor at the University of Florida Dragan Kujundzic.
On June 14, in the lead-up to the conference, The Museum of Moscow will host a public reading of the play The Uprising by Mikhail Kaluzhsky, and a meeting with the author. The Uprising was staged as part of the Chainskoye Peasant Revolt (Documentary Theatre in a Museum) project at Tomsk Museum of Local History, which continued the research and memorial project Free and Enslaved People of Siberia. Both projects will be discussed during the conference.
Mr. Zavadski will moderate the session "Virtual Barricades: Online Museums and Dominant Narratives" that will discuss how internet projects dedicated to collective memory help challenge official narratives of the past.
The full programme of the conference (in Russian) can be found here.
The pre-conference "The Consequences of the Internet for Authoritarian Politics: Comparative Perspectives" took place on May 25, 2017 as part of the International Communication Association's annual conference. The pre-conference brought together researchers from across the world who focus in their work on media in non-democratic contexts.
The event started with a panel discussion entitled “Comparing Political Communication across Authoritarian Contexts: Challenges and Perspectives” that was moderated by the leader of Emmy Noether group Florian Toepfl. Paolo Mancini (University of Perugia, Italy), Svetlana Bodrunova (University of St. Petersburg, Russia) and Muzammil Hussain (University of Michigan, USA) shared their views on conducting comparative research on authoritarian politics and highlighted challenges for scholars, including gathering data in authoritarian regimes and conceptualizing the findings.
The studies presented by participants in the two following panels showed a big variety of research strategies to compare media in authoritarian contexts, from the classical approach of comparing media systems to comparisons on the level of news organizations and practices. The geographical range of case studies was also broad, with a special attention to China, post-Soviet space, the Arab world, and African countries.
The conference provided a forum for scholars from around the world to discuss comparative perspectives on the consequences of the Internet for authoritarian politics and encouraged intellectual exchange across manifold disciplinary and methodological borders.
The full program of the conference can be found here.
A new article by Florian Toepfl and Eunike Piwoni is forthcoming in the journal New Media & Society. Its title and abstract read as follows:
This study illustrates how the emphasis structure of counterpublic discourses surfacing online can be predicted by that of the dominant publics that these counterpublics – at the argumentative level – so resolutely oppose. Deploying a single common case study design, the article scrutinizes a counterpublic discourse that surfaced in the comment sections of Germany’s opinion-leading news websites in the week after the surprising electoral success of a new anti-Euro party, the AfD. Quantitative content analysis identifies 75% of all comments posted (n = 2,955) to all articles about the AfD (n = 19) as part of an anti-Euro counterpublic. While this counterpublic sharply opposed the editorial lines of Germany’s unanimously pro-common-currency media, it still aligned its efforts closely with this dominant public – albeit at a deeper level. As the findings demonstrate, the frequencies with which commenters adopted six emphasis frames were significantly predicted by the frequencies of these frames in mainstream news.
Keywords: political communication, counterpublics, public sphere, comment sections, content analysis, Germany
The accepted manuscript of the article can be downloaded here.
Anna Litvinenko has taken part in the annual conference “Comparative Media Studies in Today’s World: Media Transformations in Times of Technological Boom and Political Polarization” at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia.
Dr. Litvinenko presented the paper "Comparison of Comment Sections on News Websites in Post-Soviet Countries” that she co-authored with Dr. Florian Toepfl, leader of the Emmy-Noether Group.
She also moderated the panel discussion "Political Polarization and Journalistic Practices in Germany and Russia", during which prominent journalists and media researches from the two countries talked about challenges for journalists at the time of political radicalization and societal fragmentation.
The conference took place on April 11-13 and was dedicated to analysing political and technological transformations of media systems in comparative perspective. The programme of the conference is available here.
A new article by Florian Toepfl is published online first by the journal Information, Communication & Society. It is entitled
From connective to collective action: Internet elections as a digital tool to centralize and formalize protest in Russia and its abstract reads as follows:
Over the past decade, an extensive body of literature has emerged on the question of how new communication technologies can facilitate new modes of organizing protest. However, the extant research has tended to focus on how digitally enabled protest operates. By contrast, this study investigates why, how, and with what consequences a heavily digitally enabled ‘connective action network’ has transitioned over time to a more traditional ‘collective action network’ [Bennett, W. L., Segerberg, A. (2013). The logic of connective action: Digital media and the personalization of contentious politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 47]. Specifically, the article scrutinizes the trajectory of the Russian protests ‘For Fair Elections.’ This wave of street protests erupted after the allegedly fraudulent parliamentary elections of December 2011 and continued into 2013. As is argued, the protests were initially organized as an ‘organizationally enabled connective action network.’ However, after eight months of street protests, Russian activists reorganized the network into a more centralized, more formalized ‘organizationally brokered collective action network.’ In order to implement this transition, they deployed ‘Internet elections’ as a cardinally new digital tactic of collective action. Between 20 and 22 October 2012, more than 80,000 activists voted online in order to create a new leadership body for the entire protest movement, the ‘Coordination Council of the Opposition.’ As the study has found, activists implemented this transition because, within the specific Russian socio-political context, enduring engagement and stable networks appeared crucial to the movement’s long-term success. With regard to achieving these goals, the more formalized collective action network appeared superior to the connective action form.
The full text of the article can be downloaded here. If you do not have access to this journal, or if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the author anytime.
The Emmy Noether research group has published a draft programme for the ICA 2017 pre-conference “The Consequences of the Internet for Authoritarian Politics: Comparative Perspectives”. The programme can be found here.
The pre-conference will take place on May 25, 2017, as part of ICA 2017. It aims to provide a forum for scholars from across the globe to discuss, and develop, comparative perspectives on the consequences of the Internet for authoritarian politics.
The Russian Media Lab's international workshop “Active Media Spaces: Dialogues on Russian Media, Culture and Institutions” took place on January 19-20, 2017 in Saint Petersburg. Scholars from Germany, Finland, the United Kingdom, and Russia presented their research on various aspects of contemporary Russia's media landscape.
In her talk “User Comment Sections on Leading News Websites in Russia: Results from a Comparative Study of 15 Post-Soviet Countries”, Anna Litvinenko presented the findings of a recent project conducted by the Emmy-Noether research group.
The workshop's programme also included a roundtable entitled ”Media Literacy and Media Education in Russia” that brought together scholars and Russian media professionals.
The Russian Media Lab is a multidisciplinary research project based at the University of Helsinki, Finland. For more details please visit the project’s blog.
The selection process for the ICA 2017 pre-conference “The Consequences of the Internet for Authoritarian Politics: Comparative Perspectives” has been completed. The Emmy Noether research group would like to thank all the scholars who replied to the call for papers. We are now happy to announce the list of speakers and discussants who will participate in the event:
Svetlana Bodrunova (Saint Petersburg University, Russia)
Muzammil M. Hussain (University of Michigan, USA)
Du Juana (Royal Roads University, Canada)
Anna Litvinenko (FU Berlin, Germany)
Ting Luo (Leiden University, Netherlands)
Paolo Mancini (University of Perugia, Italy)
Michael Meyen (LMU Munich, Germany)
Marcus Michaelsen (Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, Netherlands)
Sarah Oates (University Maryland, USA)
Terhi Rantanen (London School of Economics, UK)
Kerem Schamberger (LMU Munich, Germany)
Danie Stockmann (Leiden University, Netherlands)
Joshua A. Tucker (New York University, USA)
Florian Toepfl (FU Berlin, Germany)
Katrin Voltmer (University of Leeds, UK)
Liu Yusi (Zhejiang University, China)
Hongzhong Zhang (Beijing Normal University, China)
We are delighted that so many distinguished scholars have found the topic of the pre-conference interesting. Non-speakers are also welcome to attend the event: please register for it on the ICA website. We are looking forward to seeing you all in San Diego!
The preliminary programme of the pre-conference and the other details of the event will be published on this website by February 2017.
The pre-conference will take place on May 25, 2017, as part of ICA 2017. It aims to provide a forum for scholars from across the globe to discuss, and develop, comparative perspectives on the consequences of the Internet for authoritarian politics.
A new article by Florian Toepfl is published online first at the journal New Media & Society. It is entitled
Innovating consultative authoritarianism: Internet votes as a novel digital tool to stabilize non-democratic rule in Russia and its abstract reads as follows:
Extant research on the consequences of the Internet for non-democratic politics has focused on how oppositional activists leverage new digital tools. By contrast, still, relatively little is known about how authoritarian elites proactively deploy digital technologies to legitimize their rule. This article contributes to filling this gap by scrutinizing one highly innovative tactic that has recently been adopted repeatedly by Russia’s ruling elites: the organization of ‘Internet votes’ to staff advisory bodies to the government. In contrast to online petitions, online votes are aimed at aggregating citizen preferences not on issues but on candidates, that is, on individuals who later act as political representatives. The article presents an in-depth case study of the first such Internet vote conducted in Russia in 2012. It concludes that ruling elites deployed the tool swiftly to (1) disempower oppositional activists and (2) convey to the mass public the image of a transparent, accountable and responsive government.
The full text of the article can be downloaded here. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the author anytime.
Anna Litvinenko has taken part in the 6th European Communication Conference “Mediated (Dis)Continuities: Contesting Pasts, Presents and Futures”. She presented her paper “Political Discussions on Social Media Accounts of Ukrainian News Websites: Facebook vs. Vkontakte” at the session "News Consumption and Production".
The conference was organized by the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) and took place in Prague on November 9-12, 2016.
The Emmy Noether research group member Anna Litvinenko, in cooperation with Irina Kharuk, also of Freie Universität Berlin, has published an article entitled "Unsichtbare rote Linien": Internet-Regulierung und ihre Konsequenzen für den Online-Journalismus in Russland" [Invisible Red Lines: Internet Regulation and Its Consequences for Online Journalism in Russia] in the issue 324 of the German bulletin Russland-Analysen.
To read the article (in German), please follow the link.
Anna Litvinenko has given a talk at the Future Workshop 2016: Press Freedom organized by Ulrich Saxer Foundation. The event for young media researchers took place at the Neue Zuricher Zeitung on the 28th of October in Zurich, Switzerland.
Dr Litvinenko's presentation was entitled “New Media as Islands of Press Freedom in (Semi-)Authoritarian States? Comparison of Comment Sections on News Websites in Post-Soviet Countries”. Part of the Emmy-Noether Group's current research on participatory features of news websites operating in the post-Soviet space, the presentation was dedicated to the situation with press freedom across the region.
The workshop was organized by the Ulrich Saxer Foundation for the promotion of media and communication research among young people.
The Emmy Noether research group on “Mediating (Semi-)Authoritarianism: The Power of the Internet in the Post-Soviet World” will hold a pre-conference at the 67th annual conference
of the International Communication Association due to take place on May 25-29, 2017 in San Diego,
USA. The research group’s pre-conference proposal has been accepted by the ICA Organizing Committee.
Below is the call for papers for the pre-conference.
Time & Venue
Date: May 25, 2017
Time: 9 am – 5 pm
Location: San Diego Hilton Bayfront (onsite, conference hotel of the ICA annual conference 2017)
Over the past decade, a vibrant body of academic literature has emerged on the political consequences of the Internet for non-democratic politics. However, the majority of extant studies have focused on phenomena of political communication in one authoritarian regime only. By contrast, very few studies have aimed at comparing empirical findings from across different authoritarian contexts. Against this backdrop, this pre-conference explicitly aims at providing a forum for scholars from across the globe to discuss, and develop comparative perspectives on the consequences of the Internet for authoritarian politics.
In order to pursue this goal, we have invited a number of respected scholars in the field to contribute to the event. Invited speakers include Muzammil Hussain (University of Michigan, USA), Paolo Mancini (University of Perugia, Italy), Sarah Oates (University of Maryland, USA), and Katrin Voltmer (University of Leeds). In order to supplement the pre-conference programme, we would like to invite at least three types of additional submissions. Firstly, we explicitly welcome submissions that compare empirical data across different authoritarian contexts. Secondly, we are also interested in papers that present empirical findings from only one country, but that, at the theoretical level, explicitly aim at embedding them into a wider regional or global context. Such theoretically informed comparisons can be achieved, for instance, by referring to the lively recent debates around new types of responsive and competitive authoritarianism, or to the literature on authoritarian institutions. As a third type of submission, we also invite purely theoretical contributions.
Moreover, as a number of scholars have recently lamented, extant research on the conference topic has largely focused on either how oppositional activists leverage new digital tools to challenge authoritarian rule or how authoritarian elites suppress and censor online dissent. Against this backdrop, we are particularly keen to also discuss questions around how authoritarian elites pro-actively deploy the Internet to expand their communicative power. Why, how, and with what consequences, for instance, do authoritarian leaders across the globe reach out to their citizens via social networks? Why do they open up virtual participatory spaces that host, for example, online polls, online petitions, or virtual deliberative forums?
The topic of the pre-conference is situated at the intersection of two divisions of the ICA, the Political Communication and the Global Communication & Social Change divisions, which are cosponsoring the event. At a more abstract level, a key goal of the pre-conference is thus also to bring together scholars from these two communities, encouraging intellectual exchange across manifold disciplinary and methodological borders. Participants who would not like to contribute but would still like to attend the event are welcome to sign up on the ICA registration website as audience members. The participation fee, which is being charged to cover the two coffee breaks, is 50 USD.
The conference is organised by the Emmy Noether research group on “Mediating (Semi-)Authoritarianism: The Power of the Internet in the Post-Soviet World,” from the Freie Universität Berlin. All news regarding the conference, including its finalised program, will be published on this website. For additional information, please contact Anna Litvinenko or Florian Toepfl.
Please email submissions – which can be of any format, from extended abstracts (800 words) to full papers (up to 10,000 words in length) – to our student assistant Daria Kravets. The deadline for submission is December 11, 2016.
Notifications of acceptance will be sent out before January 1, 2017.
The Emmy Noether research group on “Mediating (Semi-)Authoritarianism” will hold a pre-conference at the 67th annual conference of the International Communication Association due to take place on May 25-29, 2017 in San Diego, USA. The research group’s pre-conference proposal has been accepted by the ICA Organizing Committee.
The pre-conference, entitled “The Consequences of the Internet for Authoritarian Politics: Comparative Perspectives”, will take place on May 25, 2017. It aims to provide a forum for scholars from across the globe to discuss, and develop, comparative perspectives on the consequences of the Internet for authoritarian politics.
Andrei Zavadski has taken part in the postgraduate symposium "Transnational Memory in the 21st century" organized jointly by King's College London and the University of Leeds, UK. The event took place on September 23, 2016 at King's College London. Andrei presented his PhD project, "Remembrance and Dissent: Digital Memories of the 1990s as a Constitutive Element of an Emergent Counterpublic in Russia".
Keynote presentations at the symposium were given by Professor Joanne Garde-Hansen of the University of Warwick, UK and Professor Stef Craps of Ghent University, Belgium.
Prof. Garde-Hansen dedicated her talk to "social memory technology" as a transnational approach to memory. The approach is conceptualised "as a distinctly personal, low resource and participatory contribution to the current memory boom, growing heritage industries and developing memory cultural policies" and addresses remembering as an everyday practice using media tools for socialization, transfer and communication. The paper focused on memory as belonging to the person, as opposed to state-operated memory institutions and memory narratives mediated within and across national borders. As an example of the application of "social memory technology" Prof. Garde-Hansen named Brazil's Museum of the Person (Museu da Pessoa), with the museum's director Karen Worcman giving the symposium's participants a short video address.
Prof. Craps, in turn, spoke about "discontents" of transnational memory. Having briefly reviewed the field of Memory Studies, he focused on the so called "third phase" of its development posited by Astrid Erll in her essay "Travelling Memory" (2011). The essay celebrated the transnational or transcultural turn in global remembrance that arose from scholars' opposition to the methodological nationalism of Memory Studies. According to Erll, this turn began the third stage of Memory Studies (the first stage marked by the work of Maurice Halbwachs and the second, by the publication of Pierre Nora's "Lieux de memoire"). In his keynote address, Prof. Craps called "for a healthy dose of scepticism" in relation to the overly-optimistic belief in the emancipatory potential of transnational or transcultural memory.
The programme of the symposium can be downloaded here.
Andrei Zavadski has taken part in the annual conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research. The theme of this year's conference was "Memory, Commemoration and Communication: Looking Back, Looking Forward". The event took place at the University of Leicester, UK, on July 27-31, 2016.
Mr. Zavadski participated in the Post-Socialist and Post-Authoritarian Communication Working Group with a paper entitled "Turbulent Democracy”? Digital Memories of the 1990s in Russia", which presented some first preliminary results of his PhD project (the working title of which is "Remembrance and Dissent: Digital Memories of the 1990s as a Constitutive Element of an Emergent Counterpublic in Russia").
On June 15, 2016 Andrei Zavadski conducted a webinar entitled "A Ghetto for Memory? Moscow’s GULAG History Museum and Russian Politics of Memory". The webinar was organized by Die Agentur für Bildung - Geschichte, Politik und Medien e.V. and followed the essay on the new GULAG History Museum in Moscow that Andrei wrote for the "GULAG" issue of the Lernen aus der Geschichte Magazin.
The GULAG History Museum that opened in Moscow in late 2015 offers a relatively non-biased story of Joseph Stalin’s terror. However, it is unclear what place it will occupy in the current Russian memory politics, with its heroization paradigm and focus on the victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. Where does the new museum stand within the official memorial discourse? Does its opening reflect any changes in the state politics of memory? Is the museum destined to become a ghetto for memories about Stalin’s victims?
A recording of the webinar is available below:
Members of the Emmy Noether research group are involved in five research papers presented at the upcoming annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA) in Fukuoka, Japan, 9-14 June 2016. Further details concerning these research projects can be accessed through the official program of the conference via the following links:
In addition, Anna Litvinenko has acted as the organizer of the panel on Internet-Mediated Communication and Politics in the Post-Soviet World. For further information and details on any of these projects, please feel free to contact the authors by email anytime.
Florian Toepfl has published a new article in the International Journal of Communication entitled "Beyond the Four Theories. Towards a Discourse Approach to the Comparative Study of Media and Politics". Its abstract reads as follows:
Leading communication scholars have recently called for questions of meaning and ideology to be brought back into comparative media research. This article heeds that call by delineating a discourse approach to the comparative study of media and politics. This discourse approach is introduced with reference to a formerly influential but recently stigmatized strand of research in the tradition of Four Theories of the Press by Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm (1956/1973), although it abandons and goes well beyond this work. To illustrate the benefits of such an approach, a case study of the media-politics discourse dominant in Russia in 2012–2013 is presented. The findings are then marshalled to unravel three seemingly paradoxical observations about the Russian media landscape.
The full paper can be freely accessed online on the website of the journal at http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/4669
Anna Litvinenko has participated in a kick-off seminar of the project “Russian Media Lab” based at the Aleksanteri Institute
Helsingin Sanomat Foundation) aims to deepen the Russian expertise of Finnish journalists by facilitating interaction between Finnish media, researchers, and students.
Dr. Litvinenko presented the ongoing research projects of the Emmy-Noether research group and discussed with the Finnish colleagues perspectives for future collaboration between the Emmy-Noether research group and the Russian Media Lab, as well as the project’s partners from the University of Tartu (Estonia) and Uppsala University (Sweden).
For more details about the blog. please visit the project’s
Anna Litvinenko has co-authored (together with Svetlana Bodrunova of Saint Petersburg State University, Russia) a chapter in the book Democracy and Media in Central and Eastern Europe 25 Years On. Edited by Boguslawa Dobek-Ostrowska and Michal Glowacki, the book was published by Peter Lang Edition in late 2015.
Litvinenko and Bodrunova's chapter entitled “Four Russias in Communication: Fragmentation of the Russian Public Sphere in the 2010s” presents the results of a research project on media use patterns of participants of the 2011–2012 ‘For Fair Elections’ protest rallies.
Abstract: Russia today is a fundamentally fragmented society, where according to the sociological study done by Natalia Zubarevich there are four big milieus that have divergent patterns of media use and involvement into public deliberation within a hybrid media system. Anna Litvinenko and Svetlana Bodrunova’s research shows that there is a link between media use patterns in post-industrial urban “public counter-sphere” and the protest spill-over, for which newly formed media clusters have played a crucial role during the protests. As Russia is the “world’s top networking community” (as stated by Comscore in 2012), the research is expanded by search for echo chambers/opinion crossroads in the Russian Facebook vs. its analogue Vkontakte.
More information on the book, including its contects, can be found here.
The conference “Tweeting the war - Social Media and War Coverage in Ukraine” took place in Berlin on November 17-20, 2015.
22 young journalists and media scholars from Germany, Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus came to FU Berlin to discuss academic and practical aspects of conflict coverage in the new media environment.
The conference was the second part of the project with the same title funded by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany and co-organized by the Emmy Noether Group and the International Center for Journalism of Freie Universität Berlin. The project started in October 2015 in Kiev with a workshop “Tweeting the war - Social Media and War Coverage in Ukraine” which brought together media scholars and young journalists researching and covering the Ukrainian conflict.
WAS EUROMAIDAN REVOLUTION TWEETED?
Vitalii Moroz, head of new media at Internews Ukraine, gave an overview of the history and role of Twitter for the Ukrainian journalists before, during and after the Euromaidan. “At the beginning it was just a club of interests”, he said. The Twitter activity of both politicians and journalists in Ukraine significantly rose at the time of protests. Twitter has played a key role in spreading information about the organization of the protests. It also became an important platform for the leading online media in the country. According to Moroz, today online media like Ukrainskaya pravda get on average 15 percent of their traffic from Twitter. For Hromadske.tv, which was launched shortly before the Euromaidan, this figure is up to 40 percent.
Aliaksandr Herasimenka, a journalist and researcher from Belarus, presented his research on “Digital activists and communication technologies during and after the Euromaidan in Ukraine”. He conducted interviews with activists and analyzed texts produced by communication professionals who were involved in the Euromaidan protests from its early days. “These people were able to leave their jobs, to put their personal security under threat in order to join the protest and to work there sometimes 24h a day”, he said. “Thanks to their efforts, ICT emerged not simply as tools, but as platforms for autonomic communication, crowdfunding, self-organization, and cultural expression.”
Herasimenka concluded that during and following the Euromaidan, digital activists planned and coordinated their activities on Facebook at large, which was just the ninth most visited internet platform in Ukraine. “Not all popular digital platforms were fully opened for pro-Ukrainian groups”, noted Herasimenka. “Particularly, the Russian internet censorship made it less possible to work with VK - the most popular social network in Ukraine. Consequently, the activists concentrated on other platforms.”
THE STATE SUBSTITUTES THE WORD 'CENSORSHIP' WITH 'SECURITY'
One of the central topics of discussions among the journalists and scholars who participated in the conference was the regulation of the internet in the post-Soviet countries and the increase of state control over new media during the war in Ukraine. Florian Toepfl from the Emmy Noether Group presented his research on news literacy of young Russians. He pointed out different understandings of freedom in Russia and in the West. For Russian people, political freedom is often associated with the “chaos of the 1990s”, therefore many people are ready to give up liberal values for the feeling of stability.
Michael Shtekel, a war correspondent from the Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in Kiev, said that nowadays “the state substitutes the word ‘censorship’ with ‘security’”.
Shtekel talked about the transformation of work of Ukrainian correspondents during the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. He concluded that the Ukrainian Army press office has not worked reliably during the conflict, which led to difficulties for journalists. At the beginning of the conflict, acccodring to him, “lots of pieces of news and reports were made through unofficial sources only. There was no system of working with the regular army, there was no military PR strategy and there were not enough press officers to guide journalists”. In 2014 the Ukrainian government tried to put press officers in almost every unit, “but the experiment was not very successful because of bureaucracy”.
Daria Orlova from the Mohyla School of Journalism elaborated on the topic she talked about during the workshop in Kiev - “Dilemmas of covering 'our war': evidence from media content and Ukrainian journalists’ firsthand accounts”. Orlova presented the results of the research project led by Södertörn University, Sweden, that analyzed how the war conflict was framed by Ukrainian media. One of the conclusions of the analysis of 661 news pieces publishd in three Ukrainian media (Segodnya, Den, 1+1) is that the conflict coverage was “pro-Ukrainian, largely one-sided”. According to Orlova, it was also largely a “reproduction of the official narrative - typical for the coverage of ‘our war’”. Interviews with journalists conducted as part of the project showed that the “conflict has become a challenge for Ukrainian journalists”, Orlova said.
Anna Litvinenko from the Emmy Noether Group summed up key research areas within the topic “Social media and conflict coverage” that were discussed during both parts of the project, in Kiev and in Berlin. They are: the role of social media in the work of journalists; changes in journalism cultures; challenges for the functions of journalism (the rise of activism, patriotism, merging of private and public spheres); challenges for journalistic ethics in the era of social media; media regulation during war times vs. the democratic value of press freedom; new forms of propaganda on social media; communicative aggression on new media; media psychology and conflict coverage on social media.
A big part of the Berlin conference was dedicated to field trips and talks with journalists and politicians on the role of social media in the coverage of the Ukrainian conflict. Thus, participants visited the editorial office of Zeit Online and talked with journalists who covered the war, as well as with a member of the “community team” of Zeit Online that manages the social media of the news platform. Participants also met with Reinhard Hönighaus, the spokesperson of the European Commission office in Germany, to discuss the new EU action plan for strategic communication, as well as with Sebastian Fischer, head of internet- and social media editorial staff of the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.
The full programme of the conference can be found here.
Florian Toepfl has presented a working paper entitled “Breaking the Stalemate of Leaderless Protest: Internet Elections as a Tool to Centralize Collective Action in Russia” at a workshop at FU Berlin. The meeting of scholars from Germany, Hong Kong, USA, Mexico and the UK was co-organized by Professor Lünenborg and entitled “Media Practices: Transregional Perspectives on Changing Social Orders”.
It was a unique opportunity to discuss this specific piece of research, which draws heavily on Lance Bennett and Alexandra Segerberg’s (2012) theory of “Connective Action”. Lance Bennett was
co-speaker on the panel of Florian Toepfl and provided inspiring, constructive, and partly also critical feed-back on the project.
Andrei Zavadski has participated in the seminar "New Monuments and Museums in Russia: A Discussion of the Current Situation" (Neue Denkmäler und Museen in Russland - eine Diskussion zur aktuellen Lage) at the University of Konstanz, Germany. The seminar was organized by Prof. Dr. Aleida Assmann and Prof. Dr. Jurij Murašov, of the University of Konstanz, and took place on October 26-27, 2015.
A group of young researchers - graduates of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, headed by Dr. Vera Dubina, a co-founder of the Master's programme in Public History at the School, discussed new historical monuments and museums and the digital turn in Russian memorial culture.
Andrei Zavadski gave a talk on "The Museum of Oneself: Digital Personal Memories and Future Biography Writing". Focusing on Relikva.com, a Russian online "museum of private memories", he offered thoughts on the nature of transformation that is now taking place.
Anna Litvinenko participated in the 8th German-Russian Dialogue that took place on October 5-11, 2015 in Baden-Baden.
Dr. Litvinenko presented her research on social media and society fragmentation in
the Russia of the 2010s within the panel “Social Media and Social Change”, followed by a discussion with young leaders from Germany and Russia on the role of social media in the societal
transformation of Russia.
German-Russian Dialogue is an annual forum organized by the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations representing German business, in cooperation with the Robert Bosch Foundation and the BMW Herbert Quandt Foundation. Each year in October, young leaders from Germany and Russia exchange their opinions on current economic and social issues.
More on the programme of the event can be found here.
SWITCHING "FROM THE WAR DISCOURSE TO THE PEACE DISCOURSE”
The workshop "Tweeting the war - Social Media and War Coverage in Ukraine“, funded by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany and co-organized by the Emmy Noether Group, Freie Universität Berlin's International Center for Journalism, and the Academy of Ukrainian Press, took place in Kiev, Ukraine on October 5-7, 2015. It brought together media scholars and young journalists researching and covering the Ukrainian conflict.
Prof. Klaus Beck, of Freie Universität Berlin, noted in his opening speech that the aim of the workshop was to talk about media and not about politics, which was to prove a challenging task both for journalists and scholars: when it comes to the Ukrainian conflict, media and politics seem to be intertwined.
“Journalists didn’t do their job in a decent way, they worked more as propagandists than as journalists,” Valery Ivanov, president of the Ukrainian Press Academy, said when speaking about the coverage of the war by Ukrainian journalists. “The reason for that is in our roots, in the wrong understanding of patriotism. For many journalists patriotism means authentication of their position with that of the state. But it contradicts the world standards of quality journalism”.
Diana Dutsyk, director of the NGO “Telekritika” (which monitors the Ukrainian media according to five major standards: balance, timeliness, accuracy, reliability, and separation of facts and opinions), said in her presentation that “Ukrainian journalists get involved in counterpropaganda”. She argued with Vladimir Ivanov saying that media experts should “not judge them, but discuss the reasons of that”. “A journalist makes his decisions under influence of many factors – the position of the media owner, his [the journalist's] private experience, his opinion as a citizen etc,” she said.
"SWIRL OF PROPAGANDA"
Anna Litvinenko from the Emmy Noether research group talked about a “swirl of propaganda”: if one side is producing propaganda, the other side can easily get involved in producing (counter)propaganda, so the swirl sucks both sides in, tension grows and it is hard to leave the process and stick back to the standards of quality journalism. “The major challenge is to switch from the war discourse to the peace discourse”, as Ivanov put it.
Diana Dutsyk was optimistic about the future development of Ukrainian media. Ukraine's media experts connect their hopes with the recent introduction of the public television in Ukraine. German journalists consulted the creators of the channel. “Our first monitoring shows that there is no so-called 'electoral paid journalism' on this channel any more”.
However, Valery Ivanov was less optimistic: “I don’t understand those who say that we are experiencing an improvement of the freedom of press: I don’t remember harder times”. He mentioned several cases where people got arrested for their postings on social networks. “Government doesn’t understand how to work with alternative information”. At the same time he considers today’s Ukraine to be a ‘light version of an authoritarian state, since there are several “centres of influence” [oligarchs] and a journalist can tack between them”.
Several journalists and scientists mentioned the economic dependence factor as being a key problem for the development of qualitative reporting. Thus, in Russia, the major national TV channels are controlled by the state. In Ukraine, the media landscape is more or less divided between six oligarchs. The advertising market is extremely underdeveloped, it can’t “feed” the approximately 6 000 newspapers and 2 500 TV channels that are registered in the country. The situation has become worse with the current crisis: now it is almost impossible to earn money with quality journalism. “As a result, we’ve got not a market, but a collection of projects of influence”, Ivanov said.
Social media seem to foster the trends that we observe in the conflict coverage by traditional media. Grigory Asmolov, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, presented his research on “Crowdsourcing and Participatory Warfare in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict”. His research is based on Schattschneider's theory of the socialization of conflict and Vygotsky's theory of the internalization of conflict. In the age of social media, “it is impossible to draw a line between front and homefront,” Asmolov said. That means that one cannot control the expansion (socialization) of the conflict. “On Facebook we already can’t differentiate our private news from national news, they are mixed,” he said. “That’s why the effect of the conflict socialization is much bigger”. It gets even worse if there is a common language between rival sides, as in the case of the war in Ukraine.
How to become immune to getting involved in a conflict? Asmolov says that the only way he sees is to develop critical thinking, to realize the danger of this new form of “identity theft” when a person is being unwillingly involved in a conflict. It is also important that “the tool for fighting the propaganda can’t be counterpropaganda”.
IMPORTANCE OF MEDIA EDUCATION
During these three days journalists and scientists discussed different aspects of the role of social media in conflict coverage, such as the phenomenon of hate speech, problems related to the verification of information, work with sources, but also the new chances and possibilities that social media have given to journalists. As Anastasia Magazova, the Ukrainian correspondent for Deutsche Welle, mentioned, “the majority of journalists were not prepared to work in a conflict zone, but we learned during the last year a lot, including new journalistic tools and genres”.
The most widespread answer to the discussed challenges for the profession from both scientists and journalists was the “improving of media education and media literacy”, which can be achieved, among others ways, with the help of international workshops.
The workshop in Kiev was the first part of the project „Tweeting the War - Social Media and War Coverage in Ukraine“. The second part will be a conference of the same title that will take place in Berlin on November 17-20, 2015. Application deadline is October 23. Please find the details here.
Anna Litvinenko participated in the workshop “Transmedia Storytelling – Telling the Stories of Refugees in Hamburg" that took place on September 21-26, 2015 at the International Media Centre (IMC) of the Hamburg
University of Applied Sciences.
Dr. Litvinenko consulted young journalists from Russia and Germany on creating multimedia narratives.
The results of the workshop will be published on IMC's website. The workshop was supported by the Senate of Hamburg and was conducted in collaboration with Saint Petersburg State University (Russia).
Dr. Anna Litvinenko and Andrei Zavadski have joined the five-year Emmy Noether research project on "Mediating (Semi-)Authoritarianism: The Power of the Internet in the Post-Soviet Space."
After receiving her PhD in 2007 in Russia, Anna Litvinenko worked as an Associate Professor at the Department of International Journalism of Saint Petersburg State University (SPbU). Starting
from 2010 she was head of the German-Russian Centre of Journalism at SPbU. In 2012-2015, she was in charge of the Office for International Academic and Scientific Exchange of the School of
Journalism and Mass Communications, SPbU. Her research focuses on the role of new media in political mobilization, on the hybridization of media systems, and on the interrelation of media and
politics in the digital age. She is interested in the specificity of discussions on different social media platforms in various socio-political contexts, with Russia and Ukraine being her main
areas of interest. You can read more about Dr. Litvinenko here.
Andrei Zavadski graduated from Moscow State University of International Relations (MGIMO-University) with a BA in Regional Studies (2009). He also holds a dual MA in Public History from
Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences and Manchester University (2014) . His research interests include cultural memory and memory politics, public history, memory and media, and
memory in (semi-)authoritarian regimes, with Belarus and Russia being his main areas of focus. You can read more about him here.
Florian Toepfl is co-author of a new article just published in the Journal of Communication. The paper is entitled: Public Spheres in Interaction: Comment Sections of News Websites as Counterpublic Spaces.
Abstract: Research scrutinizing political talk online has been developed largely against the backdrop of deliberative discursive norms and considered political talk without a systematic analysis of surrounding mass-mediated discourses. By contrast, this study operationalizes counterpublic theory as an alternative theoretical perspective and analyzes comments on news websites as a reaction to hegemonic mainstream public spheres. It juxtaposes a qualitative framing analysis of all articles about a new anti-Euro party in devotedly pro-European Germany published on 9 news websites in the week following the 2013 elections (n = 22) with a content analysis of all comments posted below these articles (n = 3,154). It finds counterpublic spheres differently shaped in comment sections of right- and left-leaning, and tabloid and nontabloid, outlets. Consequences for democracy are discussed.
Toepfl, F., & Piwoni, E. (2015). Public Spheres in Interaction: Comment Sections of News Websites as Counterpublic Spaces. Journal of Communication, 65(3), 465–488. http://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12156
Florian Toepfl presented a paper entitled "Challenging hegemonic public spheres: Online newspapers’ comments’ sections as novel spaces for emerging counterpublic discourses" at the annual
conference of the European Communication Research and Education Association
(ECREA). The event took place from 12-15 November in Lisbon, Portugal.
On 1 October 2014, the five-year Emmy Noether research project on "Mediating (Semi-)Authoritarianism: The Power of the Internet in the Post-Soviet Space" was launched at the FU Berlin. The
project is sponsored by the German Research Foundation and will be headed by Dr. Florian Toepfl. It will involve two further researchers and a student research assistant.