Researchers comparing political communication across non-democratic contexts presently lack a widely acknowledged theoretical framework to guide their efforts. In order to fill in this gap, this essay develops a theoretical account that proposes comparing not authoritarian media systems, but “authoritarian publics.” Drawing on theories of the multiple public sphere, two typologies are delineated: (a) a three-fold typology of partial publics, operating within authoritarian regimes and (b) a three-fold typology of “publics-at-large,” to be distinguished across authoritarian regimes. As it is argued, the publics-at-large of authoritarian regimes can be composed of three types of partial publics: (a) uncritical, (b) policy-critical, and (c) leadership-critical publics. With reference to political science literature about the emergence of formally democratic institutions in non-democratic regimes, critical publics are interpreted as institutions that help autocrats carry out important tasks. The benefits and risks associated with critical publics for autocrats are comparable to those of other pseudo-democratic institutions.
The full version of the article is available here:
Andrei Zavadski, member of the Emmy Noether Research Group (2015-2019), has successfully completed his doctoral examinations at Freie Universität Berlin. He defended his thesis on January 23, 2020, with members of the doctoral committee including Dr. Florian Toepfl (supervisor), Prof. Carola Richter (second reviewer), Prof. Margreth Lünenborg, Prof. Astrid Erll (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main), and Dr. Anna Litvinenko. The overall grade of magna cum laude has been awarded to Mr. Zavadski. The doctoral certificate and the academic degree "doctor philosophiae" (Dr. phil.) in Media and Communication Studies will be conferred upon the publication of the doctoral thesis.
Titled "Mnemonic Counterpublics: Challenging the Political Regime in Russia with Memories of the 1990s", Mr. Zavadski's dissertation examines mnemonic dissent in non-democratic contexts. Set at the intersection of communication studies and memory studies, it looks at how shared memories of the past can become a constituent element of counterpublic spheres emerging in authoritarian regimes.
The work proposes, theorises and employs the concept of “mnemonic counterpublics.” Conceptualised as collectives that recognise their own exclusion from dominant publics with regard to particular ways of remembering the past and seek to overcome that exclusion, mnemonic counterpublics facilitate the articulation of alternative and dissenting discourses within a country’s multiple public sphere. In contexts with an overarching historical politics that instrumentalises the past in order to legitimise and stabilise authoritarian rule, such efforts are able to challenge not only the dominant ways of remembrance, but also the political status quo more broadly.
Designed as a critical case study, this dissertation examines the emergence of mnemonic counterpublics in the multiple public sphere of Russia. At the heart of the analysed counterpublics are memories of the 1990s that run counter to the country’s official memory politics. The Russian authorities have reduced the remembrance of the first post-Soviet decade to the narrative of likhie 90-e (“turbulent, rowdy 90s”), which presents the 1990s almost exclusively as a time of political chaos, economic downfall and criminal violence. Omitting the decade’s unprecedented freedoms and other positive aspects, it unfavourably compares the 1990s to the time after Vladimir Putin came to power and thus contributes to the legitimisation and stabilisation of his rule. This analysis dissects efforts that resist such an imposed view of the decade. It examines a number of offline and online media projects that actualise countermemories of the Russian 1990s and thus not only challenge the authorities’ historical politics, but also question Russia’s political present.
The ERC Consolidator Project RUSINFORM, headed by Emmy Noether Group Leader Dr. Florian Toepfl, is currently recruiting a student research assistant, two predocs, and one postdoctoral researcher, all based at the University of Passau. For more information about the four vacancies, please see the website of the RUSINFORM project . The job announcements are also available from the website of the University of Passau.
On 1 December 2019, the Emmy Noether Project about "Mediating (semi-)authoritarianism: The Power of the Internet in the Post-Soviet World" moved from the Free University of Berlin to the University of Passau in Southern Germany. The project followed its group leader Dr. Florian Toepfl, who is to be appointed Professor for Political Communication at Passau University in 2020. Presently, he is heading a Research Unit for Political Communication at Passau University. He is also Principal Investigator of a ERC Consolidator Project about The Consequences of the Internet for Russia's Informational Influence Abroad (RUSINFORM, 2019-2024).
On 1 November 2019, research group leader Dr. Florian started a new ERC Consolidator Project about Russia's Informational Influence Abroad (RUSINFORM) at the University of Passau. At the University of Passau, Toepfl is to be appointed Professor of Political Communication in 2020. The remaining research activities planned in the Emmy Noether project will be transferred to Dr. Toepfl's new host institution soon.
Berlin's Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) has published Anna Litvinenko's commentary on the new "sovereign Internet" law adopted by the Russian authorities in 2019.
"Russia’s so-called sovereign Internet bill, which was passed in spring 2019, will enter into force on 1 November. It marks a new milestone in the series of restrictive Internet regulations that started after the wave of protests in 2011–12. Russian state media framed the initiative as a law on a sustainable Internet that would protect Russian citizens from the threat of being disconnected from web infrastructure by the US government.
The Russian strategy of Internet sustainability is based on three pillars. The first is a centralised system of devices that monitor and can block Internet traffic. This is the bill’s main innovation: all providers will be obliged to install these devices, which will be provided by the state. Critics see this as a new censorship tool that the government can use to control and temporarily disrupt online communications, for instance during protests. The second pillar is national software. Its use has been actively promoted in Russia since 2014, when international sanctions against the country were introduced. The third pillar is data localisation. Several laws already regulate the processing of data on Russian citizens; such data must be stored in databases of the Russian Federation. As a consequence, international companies like Facebook or Google would have to bring their servers to the Russian territory, otherwise they could be blocked. However, the authorities have not been so far consequent in in complying with this legislation."
The Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) is an independent, international and interdisciplinary research institute. It focuses on foundational and policy relevant academic research on Eastern Europe and shares the results with policy-makers, the media and the broader public.
The workshop organised by the Emmy-Noether group brought together leading theorists of the public sphere in Western democracies and scholars of media and communication under authoritarian rule. The aim of the event was to encourage the creation of novel theoretical thought about forms, modes, and types of “publics” in (semi-)authoritarian political life.
The workshop started with keynotes by Slavko Splichal, of the University of Ljubljana, and Florian Toepfl, of FU Berlin. Prof. Splichal talked about the transformation of privateness and publicness in today’s world, where new media blur the boundaries between interpersonal and mass communication. Dr. Toepfl presented his theory of authoritarian publics that offers a framework for analysing publics in restrictive political environments.
The workshop was structured as a dialogue between the public sphere theorists and the scholars of authoritarian regimes. Four discussion panels addressed the following key questions of studying publics under authoritarian rule: Can/should we adopt the concept of (the) public(s) (sphere) to study political communication in authoritarian contexts? How can we empirically analyse digital publics? How can we compare public communication and publics across different political contexts?
Leading scholars from both fields of research participated in the event, including Svetlana Bodrunova (St. Petersburg University), Lincoln Dahlberg (independent scholar, New Zealand), Susanne Fengler (TU Dortmund), Michael Meyen (LMU München), Barbara Pfetsch (FU Berlin), Carola Richter (FU Berlin), Natalia Roudakova (Södertörn University), Slavko Splichal (University of Ljubljana), Daniela Stockmann (Hertie School of Governance), Ingrid Volkmer (University of Melbourne), Katrin Voltmer (University of Leeds), Hartmut Wessler (University of Mannheim), and others.
The programme of the event can be downloaded as a PDF here.
The Emmy-Noether research group and the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society co-organised a public lecture of Lincoln Dahlberg, an independent scholar from New Zealand and a leading author on the public sphere. The event took place on Juni 18, 2019, at Weizenbaum Institute, and set the stage for the upcoming workshop “Theorizing Publics under Authoritarian Rule”.
Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook has announced and implemented an impressive array of what Lincoln Dahlberg refers to as "quality initiatives" in response to extensive allegations and evidence that it hosts and amplifies a significant amount of content and interaction that is harmful to democratic communication. These initiatives do not seem to respond to the political economy critique that there is an antagonistic relationship between Facebook’s profit-driven, targeted-advertising business model and public sphere communication.
In his talk, Lincoln Dahlberg demonstrated—through a discourse theory-informed examination of Facebook’s own descriptions of its quality initiatives—how the initiatives do in fact strongly respond to this critique. However, they do not do so by altering Facebook’s business model. As Dahlberg's examination showed, the initiatives respond ideologically to the political economy critique. They do so by staging compatibility between Facebook’s business model and public sphere communication, thus obscuring antagonism and blocking public consideration of regulatory responses that might inhibit the platform’s profit, growth, and market valuation.
In conclusion, Dahlberg pointed past the targeted-advertising model to the drive for profit and growth—and the associated domination of users—as the core factor behind Facebook’s antagonistic relationship with the public sphere. Hence, he identified the democratisation of digital social media intermediaries as necessary for the production of democratic communication through such media.
The Emmy Noether Group will hold a workshop called "Theorizing Publics Under Authoritarian Rule." It will take place at Freie Universität Berlin on June 19-21,
Over the past decades, a variety of approaches have theorised the role of the “public sphere,” “the public,” and “multiple publics” in the political life of Western democracies. By contrast, little academic effort has been dedicated to the question of whether – and, if so, how – “publics” may function in (semi-)authoritarian contexts. Against this backdrop, the aim of this workshop will be to create novel theoretical thought about the forms, modes, and types of “publics” that we may imagine as participating in (semi-)authoritarian political life. In order to do so, the workshop will bring together theorists of (the) public(s) (sphere) of Western democracies, on the one hand, and scholars of media and communication under (semi-)authoritarian rule, on the other.
Leading scholars from both fields of research will participate in the event, including Svetlana Bodrunova (St. Petersburg University), Lincoln Dahlberg (independent scholar, New Zealand), Susanne Fengler (TU Dortmund), Michael Meyen (LMU München), Barbara Pfetsch (FU Berlin), Carola Richter (FU Berlin), Natalia Roudakova (Södertörn University), Slavko Splichal (University of Ljubljana), Daniela Stockmann (Hertie School of Governance), Ingrid Volkmer (University of Melbourne), Katrin Voltmer (University of Leeds), Hartmut Wessler (University of Mannheim), and others.
An article co-authored by Anna Litvinenko and Andrei Zavadski has been accepted for publication in the Europe-Asia Studies journal. The article is entitled "Memories on demand:
Narratives about 1917 in Russia’s online authoritarian publics".
This article analyses the digital remembrance of the Russian Revolution in the year of its centenary. It examines what memory narratives about 1917 were constructed by leading Russian online media in 2017, in the absence of an overarching narrative about the event imposed by the state. The authors reveal a multiplicity of digital memories about the Revolution and discuss their implications for the regime’s stability. The flexible nature of digital remembrance, they argue, does not necessarily challenge authoritarian rule but can work in its favour by allowing one to target – and satisfy – various sections of a fragmented society.
Authoritarianism, communication, digital memories, on-demand culture, online media, public sphere, Russia
The article is currently awaiting publication in Europe-Asia Studies , but the Authors’ Accepted Manuscript is available here.
Florian Toepfl opened the 7th international conference “Comparative Media Studies in Today’s World” at Saint Petersburg University. He gave a key note talk “Comparing Authoritarian Publics: The Benefits and Risks of Three Types of Publics for Autocrats”.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Communities. Audiences. Publics”. It took place on April 17-18, 2019 at the Institute of Media and Communication Studies, St. Petersburg State University.
Anna Litvinenko and Daria Kravets, both of the Emmy-Noether Group, also took part in the conference. They presented their research in the section “Politicization of communication platforms”. The former talked about the role of YouTube during the Russian presidential election campaign in 2018, while the latter compared the ways in which search engines Yandex and Google constructed memories of oppositional protests in Russia.
The second day of the conference began with the panel discussion “Comparative projects involving Russia: methods and results” moderated by Anna Litvinenko. Researchers from Germany, Denmark and Poland, including Florian Toepfl, talked about their experiences of conducting comparative studies and reflected on methodological challenges of comparative research projects.
The programme of the conference is available here.
The German website dekoder has published Anna Litvinenko's survey of Russia's new media legislation .
On March 18, 2019, President Vladimir Putin signed two bills into law, both to do with the media in the country. The new legislation penalises online media and individual Internet users for publishing “false” or "unreliable" information of social significance or spreading “insulting” criticisms of the Russian authorities.
Dr. Litvinenko, of the Emmy Noether Research Group, answered dekoder's seven questions on what the two laws mean for Internet freedom in Russia.
To read the piece (in German), please follow this link.
dekoder is an online media source that combines Russian independent journalism with German academic expertise in Russian Studies.
A new article, co-authored by Anna Litvinenko and Florian Toepfl, has been published by the journal Publizistik (Springer). The article is entitled "The 'Gardening' of an Authoritarian Public at Large: How Russia’s Ruling Elites Transformed the Country’s Media Landscape After the 2011/12 Protests 'For FairElections'”.
In response to the massive street protests “For Fair Elections” that shook Russia in 2011/12, the country’s leadership implemented a range of measures aimed at curbing dissent. How, why, and with what consequences have Russia’s political elites transformed the country’s media landscape in the years since 2011? In order to answer these questions, this article leverages a recent theory of “authoritarian publics” proposed by one of the authors. According to this theoretical account, the multiple public sphere of contemporary authoritarian regimes can be productively imagined as being comprised of a myriad of competing partial publics of three types:(1) uncritical, (2) policy-critical, and (3) leadership-critical. Adopting this framework as a lens, the article argues that the measures implemented by Russia’s leadership in the wake of the protests significantly reduced the audience reach of leadership-critical publics, but did not entirely eradicate publics of this type. On a more abstract level, the measures taken are interpreted here as measures of “institutional gardening” deployed by the country’s ruling elites in order to fine-tune the balance between the three types of publics. By so doing, they created an authoritarian public-at-large that better met their reconfigured needs.
Political communication · Authoritarian communication · Public ·Public sphere · Russia · Elections · Media freedom · Institutionalism
The Emmy Noether research group, headed by Dr. Florian Toepfl, have (co-)authored eight papers that will be presented at the annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). This year, the conference will take place on May 24-28, 2019 in Washington, DC.
The ICA 2019 conference theme of Communication Beyond Boundaries aims for an understanding of the role of communication and media in the crossing of social, political and cultural boundaries that characterize contemporary society, and encourages research that crosses the boundaries of research domains, of particular fields of research interest, and of academia and the outside world.
Please find below all the necessary information about the sessions in which Dr. Toepfl, Dr. Anna Litvinenko, and Andrei Zavadski will participate, and the papers that are going to be presented there.
SATURDAY, MAY 25, 2019
Session Title: Online User Comments
8:00 AM - 9:15 AM; Jay (Washington Hilton, Lobby Level)
How Media Content Shapes
Feeling Rules: The Effects of Media Messages and User Comments on How We Think We Should Feel
Leyla Dogruel; Florian Toepfl; Marlene Kunst
In addition to extant research inquiring about the relationship between media and emotions, this study is the first to investigate whether media messages can alter what Hochschild (1979) has referred to as “feeling rules,” that is, what (and how) audiences think they should feel in a given situation. In order to interrogate this claim, this study presents the results of two experiments grounded in a 2x3 between-subjects design that tests the effects of media messages, and the user comments beneath them, containing what we call “emotion prescriptions.” As our findings show, it is not so much the media but user comments that impact how audiences think that they and others should feel in a specific situation. Our results further confirm that this influence of comments on the evaluation of emotion norms is mediated through the perceived public acceptance of the feeling rule. Consequences are discussed for extant research on comment sections and feeling rules.
SATURDAY, MAY 25, 2019
Session Title: Misinformation, Disinformation, Fake News and Fact Checking 2
11:00 AM - 12:15 PM; Jefferson East (Washington Hilton, Concourse Level)
Immunizing citizens against disinformation: An experimental
test of inoculation theory in the context of online astroturfing
Thomas Zerback; Florian Toepfl; Maria Knöpfle
Inoculation theory suggests that resistance to future persuasive attacks can be increased by (1) warning individuals that a persuasive attack on their attitude is imminent and potentially dangerous and (2) by offering information to counter the persuasive message. In the current study, we apply the inoculation approach to a new and widespread form of persuasive communication called online astroturfing. Agents of online astroturfing try to imitate grassroots movements (e.g., by using fake social media accounts that comment on the issues of interest) and thus try to influence the attitudes and public opinion perceptions of citizens. The current study experimentally tests (1) the effects of pro-Russian online comments on personal attitudes and public opinion perceptions and (2) the efficiency of three different inoculation strategies in countering these effects.
SATURDAY, MAY 25, 2019
Session Title: New Research on Identity in Political Communication
2:00 PM - 3:15 PM; Jay (Washington Hilton, Lobby Level)
Beyond Left and Right: Real-World Political Polarization in Discussions on Inter-Ethnic Conflicts in
Germany, the USA, and Russia
Svetlana S. Bodrunova, Anna Litvinenko, Ivan S. Blekanov, Anna S. Smoliarova
Studies of political polarization in social media demonstrate mixed evidence for whether discussions necessarily evolve into echo chambers or provide opinion crossroads. Recent research shows that, for political and issue-based discussions, patterns of user clusterization may differ significantly, but cross-cultural evidence of how users polarize in issue-oriented discussions is close to non-existent. Also, most of the studies develop network proxies to detect users’ grouping, while the content of tweets is rarely taken into account. We are adding to the scholarly discussion by detecting user polarization based on attitudes towards political actors expressed by users in Germany, the USA, and Russia within discussions on inter-ethnic conflicts. We have developed a mixed-method approach to detecting user grouping that includes web crawling for data collection, expert coding of tweets, multi-dimensional scaling, construction of word frequency vocabularies, and graph visualization. Our results show that the groups detected are far from conventionally left/right, and more than two sides of political talk co-exist in two of the three discussions. We also show that the debate privileging either echo chambering or opinion crossroads may be misleading, as the latter is found in the discussion cores, while the core/periphery axis reveals echo chambers in politicized talk on Twitter.
SATURDAY, MAY 25, 2019
Session Title: Gender, Memory, and Media
3:30 PM - 4:45 PM; Embassy (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Memories on demand: Narratives about 1917 in Russian authoritarian publics
Anna Litvinenko, Andrei Zavadski
This article looks at the digital remembrance of the Russian Revolution in the year of its centenary. Operationalizing Florian Toepfl’s (2018) theory of authoritarian publics, it examines what memory narratives about 1917 were constructed by leading Russian online media, in the situation of an absent overarching memory narrative imposed by the state. Through a qualitative content analysis, the authors reveal a multiplicity of narratives about the Revolution in Russia’s publics and discuss its implications for the authoritarian regime’s stability. They argue that the flexible nature of digital memories does not necessarily challenge the authoritarian rule, but can work in its favor by allowing to target – and satisfy – various sections of a fragmented society. Set at the intersection of communication studies and memory studies, this article is a contribution to research on public discussions and digital remembrance in non-democratic contexts.
MONDAY, MAY 27, 2019
Session Title: The Social and Market Dynamics of News Audiences and Analytics
11:00 AM - 12:15 PM; Georgetown East (Washington Hilton, Concourse Level)
Integrating survey and digital trace data to investigate audience participation on online platforms
of news media: Implications of two exploratory studies of the Facebook pages of RT
German and Tagesschau
This article proposes a novel methodological approach that integrates digital trace and survey data in order to investigate user participation on online platforms of news media. First, a sample of participants is invited to participate in an online survey via a personal message that contains a link with a reference number. The reference number allows for matching completed questionnaires with individual participants. Second, the survey and digital trace data of participants are analyzed in combination. This article discusses the benefits and limitations of this integrated approach, as well as practical and ethical considerations, with reference to two exploratory studies.
MONDAY, MAY 27, 2019
Session Title: International Perspectives and Cross-Cultural Studies of ICTs
2:00 PM - 3:15 PM; Columbia 11 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
YouTube in Authoritarian Elections: Political Videos during the 2018 Presidential Campaign in Russia
Previous studies on ‘youtubification’ of political communication (May 2010) have been largely focusing on the democratic context. This study aims at exploring the role of the global video sharing platform in authoritarian politics, on the example on the Russian presidential elections 2018. It draws on the qualitative content analysis of 169 political videos collected from the section ‘Popular’ of the Russian YouTube during the last two months of the presidential campaign. The results show that oppositional discourse dominated the most popular political videos of the Russian YouTube and that pro-state actors tried to co-opt the platform, publishing videos made in amateur and semi-professional style. Drawing on the findings, I discuss the risks and benefits of the YouTube-publics for the Russian authoritarian regime and the role of social media in ‘consultative authoritarianism’ (He and Warren 2011).
MONDAY, MAY 27, 2019
Session Title: Online Publics and Counterpublics
5:00 PM - 6:15 PM; Cabinet Room (Washington Hilton, Concourse Level)
Do counterpublics benefit from accusing the media of excluding their view? Effects of the “suppressed
voice rhetoric” in user comments on the news audience
Marlene Kunst; Florian Toepfl; Leyla Dogruel
Counterpublics seek to increase the persuasive power of their arguments by criticizing the mainstream media for suppressing opinions that do not fit into their worldview. Even though this “suppressed voice rhetoric” (SVR) has recently become common in online debates, we know little about its potential effects. In order to contribute to filling this gap, this article presents two experimental studies that explore how user comments containing a SVR influence the news audience. Our findings show no effect on audiences’ perceived mainstream media bias, but indicate that the SVR influences issue attitudes. Moreover, the SVR heightens the expectations of public deliberation for individuals who identify with the counterpublic and lowers these expectations for individuals who identify with the dominant public. We conclude that this effect might set in motion a spiral that increases the counterpublic’s discursive activity while strengthening the dominant public’s reluctance to enter into a joint debate.
TUESDAY, MAY 28, 2019
Session Title: User Comments on the News
11:00 AM - 12:15 PM; Jay (Washington Hilton, Lobby Level)
The (Non-)Adoption of Participatory Newsroom Innovations under Authoritarian Rule:
How Comment Sections Diffused in Belarus and Azerbaijan (1998-2017)
Extant research on how innovations diffuse among news organizations over time has focused on democratic contexts. By contrast, this is the first longitudinal study to investigate the spread of a participatory newsroom innovation under authoritarian rule. Adopting a multiple case study design, the article reconstructs the histories of comment sections on the leading national news platforms in two authoritarian contexts, which vary maximally with regard to the outcome of the diffusion process. As the findings show, in Belarus, the diffusion process followed a classic S-shaped curve of adoption and was almost completed by 2009. In contrast, in Azerbaijan throughout the 2000s, no more than two innovator organizations implemented the innovation. As key factors explaining this stark difference we identify a more restrictive approach of the Azerbaijani leadership to user participation as well as the low intensity of communicative exchange between local and foreign news organizations in Azerbaijan.
More information about the ICA 2019 conference can be found here.
The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded a Consolidator Grant endowed with 2 million Euro to Emmy Noether research group leader Florian Toepfl. Toepfl is the first communication scholar affiliated with a German university to be successful in this line of funding at the consolidator level, which invites applications of outstanding scholars 7-12 years after receiving their PhD. In 2018, only six ERC consolidator grants were awarded to social scientists and humanities scholars affiliated with German universities. Across all disciplines, the ERC received 2,389 research proposals in 2018, out of which approximately 12% (291) were funded. For more information on this funding line and the projects that were successful in 2018, please see here.
The ERC consolidator funding will enable Toepfl to set up a group of five researchers that continues the lines of inquiry of his current Emmy Noether group. The new ERC project, which will probably commence in November 2019, is devoted to the topic “The Consequences of the Internet for Russia’s Informational Influence Abroad”. Its aim is to investigate how Russian elites are exploiting new media to influence public opinion in European and post-Soviet countries, including Germany, Belarus and Estonia. A short abstract of the project can be downloaded here.
Anna Litvinenko has participated in the annual convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES).
She presented her research project called “Self-Censorship 2.0: Practices of Self-Limitation of Russian Journalists in Social media” co-authored with Svetlana Bodrunova, of Saint Petersburg University. The research is based on a survey of Russian journalists conducted in 2018.
The 50th annual convention of ASEEES took place on December 6–9, 2018 in Boston, USA. The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies is the leading international organisation dedicated to the promotion of knowledge about Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia, and Eastern Europe in regional and global contexts.
The program of the AGEEES 2018 can be found here.
Anna Litvinenko and Andrei Zavadski have taken part in the 7th annual conference of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA).
This year, the conference's topic was "Centres and peripheries: Communication, research, translation". The event was held in Lugano, Switzerland, on October 31-November 3, 2018.
In total, the members of the Emmy Noether Group presented three papers at the conference. Anna Litvinenko talked about her research project "A pluralist alternative to state TV? Political content on Russian YouTube during 2018 presidential elections”, on the role of the global video-sharing platform YouTube under consultative authoritarianism.
Together, Anna Litvinenko and Andrei Zavadski presented their research project on the digital remembrance of the Russian Revolution in the year of its 100th anniversary. The project looked into what memory narratives about 1917 were constructed by leading online media and how these narratives contributed to authoritarian rule.
Finally, Andrei Zavadski took part in one of the ECREA pre-conferences: "Towards the polyphony of memory? Media, communication and memory in the digital age", organised by Manuel Menke (University of Augsburg, Germany) and Berber Hagedoorn (University of Groningen, Netherlands). He presented a theoretical paper on memory-based and digitally enabled counterpublics in authoritarian contexts.
The programme of ECREA 2018 can be found here.
The programme of the pre-conference on digital memories is located here.
Andrei Zavadski has taken part in the seventh edition of the Mnemonics: Network for Memory Studies summer school. The school was hosted by the Flemish Memory Studies network and took place on August 22-24, 2018 in Leuven, Belgium.
This year's Mnemonics was titled "Ecologies of Memory": it addressed memory from an ecological perspective. As the school's Call for Papers stated:
"The term “ecology” foregrounds the relationships between organisms and their environments; it emphasizes the interrelations between different agents rather than isolated elements. Mnemonics 2018 engages with the recent shift in the study of memory towards the multifarious interactions between media, platforms, cultures, and generations, but also between the domains of the human and the nonhuman. The notion of ecology is particularly pertinent for tracking two related trends. First, after the “connective turn,” there is the ever-increasing importance of digital media platforms for the construction of individual and group memories in what has been called our “new media ecology” (Hoskins). Changing the very nature of remembrance and forgetting, digital media have come to make up a crucial environment for remembrance whose different constituent elements demand to be studied ecologically, that is, in their relations to one another. Second, there is the growing urgency of environmental issues, as concern over climate change and planetary devastation has come to be voiced under the rubric of the Anthropocene."
Andrei's talk was entitled "Memory-based and digitally enabled: Counterpublics in an authoritarian context". Dedicated to his theoretical concept of “mnemonic counterpublics”, as distinguished from “mnemonic communities” (Zerubavel, 1999; 2003; see also Irwin-Zarecka, 1994), it presented the theoretical foundation of his PhD project.
The programme of the Mnemonics 2018 summer school can be found here.
Mnemonics: Network for Memory Studies is a collaborative initiative for graduate education in memory studies between the Danish Network for Cultural Memory Studies, the Flemish Memory Studies Network, the London Cultural Memory Consortium, the Swedish Memory Studies Network, and programmes at Goethe University Frankfurt, UCLA, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Utrecht University, and Columbia University (associate partner). The network was launched at a meeting at the Flemish Academic Centre for Science and the Arts (VLAC) in Brussels on 14 October 2011.
Anna Litvinenko has participated in the annual Central and Eastern European Communication and Media Conference (CEECOM). She presented a research project called “No Longer Textual: Electoral talk on Russian Facebook and Twitter of 2018 and the rise of political video-blogging”, co-authored with Svetlana Bodrunova, of Saint Petersburg University.
The 11th CEECOM conference took place on May 30 - June 1 in Szeged, Hungary, and was dedicated to the conceptual and practical application of space in communication, media studies and political sciences.
Researchers of the Emmy Noether group presented two papers at the annual conference of the International Communication Association that took place on May 24-28, 2018 in Prague, Czech Republic.
Florian Toepfl presented his paper “Comparing Authoritarian Publics: The Benefits and Risks of Three Types of Publics for Autocrats”. Anna Litvinenko talked about her research on political video-blogging in the Russian social networks that she co-authored with Svetlana Bodrunova, of St. Petersburg University.
The Emmy Noether Group also hosted a reception for scholars of post-Soviet media studies. The event aimed to give scholars interested in post-Soviet media studies an opportunity to connect with their colleagues from all over the world during the ICA conference.
Anna Litvinenko was part of an international research group that conducted a study of the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis by media of 13 European countries. The results of the project have been published in the journal “Journalism”.
The team of contributors to the article "The Ukraine conflict and the European media: A comparative study of newspapers in 13 European countries" included: Fengler, S., Kreutler, M., Alku, M., Barlovac, B., Bastian, M., Bodrunova, S., Brinkmann, J., Dingerkus, F., Hájek, R., Knopper, S., Kus, M., Láb, F., Lees, C., Litvinenko, A., Medeiros, D., Orlova, D., Ozolina, L., Paluch, A., Radu, R., Stefanikova S., Veldhoen H. and Zguri, R.
The crisis in Ukraine was one of the dominant topics in international news coverage of 2014 and the following years. Representing a conflict along the lines of an East-Western confrontation unprecedented since the end of the Cold War, the news reporting in different European countries with different historical backgrounds is an essential research topic. This article presents findings of a content analysis examining coverage of the conflict in the first half of 2014 in newspapers from a diverse set of 13 countries: Albania, Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, as well as Ukraine and Russia. Drawing on prior literature on news values, key events, and news cycles in foreign coverage, this study maps the evolution of the conflict in the course of four key events and identifies specific characteristics of the coverage in different newspapers. The results show that attention for the conflict varies considerably across the countries, which might be traced back to different degrees of geographical and cultural proximity, domestication, and economic exchange, as well as lack of editorial resources especially in Eastern Europe. Russia dominated the news agenda in all newspapers under study with a constant stream of conflict news. Contradicting prior literature, media sought to contextualise the events, and meta-coverage of the media’s role in the crisis emerged as a relevant topic in many countries with a developed media system.
The article is available here.
Anna Litvinenko has participated in the annual conference “Comparative Media Studies in Today’s World” that took place on April 17-19, 2018 at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia.
The conference's topic this year was "Emotions vs. Rationality in Mediated Discussions". Dr. Litvinenko presented a paper on the remembrance of the October Revolution of 1917 in the Russian public sphere, co-authored by Andrei Zavadski.
She also gave a keynote speech at the opening of the media forum “Media in 21st century. St. Petersburg Readings" and moderated a publicly accessible panel discussion among German and Russian experts on emotions in politics and communication.
The programme of the conference is available here.
Andrei Zavadski has taken part in the annual conference of the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES) that took place on 13-15 April, 2018 at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. Mr. Zavadski was part of the panel hosted by the Russian Media Lab of Aleksanteri Institute, Helsinki. Dedicated to the topic of "Shaping the News in Russia and (Eastern) Ukraine: From Self Censorship to Algorithms", the panel included the following papers:
1. Ilya Yablokov (University of Leeds) and Elisabeth Schimpfössl (University College London) : "50 Shades of Gray of Russian State Television: Exploring the News Coverage of the Manchester Bombing"
2. Mariëlle Wijermars (University of Helsinki): "Control the News Feed, Control the News? The Impact of Russia’s News Aggregator Regulation on the Online News Landscape"
3. Jon Roozenbeek (University of Cambridge): "Positive Incentives in the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics’ Emerging Media Industries"
4. Andrei Zavadski (Freie Universität Berlin) and Florian Töpfl (Freie Universität Berlin): "Reinforcing Dominant Narratives: Search Engines and Representations of the Past"
Russian Media Lab is a multidisciplinary research project focusing on Russian media and freedom of expression. It is coordinated by Aleksanteri Institute and funded by Helsingin Sanomat Foundation.
BASEES is the UK national learned society for the study of Russia, Eastern Europe and the former soviet union. The main activity of the association is the annual conference, held normally in Cambridge in spring. The programme of the BASEES 2018 conference can be found here.
A new article co-authored by Andrei Zavadski and Florian Toepfl has been published by the journal Media, Culture & Society. The article is entitled "Querying the Internet as a Mnemonic Practice: How Search Engines Mediate Four Types of Past Events in Russia".
In the digital memories literature, the practice of searching for information – one of the most frequent online activities worldwide – has received comparatively little attention. To fill the gap, this exploratory study asks how search engines affect the representations of the past that they produce in query results. Designed as a single revelatory case study, with a focus on Russia, this article delineates a typology of four types of memory events based on four types of websites dominating search results. For each type of event, we discuss recurring locations and mechanisms of power struggles over competing memory narratives. We conclude that within Russia’s authoritarian context, the mnemonic practice of Internet searching tends to reproduce and reinforce the dominant narratives supported by the ruling elites. Search engine companies are thus only one of several powerful institutions that constitute the social framework within which querying the Internet is pursued as a mnemonic practice. Others include mass media, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and online encyclopaedias.
digital memories, Google, memory politics, mnemonic practice, Russia, search engines, Yandex
The article is available here.
Anna Litvinenko has taken part in the seminar “Understanding News from and about Russia” organised by the Vienna Forum for Journalism and Media and held on February 12, 2017.
The event aimed at providing context knowledge about Russian affairs for international journalists and experts. Dr. Litvinenko talked about how Russia was covered by journalists writing in German. She presented a content analysis of the coverage of Russia in German-language media in advance of the Russian presidential elections and discussed the factors that influenced international journalists in their work.
Vienna Forum for Journalism and Media is a non-profit organisation that was founded in 2011 on the initiative of the сity of Vienna. The Forum fosters quality journalism through innovative advanced training, orientation and networking at the international level.
Andrei Zavadski has participated in the second annual Memory Studies Association conference. The event took place on December 14-16, 2017 in Copenhagen, Denmark and brought together over 600 researchers from all over the world. Mr. Zavadski presented a paper on searching the Internet as a mnemonic practice co-authored by himself and Florian Toepfl (the article based on this paper was published by the journal Media, Culture & Society on March 13, 2018).
The participants of the panel "Digital Memories" included:
Chair: Joanna Niżyńska, Center Indiana University
1. Andrei Zavadski, Freie Universität Berlin: Engaging with the past algorithmically: Search engines and mnemonic practices
2. David Farrell-Banks, Newcastle University: Finding meaning in Magna Carta: Tweeting memory and national identity
3. Horst-Alfred Heinrich, University of Passau: From individual to collective memory: do the negotiations on the Wikipedia discussion pages lead to cultural memory?
4. Mykola Makhortykh, University of Amsterdam: Digital media as a transnational memory agency: Remembering MH17 in Wikipedia
5. Silvana Mandolessi, KU Leuven: No man’s land: Interrogating placelessness in digital memories
6. Monika Stobiecka, University of Warsaw: A chance to remember? Digital repositories of endangered heritage
The full programme of the conference can be viewed here.
The Memory Studies Association was launched symbolically at its inaugural conference in Amsterdam (3-5 December 2016), which was attended by around 200 scholars and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines. It was legally registered on June 26, 2017 in the Netherlands. The MSA aims to be a professional association for Memory Studies scholars, as well as those who are active in museums, memorial institutions, archives, the arts and other fields engaged in remembrance. The objective is to become the most important forum for the memory field – both through an annual, international and interdisciplinary conference and through a strong online presence.
A new article co-authored by Anna Litvinenko, in cooperation with Svetlana Bodrunova and Ivan Blekanov (both of Saint Petersburg State University, Russia) has been published by the journal Journalism Practice. The article is entitled "Please Follow Us: Media roles in Twitter discussions in the United States, Germany, France, and Russia".
The media are normatively expected to play significant roles in conflictual discussions within national and international communities. As previous research shows, digital platforms make scholars rethink these roles based on media behavior in online communicative environments as well as on the structural limitations of the platforms. At the same time, traditional dichotomies between information dissemination and opinion formation roles, although seemingly universal, also vary across cultures. We look at four recent conflicts of comparable nature in the United States, Germany, France, and Russia to assess the roles that legacy media have performed in the respective ad hoc discussions on Twitter. Our approach differs from previous studies, as we combine content analysis of tweets by the media and journalists with the resulting positions of the media in the discussion graphs. Our findings show that, despite the overall trend of the “elite” and regional media sticking to information dissemination, online-only media and individual journalists vary greatly in their normative strategies, and this is true across countries. We also show that combining performance in content and social network analysis may allow for reconceptualization of media roles in a more flexible way.
Keywords: ad hoc discussion, inter-ethnic conflict, journalistic roles, social network analysis, Twitter, Web crawling
The article is available here.
The new issue of the German journal Russland-Analysen has Andrei Zavadski's essay on recollecting 1917 in Russia.
Official mainstream media in Russia are paying little regard to the 100th anniversary of 1917. In this situation, exhibitions at major museums become a key means of engaging the public with the jubilee. This essay reviews three exhibitions mounted at state museums in Moscow: "Someone 1917" at the State Tretyakov Gallery, "1917. The Code of Revolution" at the State Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia, and "Cai Guo-Qiang. October" at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. They use different strategies to discuss 1917. But whereas the Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang offers an example of multidimensional and comprehensive memory work, the other two exhibitions reduce the revolutionary events to a catastrophic collapse and a failure of the state provoked by a group of intellectual extremists. Instead of commemorating 1917, the latter two exhibitions use the context of the past to condemn the revolution as a phenomenon.
Here is the essay's abstract in German:
Alles, nur keine Revolution! Drei Ausstellungen zum hundertsten Jahrestag der Ereignisse von 1917
Die Schlüsselmedien in Russland schenken dem 100. Jahrestag der Oktoberrevolution von 1917 wenig Aufmerksamkeit.
In einer solchen Situation werden Ausstellungen in großen Museen zu einem wichtigen Instrument,
um das Interesse des Publikums für das Jubiläum zu gewinnen. Der nachfolgende Text betrachtet drei
Ausstellungen, die in der Tretjakow-Galerie, im Museum der Zeitgeschichte Russlands und im PuschkinMuseum
für darstellende Künste zu sehen sind. Alle drei Expositionen nutzen verschiedene Strategien, um
das Jahr 1917 zu diskutieren. Während der chinesische Künstler Cai Guo-Qiang im Puschkin-Museum ein
multidimensionales und umfassendes Stück Erinnerungsarbeit präsentiert, gestaltet sich die Erinnerung in
den beiden anderen Museen eher eindimensional: Sie reduzieren das revolutionäre Ereignis auf einen katastrophenartigen
Kollaps und einen Zusammenbruch des Staates, der von einer Gruppe intellektueller Extremisten
provoziert worden sei. Statt des Jahres 1917 zu gedenken, nutzen diese beiden Ausstellungen die Vergangenheit
als Kontext, um – mit Blick auf die Gegenwart – eine Revolution als solche zu verurteilen.
The full text (in German) can be found here.
Anna Litvinenko has taken part in the panel discussion "Pluralism vs. Fake News – Challenges for Media Literacy in the Digital Information Age” during the “Autumn Talks”, the annual conference of the German-Russian Exchange. Together with Hanno Gundert, the director of the media NGO n-ost, and Judith Langowski, a Hungarian-German journalist, she talked about the current challenges for and perspectives of media literacy in Central and Eastern Europe. Dr. Litvinenko also participated in the final panel discussion of the conference “Europe in Crisis Mode – New Tasks and Forms of the Civic Education”.
The Autumn Talks is an annual event organised by the German-Russian Exchange (DRA) and the Heinrich Böll Foundation in the tradition of the German-Russian Autumn Talks that have been organised annually since 1995 in close cooperation with the Protestant Academy in Berlin. The aim of this conference is to support the dialogue and exchange on societal, political and cultural developments in both Russia and Germany. In its new format, the Autumn Talks' geographical focus has been broadened including the European context. This year, the main topic was “More Enlightenment - More Democracy? Possibilities and Limitations of Civic Education in Central and Eastern Europe”.
On November 2, Andrei Zavadski participated in the discussion "Approaches to 1917: 100 Years of the Russian Revolution" (Annäherungen an 1917: 100 Jahre Russische Revolution). The event was organised by ZOiS / Centre for Eastern European and International Studies based in Berlin. The other participants included Kristiane Janeke (German Historical Museum) and Jan C. Behrends (Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam), with Gwendolyn Sasse (ZOiS) as the moderator.
The event was dedicated to discussing the exhibition "1917. Revolution. Russia and Europe" at the German Historical Museum. Dr. Janeke, the exhibition's co-curator, presented its concept and talked about the challenges that the creators faced. Mr. Zavadski, in turn, talked about three exhibitions on 1917 mounted at state museums in Moscow: "Someone 1917" at the State Tretyakov Gallery, "1917. The Code of Revolution" at the State Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia, and "Cai Guo-Qiang. October" at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. He discussed their strategies in talking about the anniversary: the similarities and differences in their approaches to 1917. Dr. Janeke's and Mr. Zavadski's presentations were followed by Dr. Behrends' comments, as well as questions from the moderator and the audience.
More information about the event can be found on the website of ZOiS.
Andrei Zavadski has participated in the Mnemonics 2017 summer school entitled "The Social Life of Memory". The school took place on September 7-9, 2017 at Goethe University Frankfurt.
Mr. Zavadski presented a paper on searching the internet as a mnemonic practice co-authored by himself and Florian Toepfl.
The sixth Mnemonics: Network for Memory Studies summer school was hosted by the Frankfurt Memory Studies Platform. Organised by Astrid Erll, professor at the Institute for England and America Studies at Goethe University, and the PHD candidates Erin Hoegerle and Jarula M. I. Wegner, the conference brought together over 20 young researchers of memory. The keynote speakers at the event were Aleida Assmann (University of Konstanz), Andreas Huyssen (Columbia University, New York) and Anna Reading (King’s College London).
The full programme of the conference can be found here.
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.
The Emmy Noether Research Group member Andrei Zavadski has taken part in the second international conference "Internet beyond Numbers". The conference was held on May 23-24, 2017 in Moscow, Russia.
At the conference, Mr. Zavadski organised a panel called "The Internet and Mnemoniс Practices" dedicated to ways of digital engagement with the past, with Olick’s “mnemonic practices” as a key concept. In the course of the panel, presenters discussed the findings of three research projects dedicated to the mnemonic practices of, respectively, searching the internet (Andrei Zavadski and Dr. Florian Töpfl, Freie Universität Berlin, “Searching the Internet as a Mnemonic Practice: An Exploratory Study”), participating in online historical forums (Anastasia Pupynina, TU Darmstadt, “Thematic Structure of the Axis History Forum: An Application of Topic Modeling”), and making and watching YouTube videos (Gernot Howanitz and Erik Radisch, University of Passau, “Contextualizing Bandera: A Quantitative Approach towards a Traumatic Figure”). The three projects used different methodological approaches, namely a qualitative methodology (Zavadski and Töpfl), a mixed methods approach (Pupynina), and digital quantitative methods (Howanitz and Radisch) – in order to analyse various aspects of digital recollecting. The panel was moderated by Dr. Ekaterina Lapina-Kratasyuk, of National Research University Higher School of Economics and School of Advanced Studies in the Humanities, RANEPA.
Andrei Zavadski presented at the panel an exploratory study, conducted by himself and Dr. Florian Toepfl, on how search engines can affect the representations of the past that they produce as query results and systematic patterns related to this process.
The complete programme of the conference (in Russian) 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.