Staunton, October 16 – One of the central ideas of the just completed Forum of Free Russia in Vilnius was the need to create an Internet presence that could unite the political diaspora as well as promote change in Russia itself. Achieving the first goal via this means is entirely possible, but research suggests achieving the second that way is problematic.
That is because websites and social media are visited in the first instance by people who are already disposed in one direction or another, and consequently such places tend to reinforce the views of those who visit them rather than recruit others to the point of view they seek to promote.
Among those pushing the idea of developing a web presence for the Russian diaspora were Igor Eidman, a sociologist who works for Deutsche Welle, and Vsevolod Chernozub, a political émigré in Lithuania. Their arguments are compelling, especially regarding the organizing role of that presence for the diaspora (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=58023E9D2CFA8).
But a new study by O.O. Koltsova and E.A. Kirkizh suggests that the Internet may not have the immediate impact some of those pushing for such an émigré site hope for. Instead, the two scholars conclude that Internet sites reinforce the views of those who choose to go to them rather than changing anyone’s mind (O.O. Koltsova and E.A. Kirkizh, “Vliyaniye Interneta na uchastiye v protestakhm,” Politeia, no. 1 (80) (2016), pp. 90-110 at politeia.ru/files/articles/rus/Koltsova_Kirkizh_Politeia-2016-1(80).pdf).
That is not to say that such sites could not play a major role over time. Indeed, given the passing of generations and the increasing Internet savvy of the young in Russia as in other countries, ever more people may visit such sites especially as the official government media in Russia becomes ever less interesting.
But those promoting such sites and those considering supporting them or other such sites should remember than far more often than not, the impact of the Internet is not nearly as fast or as transformative as many of its advocates say, especially in places like Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation.
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