Thursday, March 28, 2019

Internet Users Latest and Largest Form of Russian ‘Internal Emigration,’ Pocheptsov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – At the end of Soviet times, a small number of Russians didn’t watch television lest they be drawn into the official version of life in the USSR. Some labelled those who did so “internal emigrants.” Now, a much larger share is ignoring television and using the Internet, and they deserve the same designation, Georgy Pocheptsov says.

            But their isolation from the official version of life is even greater because of changes in the nature of information and controls over it, the Ukrainian specialist on information technology says; and that makes their integration into the life of the broader society even more problematic (

            Such individuals “try to escape from the space in which television carries out its political function of creating a collective identity,” Pocheptsov says. “In Soviet times, such work with the masses as much easier: everyone read and watched one and the same thing. Then no one had to speak about ‘bindings;’ absolutely everything bound people together.”

            Now, things have changed. Television has continued to take on the old functions it had, “but here is the guarantee that it can recover under the conditions of the new life of the country the old Soviet interest?” People not only view different things in different channels but view them in a new way because “today we have post-truth,” or what is the same thing, personal truth.

            The Internet is playing a major role in this transformation, Pocheptsov says, because it “has separated news from its sources” and thereby allowed its consumers to decide about it for themselves. That means the media work for the consumer rather than the producer of content, something that challenges and undermines television further.

            While it is still the case that a large portion of the population still gets its news from television, ever more people, especially younger people don’t; and television is changing as well. But at the same time television is becoming “a secondary source of information,” it has become “the primary source of post-truth since various political talk shows have played this role.”

            TV, especially given the increasing dominance of talk shows, the analyst says, “like other forms of media has become an instrument of cognitive war,” one that identifies and then reinforces views about who is an enemy and who is a friend, intensifying positions rather than clarifying them and playing to the emotions of viewers rather than to their minds.

            When television functions as intended, Pocheptsov says, “it creates a collective identity and directs it. People must see and distinguish good and evil from a single point of view.” And it continues to play that role to an extent because once such positions are established, it is difficult for anything to change them.

            But television is being challenged in many ways, some of which are taking place within the TV world itself. Many serials do not echo the views of the news, people binge watch programs rather than others that do. And even if they do not want to, talk shows put on alternatives to make things interesting – and some people pick up on these alternatives.

            Indeed, psychologists have shown that when people see a point of view they identify with, they become more attached to it even if and perhaps especially if it is attacked by others they do not accept as authorities – and when they can get reinforcement elsewhere as the Internet provides in opposition to television.

             Television in response, Pocheptsov says, is countering this trend by becoming the pre-eminent voice for post-truth, playing on emotions rather than facts and seeking to mobilize people around those emotions rather than to convince them.  That makes it important for some; but it alienates others who now have somewhere to go.

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