Staunton, Sept. 17 – It has become a commonplace to say that the Internet is playing an increasing role in Russian political life, but the nature and dimension of this role is only beginning to be studied, a pattern that has led some to dismiss the medium’s importance and others to overrate it.
This week, the Association of Internet Technologists reported in Kommersant about the results of its study of the ways in which campaigns in the 225 single-member districts were being affected by the Internet, including launching of candidate’s pages, putting news on public sites, and seeking to promote commentaries by influentials (kommersant.ru/doc/4987429).
Nadezhda Sivkova, a political scientist at the Urals Federal University, builds on that by drawing on research involving not only the current Duma campaign but also the primaries United Russia organized earlier this year (politsovet.ru/71642-agitaciya-v-rezhime-onlayn-sociolog-urfu-o-tom-kak-prohodila-izbiratelnaya-kampaniya-v-socsetyah.html).
“The most popular places for candidates have become Instagram and Vkontakte,” she says. “All parties to one degree or another are present on Vkontakte.” But only the four systemic parties and two new ones are on Instagram. The others have not yet made an effort in that direction.
But such a presence “is not the only indicator” of the role of the Internet in campaigning,” Sivkova says. “Already this spring, we noted the very high level of clickability of content offered by the New People Party at the federal and regional levels. Possibly, this is a sowing of seeds, and possibly this is activity by the party’s supporters.”
Earlier this year, “we did an analysis of the activity in social networks of candidates in the United Russia primaries where it was shown that among the winners, approximately 60 percent were active in social networks.” Those without such a presence were significantly less successful.
United Russia then and now often posted the same content on various platforms rather than redesigning it to take advantage of the different audiences involved, the Urals political scientist continues. Other parties take a more diversified approach, she suggests. Nonetheless, United Russia ranks first in usage, followed by the KPRF, LDPR and Just Russia.
“United Russia has an advantage in terms of the number of subscribers and general activity in social networks,” Sivkova continues. “The KPRF leads on clickability and the number of subscribers in the regions. In out view, clickability is the most important indicator reflected interest in content.” On that measure, United Russia is not doing well.
“The LDPR is the leader as far as talking about party work is concerned,” she says. “Just Russia leads in terms of discussing issues of domestic policy.” Interestingly, Just Russia is also very interested in Twitter, even though the share of Russians making use of that channel is far smaller.
According to Sivkova, only one of the new parties, New People, has been conducting active work in social networks. But it has had some real success, gaining much higher clickability numbers than even United Russia. She dismisses the suggestion of the Association of Internet Technologists that parties can stop using real sociology to track election trends.
In her opinion, that is at best premature. Internet surveys are neither as reliable or as easy to conduct as the Association thinks. As a result, traditional polls and other sociological methods are going to remain important for a long time to come, even if the Internet becomes more important as a delivery method.