A DH perspective on sub-national governance in Russia

On May 17th, Digital Russia Studies spring seminars series featured two presentations on sub-national governance in Russia – both using digital humanities methods.

DRS co-founder, Daria Gritsenko, introduced the new research project “Algorithmic Governance in Context(s): Civic technology in Russian regions”. This project led by Daria Gritsenko and Andrey Indukaev studies the digitalization of local governance in Russia. The project aims to understand what makes local administrations implement digital tools of civil participation (civic tech) in the Russian regions. The key hypothesis of the project is that there is no single pathway to civic tech uptake, but the reasons vary between the regions: some do it because of the local administration’s interest in digital tools, while others respond to the ‘push from below’ – the needs of the local civil society. The seminar participants discussed the key social and political phenomena that may influence civic tech use, the relevant variables, such as the activity of local media and civil society.

Andrey Starodubtsev presented a his project focusing on the ideational dimension of regional politics in Russia.  The main methodological focus of the project is on the diachronic and synchronic textual analysis of governors speeches and writings. What ideas do regional leaders express in different contexts? In particular, how do they express the desirable status of subnational units? To answer these questions, he aims at analysing the centralist and federalist ideas in governors’ political communication using mixed-method techniques combining text mining and close reading. After the presentation, the discussion turned around the methodological issues of textual analysis, in particular how to approach different types of data and how to deal with unbalanced corpora.

DRS seminar April edition

In the April edition of DRS seminar, Pihla Toivanen introduced her Master’s thesis “Computational Frame Analysis of Populist Counter Media”. Her research is a part of the project “Information chaos and trust in traditional journalism” project carried out at Tampere University’s COMET Research Center in collaboration with Aalto University.

Pihla uses machine learning to study how Finnish populist media builds trust by referring to external information sources. In particular, populist media actively use news coming from traditional media to produce their own content (see table below). Mainstream media in Finland are trusted, and reusing their stories may help populist media to build credibility. However, populist media do not merely reproduce information from the traditional media, but actively reframe it. Pihla developed a supervised machine-learning algorithm that detects how populist media reframe stories from traditional media. The algorithm and the preliminary results of its application to unlabeled data were presented at the seminar, as well as the researcher’s future plans to develop the classification technique. After the presentation, seminar participants discussed the use of machine learning in media studies and new methodologies of media research.

Persuasion, Conspiracy Thinking and the Securitisation of Information in Russia and Beyond – 4 April 2019

The STRAPPA project is hosting an afternoon seminar on 4 April on ‘Persuasion, conspiracy thinking and the securitisation of information in Russia and beyond’. We are very happy that several of our network partners will join us to share their research (for the full programme and list of speakers, see below).

Attendance is free, but registration in advance is required. Please register by 29 March by clicking here.

Persuasion, Conspiracy Thinking and the Securitisation of Information in Russia and Beyond

4 April 2019, 13:15-16:30 – Aleksanteri Institute, 2nd floor meeting room

13:15-13:45 – Introduction

Strategies of Persuasion – Russian Propaganda in the Algorithmic Age

Mariëlle Wijermars, University of Helsinki

13:45-14:45 – Session 1

Curation, legitimation and populist communication: the packaging of global politics on RT (Russia Today)

Precious Chatterje-Doody, University of Manchester

In recent years, Russia’s state-funded international broadcaster RT (Russia Today) has become the focus of significant international scrutiny: British MPs have debated a ban; France has denied accreditation to RT France journalists; and the network was forced to register as a foreign agent in the USA. Even the network’s former Head of Social recognises the “toxic” nature of the brand. In the face of such challenges, how does RT package its outputs in ways intended to resonate with target audiences? This paper introduces 3 core tactics in RT’s playbook: curation of topics and expertise; (de)legitimation of key players’ actions; and use of populist communication logics.

The world according to the truthseekers: Conspiracy and the everyday on RT

Ilya Yablokov, University of Leeds

What is the US government involved in to conspire against its citizens and other good-willing people in the world? What happened on 9/11? Why the US is interested in spreading LGBT propaganda in Russia? How does the world look like according to the famous conspiracy theorist Jesse Ventura? This paper is dedicated to RT’s most overtly conspiratorial output: the shows ‘The Truthseeker’ and ‘The World According to Jesse Ventura’. These shows explicitly designed to seek out facts that established institutions and power structures have allegedly sought to cover up. The two programmes under investigation date from the network’s inception, and its present-day programming respectively. My analysis reveals an evolution over time in the representational strategies used to convey conspiracy theories on RT. I provide the framework to understand how conspiracy theories operate over time since 2010, when RT launched its broadcasting in the US, and I explore how these theories are being applied to seek support of various subnational communities inside the US.

14:45-15:00 – Coffee break

15:00-16:00 – Session 2

Persuasion, mockery, and ambiguity: Recent changes in pro-state discourse on Runet

Vera Zvereva, University of Jyväskylä

This paper focuses on the discursive convergence of the pro-state mainstream media, social media as used by Russian state officials, and the more dubious resources associated with the Federal News Agency (FAN) and with pro-Kremlin trolls. It aims to demonstrate that the boundaries between them are becoming harder to define. Thus, the ambiguity of messages has become more central to the language of political communication in Russian digital media. On the one hand, part of the FAN media shares the agenda of RIA Novosti, RT, and others, and multiplies and refracts their news, opinions, and interpretations on the Internet, keeping readers within the circle of resources and the discursive space that they try to manage. On the other hand, the media discourse of Russian officials themselves has become so rich in street parlance, undiplomatic language, and features of trolling that what they say no longer stands out against the background of speech by less respectable media agents.

Information-psychological warfare in Russian security strategy

Katri Pynnöniemi, University of Helsinki and National Defence University

Information-psychological warfare comes in many disguises. This paper analyses assumptions underlying the contemporary Russian debate on information warfare. The focus is on research literature and other writings that can be thought of contributing to the formation of Russian security strategy.

16:00-16:30 Concluding remarks

Digital Russia Studies: The core projects

The first DRS seminar of the year on the 11th of January started with the presentations by two speakers from Digital Russia Studies core. Postdoctoral Researchers, Andrey Indukaev and Mariëlle Wijermars gave talks about their current projects connected with digitalzation in Russia.

Andrey Indukaev the primary results of his project named “Mapping the political discourse on ‘innovation’ and ‘digitalization’ in Russia”. In his work Andrey focuses on two concepts – innovation and digitalization – taking prominent place in the political discourse in Ruissa. The projects aims to analyse the  shifting political role those had during and after Medvedevs term. The study aims to combining the methods of distributional semantics with other methods of text analysis. The results presented at the seminar consisted mainly of the word2vec model trained on a corpus thematically focused on the innovation and digitalization.

Mariëlle Wijermars launched her project “Strategies of Persuasion: Russian Propaganda in the Algorithmic Age” which in November was has been awarded a University of Helsinki three-year project grant. The detailed description of the project can be found here: https://blogs.helsinki.fi/digital-russia-studies/projects/strategies-of-persuasion/. At the seminar were vividly discussed the questions about what is propaganda: fake news or something else? The main discussion revolved around the issue of the project expected outcomes and the necessity for new knowledge about propaganda strategies in the age of information and media digitalization.

*Text on the picture: Putin in a bearskin. How the President became enamored with the digital economy