Selling censorship: Affective framing and the legitimation of internet control in Russia

In today’s hyperconnected world, states are confronted with the global challenge of responding to potentially disruptive online communications, such as terrorist propaganda and fake news. In Russia, these threats have been instrumentalized to legitimate a dramatic decline in internet freedom, leading Human Rights Watch to conclude, that “[s]tate intrusion in media affairs has reached a level not seen in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.” Scholars have investigated the curtailment of internet freedom in contemporary Russia, drawing attention to its infrastructural, economic, regulatory and foreign policy aspects. Scholarship thus far has neglected to examine how the Russian government legitimates and cultivates popular support for these policies.

Controlling public opinion may well be the decisive factor in Russia’s “success” in expanding internet censorship without arousing popular resistance. This research project will study how the internet and its regulation are framed in political and media discourses. It asks what role the mobilisation of affect plays in legitimating censorship and surveillance. Employing a mixed methods, case-study approach, it will analyse how affective frames are produced by policymakers, how they are translated and disseminated in state and (semi-) independent media, and how they resonate in social media and online debates.

This project is funded by a Rubicon postdoctoral fellowship from The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (2018-2020) and hosted by the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki.

This project was terminated on 15 August 2019.