Public lecture: Understanding RT’s Audiences: A Cluster Analysis of RT Followers on Twitter

On Friday 17 May, visiting researcher Rhys Crilley (Open University) will present his research on RT and its international audiences. The lecture will take place at the Aleksanteri Institute (2nd floor meeting room) at 13:15 and is open to the public. Crilley is a researcher with the research project ‘Reframing Russia for the Global Mediasphere: From Cold War to “Information War”?’ (U Manchester & Open University). For more information on the project, see here.

Rhys Crilley (Open University): Understanding RT’s Audiences: A Cluster Analysis of RT Followers on Twitter

Friday 17 May, 13:15-14:45, Aleksanteri Institute, 2nd floor meeting room

The Russian funded international news broadcaster RT (formerly Russia Today) is often viewed as a purveyor of disinformation and a threat to liberal democracies. RT has had to register as foreign agent in the USA, and is currently under investigation by the British broadcasting regulator Ofcom for failing to observe due impartiality rules in their coverage of the Skripal poisoning. Despite evidence that suggests RT disseminates disinformation on television and online channels, there is little research into who exactly RT’s audience is, or how they are influenced by RT’s media coverage. This paper addresses this gap and provides a contribution to the study of RT and Russian soft power by developing a novel computational method to identify who RT’s audience is on Twitter. Our paper proceeds in three parts. First, we develop a method for identifying and analysing similar clusters of Twitter followers. We then apply our cluster analysis to Twitter followers of RT and other international broadcasters such as the BBC World Service, Al Jazeera, and CNN. We compare the audience clusters of each broadcaster and our findings suggest that the majority of RT’s Twitter audience is similar to that of other international broadcasters, yet RT also has an audience who are more likely to follow celebrity accounts, special interest accounts (such as sport, technology and Bollywood accounts), and alternative news sources. We conclude by drawing attention to how the study of RT and contemporary accounts of Russian soft power require further analysis of audiences in the digital age.

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