Salience vs. Commitment: Dynamics of Political Hashtags in Russian Twitter


The Berkman Center is pleased to announce the next publication in its series on the Russian Internet:

“Salience vs. Commitment: Dynamics of Political Hashtags in Russian Twitter”
By Vladimir Barash and John Kelly

Building off our recent mapping of Russian Twitter, in this paper we analyze the dynamics of political hashtags representing a range of political issues and big news stories–from terrorist bombings, to pro-government issues, to topics preferred by the opposition. This work was made possible thanks to the generous support of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Social media sites like Twitter enable users to engage in the spread of contagious phenomena: everything from information and rumors to social movements and virally marketed products. In particular, Twitter has been observed to function as a platform for political discourse, allowing political movements to spread their message and engage supporters, and also as a platform for information diffusion, allowing everyone from mass media to citizens to reach a wide audience with a critical piece of news. Previous work suggests that different contagious phenomena will display distinct propagation dynamics, and in particular that news will spread differently through a population than other phenomena. We leverage this theory to construct a system for classifying contagious phenomena based on the properties of their propagation dynamics, by combining temporal and network features. Our system, applicable to phenomena in any social media platform or genre, is applied to a dataset of news-related and political hashtags diffusing through the population of Russian Twitter users. Our results show that news-related hashtags have a distinctive pattern of propagation across the spectrum of Russian Twitter users. In contrast, we find that political hashtags display a number of different dynamic signatures corresponding to different politically active sub-communities. Analysis using ‘chronotopes’ sharpens these findings and reveals an important propagation pattern we call ‘resonant salience.’

This is the fourth in a series of papers that will be released over the coming months. Previous research on the Russian Internet include our baseline network analysis of Russian Twitter, “Mapping Russian Twitter,” our study of the Russian blogosphere, “Public Discourse in the Russian Blogosphere: Mapping RuNet Politics and Mobilization” and “Exploring Russian Cyberspace: Digitally-Mediated Collective Action and the Networked Public Sphere.” An overview of past and upcoming publications can be found here: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/ru…. For further information about the Berkman Center’s project on the Impact of the Internet on Russian Politics, Media, and Society please visit: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/ru….

As always, we welcome your feedback.

Posted in Organizing, Publications, Russia, Twitter. Comments Off

Mapping Russian Twitter

The Berkman Center is pleased to announce the next publication in its series of papers on the Russian Internet:

“Mapping Russian Twitter”
By John Kelly, Vladimir Barash, Karina Alexanyan, Bruce Etling, Robert Faris, Urs Gasser, and John Palfrey

Using methods similar to our studies of the Persian, Arabic and Russian blogospheres, this paper shares the results of a large-scale social network analysis of Russian Twitter, with a focus on political users. This work was made possible thanks to the generous support of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Drawing from a corpus of over 50 Million Russian language tweets collected between March 2010 and March 2011, the research team created a network map of 10,285 users comprising the ‘discussion core’ of Russian Twitter, and clustered them based on a combination of network features. The resulting segmentation revealed key online constituencies active in Russian Twitter. The major topical groupings in Russian Twitter include: Political, Instrumental, CIS Regional, Technology, and Music. There are also several clusters centered on Russian regions, which is significant given the limited reach of the Internet in the regions outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Similar to the Russian blogosphere, the Twitter network includes a democratic opposition cluster associated with Gary Kasparov and the opposition Solidarity movement. In other respects the political clusters identified in blogs and Twitter networks display interesting variation. Nationalists, who are very active in Russian blogs, do not appear to be organized in Russian Twitter (at least as of March 2011). Conversely, pro-Putin youth groups like the Young Guards and Nashi, and elected officials allied with them, have a distinct Twitter footprint.

This is the third in a series of papers that will be released over the coming months. Previous research on the Russian Internet includes our study of the Russian blogosphere, “Public Discourse in the Russian Blogosphere: Mapping RuNet Politics and Mobilization” and “Exploring Russian Cyberspace: Digitally-Mediated Collective Action and the Networked Public Sphere.” An overview of past and upcoming publications can be found here: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/ru…. For further information about the Berkman Center’s project on the Impact of the Internet on Russian Politics, Media, and Society please visit: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/ru….

As always, we welcome your feedback.

Posted in blogging, Publications, Russia, Twitter. Comments Off

Exploring Russian Cyberspace: New Internet and Democracy Publication (and more to come!)

As you’ve likely discovered from personal experience, timing is everything. And so the Internet & Democracy team is especially pleased to announce that just in time for this Sunday’s Russian presidential election, Karina Alexanyan, Vladimir Barash, Robert Faris, Urs Gasser, John Kelly, John Palfrey, Hal Roberts, and I are releasing a new paper that assesses the relationship between the Russian Internet and Russian political and social life: “Exploring Russian Cyberspace: Digitally-Mediated Collective Action and the Networked Public Sphere.” This work was made possible thanks to the generous support of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

In English and in Russian (thanks to the translation expertise of Gregory Asmolov), here is the full abstract for the paper:

**

This paper summarizes the major findings of a three-year research project to investigate the Internet’s impact on Russian politics, media and society. We employed multiple methods to study online activity: the mapping and study of the structure, communities and content of the blogosphere; an analogous mapping and study of Twitter; content analysis of different media sources using automated and human-based evaluation approaches; and a survey of bloggers; augmented by infra- structure mapping, interviews and background research. We find the emergence of a vibrant and diverse networked public sphere that constitutes an independent alternative to the more tightly controlled offline media and political space, as well as the growing use of digital platforms in social mobilization and civic action. Despite various indirect efforts to shape cyberspace into an environment that is friendlier towards the government, we find that the Russian Internet remains generally open and free, although the current degree of Internet freedom is in no way a prediction of the future of this contested space.

****

*Аннотация*

В данной статье представлены основные результаты трехлетнего проекта, целью которого было изучить влияние Интернета на российскую политику, средства массовой информации и общество. Для исследования общения и деятельности пользователей интернета мы использовали различные методы: отображение и исследование структуры, сообществ и содержания блогосферы и контента в Твиттере; опрос блогеров, контент-анализ различных средств массовой информации: как с помощью автоматизированных методов, так и с помощью экспертов.

Мы открыли существование живого и чрезвычайно разнообразного публичного пространства, которое представляет собой альтернативу более контролируемым официальным средствам массовой информации. Мы считаем возможным говорить об электронных платформах, на основе которых происходит социальная мобилизация гражданских действий. Несмотря на различные попытки превратить кибер-пространство в пространство, поддерживающее правительство, наше исследование показывает, что Российский Интернет все еще остается свободным и открытым. Тем не менее, несмотря на существующую свободу Рунета, очень сложно делать какие-то предсказания относительно его будущего.

**

Please note that we are working to provide a full translation in the future.
In the meantime, we welcome your comments at the Internet & Democracy Blog.

If we’ve whetted your appetite for more research on all things related to the role of the Internet in Russian society, we welcome you to take a fresh look at our October 2010 Russian blog paper, Public Discourse in the Russian Blogosphere: Mapping RuNet Politics and Mobilization.

Also, please keep an eye on our paper series page for future publications over the coming months, and check out the same site for a short description of each paper we’re planning to release.

Enjoy!

Coordinated DDoS Attack During Russian Duma Elections

By Hal Roberts and Bruce Etling

Over the course of the weekend, a seemingly coordinated distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack flooded a number of the leading Russian independent media, election monitoring and blogging sites. Many users and content publishers, including the Global Voices RuNet project, have been reporting the attacks against sites including LiveJournal, Echo of Moscow, Novaya Gazeta, New Times, Bolshoi Gorod, Golos.orgikso.org, ridus.ru, zaks.ru, and the online ‘map of violations’ created by the election monitoring group Golos (which has been the target since last week of a government campaign against ‘outside’ influence on the election (they are funded by US and European groups). LiveJournal, which is the biggest blog host in Russia and according to our research is the blogging platform where Russian political discourse is most prevalent, was also attacked. There are continued reports of LiveJournal’s inaccessibility inside Russia over the last couple days, and shorter term attacks on sites such as levada.ru, the Web site of the leading independent polling firm in Russia.

DDoS and other sorts of cyber attacks on independent media have been common in recent years. One of the difficult things about understanding the cause and impact of DDoS attacks is that it is rarely clear who is behind the attacks. We have little or no evidence, for instance, that the Russian government is involved in these or other attacks. This is partly due to the nature of DDoS attacks, which often come from large collections of infected computers and so are very difficult to track back to the responsible actor. Governments have also avoided taking responsibility for these sorts of attacks, in constrast to the way that many government happily defend their filtering practices, perhaps because the attacks are often associated with the cyber-criminal gangs who build and run botnets.

What makes these attacks different is the number of sites attacked at the same time, and their close timing around the elections. We asked our friends at Arbor Networks, a leading provider of DDoS monitoring and protection services for Internet service providers and large content hosts, for any data they have on these attacks. Among other DDoS monitoring systems, Arbor has a large collection of taps installed in botnets, through which they are able to listen to the commands sent to the botnets. Jose Nazario reported back to us that starting on December 1 and continuing through the election on December 4, they saw commands come from just two botnet controllers to attacks the following list of sites, nearly all of which are independent media or election monitoring sites:

New Times (Oppositional news site The New Times)
Echo of Moscow (Leading Independent radio station Echo of Moscow)
Novaya Gazeta (Major oppositional newspaper Novaya Gazeta, often critical of the Kremlin)
Novaya St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg Novaya Gazeta site)
Kommersant (Major Russian news daily)
Public Post (online news site, had published stories about map of violations and Golos)
Slon (Online News site, partnered with Golos to publish ‘map of violations’ after Gazeta backed out)
Bolshoi Gorod (St. Petersburg news site)
Golos (Website of independent election monitor Golos)
Ikso (an outlier, the election commission of Sverdlovsk region)
Ridus (online news/citizen journalism site)
Zaks (a popular political website in St. Petersburg)
Pryaniki (a popular portal in Tula)
Map of Violations (Golos crowdsourced election violations map/site)
files.kartanarusheniy.ru (sub domain of ‘map of violations’ site)
LiveJournal (Major Russian blog platform)
Kotlin Forum (not accessible: Yandex search indicates a forum related to Kronshdat)
Kotlin (not accessible, Yandex search indicates news and info related to Kronshdat region)
GosZakupki (another apparent outlier in the group, a portal for Russian federal and local government tenders)
The Other Tver (oppositional Tver news and analysis site)
RosAgit (Web site connected to activist and blogger Alexey Navalny, which today is focused on promoting protests across Russia scheduled for December 10).

Botnets are often rented out for a variety of reasons, including spam, click fraud, and credit card theft, as well as DDoS attacks. It could be a coincidence that two botnet controllers were independently rented by a collection of actors to attack these sites during the election, but that coincidence seems highly unlikely. It is much more likely that some one or two actors was trying to take down a broad swatch of the Russian independent media landscape during the critical period of the election. We have see many, many attacks against individual media sources in the past in Russia, but we are not aware of any previous coordinated attacks against this number of sites at the same time.

The Arbor data, of course, says nothing about why these sites were attacked, but one argument put forward by editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow Alexey Vendediktov (and many others), certainly seems plausible: “The attack on the website on election day is clearly an attempt to inhibit publication of information about violations.” Several, if not most, of these sites invited users to submit information on election violations, especially Golos, their violations map, Slon and Echo of Moscow. The timing of the attacks is also hard to see as coincidental, overlapping closely with the times that polls were open on Election Day. Most of the attacks also ended once the polls were closed. As is usual for these types of attacks, no one has claimed responsibility, even though they seem to clearly serve the interests of the government.

As the Berkman Center noted in its DDoS report last year, for media and NGOs that think they might be subject to a DDoS attack, putting data and information on major social media and Internet sites (like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google, etc.) is a good back up plan, especially for smaller organizations with limited tech staff, since these major hosting sites are far more well prepared to defend against these types of attacks. For example, to our knowledge, the Google doc with over 5000 election violations created by Golos after its site was disabled, was never taken down. Alexei Sidorenko also has other details of how sites like Novaya Gazeta that were better prepared for the attack were able to help host Echo of Moscow blogs, which argues for these groups to support each other and host one another’s content, acting as a sort of ‘mutual aid society,’ which Jonathan Zittrain has written about. Also, we checked with one prominent Russian independent media site that we had worked with during the writing of the DDoS report about whether they had been attacked, and that site responded that they had used Twitter for all of their election coverage, specifically to avoid DDoS attacks. That site’s strategy was successful, as Twitter was either not attacked or withstood any attack during the election.

Massive DDOS attack on Independent Media during Russian Duma Election

I’m just waking up to discover that, coinciding with today’s Russian Duma elections, there has been a series of major DDOS attacks that have at times brought down a number of leading independent media outlets, the LiveJournal blogging platform, and the online ‘map of [election] violations’ by election watchdog group Golos. Key independent mass media sites include the very influential Echo of Moscow radio and newspapers Kommersant, Novaya Gazeta (which is often critical of the Kremlin, has been the victim of DDOS attacks previously and has also had a handful of its journalists killed over the last few years), Bolshoi Gorod, slon.ru, and the more oppositional New Times. The election watch dog group Golos has been the target since last week of a government campaign against ‘outside’ influence in the election (they are funded by US and European groups). They were the subject of a thirty minute NTV special last week after warnings about outside interference in the election from Putin. The primary Russian blogging platform LiveJournal, which hosts the majority of blogs focused on politics and public affairs has also been attacked. The number of sites attacked at once seems unprecedented, and taking place during the Duma election cannot be considered a coincidence. As usual with DDOS attacks, it will likely be difficult if not impossible to determine who is behind the attacks.

Gregory Asmolov at Global Voices has the most exhaustive list of sites attacked that I’ve seen:

thenewtimes.ru, echo.msk.ru, novayagazeta.ru, kommersant.ru, publicpost.ru, slon.ru, Bolshoy Gorod (bg.ru), golos.orgikso.org, ridus.ru, zaks.ru (Saint Petersburg), pryaniki.org (Tula), crowdsourcing platform “Karta Narusheniy” and Livejournal platform.

Alexey Sidorenko has a couple updates on his Twitter feed @sidorenko_intl

And the Moscow times election live blog also has some details and updates.

The Global Voices Footprint


Full image available (here)

Here’s another cool blog map from our friend and research partner John Kelly (with whom we’ve studied the Persian, Arabic and Russian blogospheres–but this map is part of his work at Morningside Analytics). The above image is a visualization of bloggers that link to Global Voices created for GV’s leadership, including friends Ivan Sigal, Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon.

I was interested to read that he thinks GV has an especially big role in online discourse in, and about, the Arab world. This was my intuition as well from the research we’ve done with John over the years, but I’ve never gotten around to asking him if that was actually the case. As John writes:

If we include English language blogs, there are at least three additional clusters that focus on the Arab world. It is fair to say that while GV has a hand in conversations around the globe, it plays an especially strong role connecting Arab discourse.

I am also interested to learn more about Russian bloggers linking to GV. It appears that this group is a bit less deeply enmeshed in the larger conversation, given their position at the bottom of the map. I’m also curious about the Echo Mosckvyi (Echo of Moscow) cluster. This is important because, as Ethan often says, citizen media punch above their weight when they are linked to, interviewed and their messages rebroadcast through traditional electronic media. The fact that there is a cluster of bloggers from an important outlet like Echo Moskvyi linking to GV may say a lot about their influence in Russia, which might not be so obvious at first glance. (A while back, David Remnick did a great New Yorker piece on the station if you want to learn more.)

While I’m excited to see this research on GV, I have to say I’m even more excited to see that John has finally started a blog, which promises to be a must read.

Posted in blogging, Citizen Journalism, Middle East, Russia. Comments Off

Russian Media for the Week of 6/27/2011 – 7/03/2011

Russian media this week has seen the emergence of a number of prominent stories, including themes related to Russia’s budget and banking system, political appointments, energy politics, Russia’s relations with neighboring countries, bills being debated by the Duma, and concerns over forest fires in the country’s far east.

Week of June 20 – June 26 (Red) Compared to June 13 – June 19 (Blue) for Five Major Russian Media Segments (TV, Pop Blogs, Random Blogs, Mainstream Media, Government):

New issues related to domestic politics and finance seem to dominate the overall week-to-week comparison cloud, indicated by the emergence of new high frequency words (in red) such as “банк” (bank), “бюджет” (budget), “газа” (gas), and “национальной” (national).  The frequent discussion of banks this week is in part accounted for by the catastrophic failure and subsequent bailout of the Bank of Moscow, Russia’s fifth largest bank.  In what is reputed to be “the largest bailout in modern Russian history,” the bank will receive as much as $14 billion in state-backed loans, with the state-run VTB Bank increasing its stake in the company to 75%.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off

Russian Media for the Week of 6/20/2011 – 6/26/2011

Russian media this week has been dominated by several new themes, relating to national history, disasters, and high politics.  The red words in the word cloud below indicate words that appeared in this week’s news with unusually high frequency, showing a contrast with the previous week.  (Blue words show high frequency words unique to the previous week, and purple indicates words that appeared with significant prevalence both weeks – generally representative of recurrent themes.)

Week of June 20 – June 26 (Red) Compared to June 13 – June 19 (Blue) for Five Major Russian Media Segments (TV, Pop Blogs, Random Blogs, Mainstream Media, Government):


Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off

Russian Media for the Week of 6/12/2011 – 6/18/2011

This week’s Russian word cloud shows some new trends and stories that differ from those of the previous week, though there have been few dramatic shifts in coverage.  The most striking new story to emerge here appears to be that of Colonel Yuri Budanov (Полковник Юрий Буданов), who was murdered while awaiting trial for the rape and murder of a young girl in Chechnya.  This story accounts for several of the increased frequency words that emerge in this week’s word cloud – a pattern also separately visible across all major media segments except for official government sources.  On closer inspection, some other stories have acquired new or renewed attention in particular media segments, with coverage of Ukraine and Mikhail Khodorkovsky featuring prominently in popular blogs and television media respectively.

Words in four prominent media segments (popular blogs, mainstream media, government, television) during the week starting 2011-06-05 (Blue) versus during the week starting 2011-06-12 (Red):

The word cloud above, comparing a combined set of main media sources from June 12th through June 18th 2011 (red) with the same set of sources over the previous week, June 5th through June 11th 2011 (blue), shows several new stories emerging (blue), but none of these are at as high a word frequency as the major words in purple (mentioned frequently both weeks) or even as the major words from the previous week (in red).  The cloud compares the combined sets of popular blogs, mainstream media sources, government media content, and television media content across the two weeks.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in I&D Project, Media Cloud, Russia. Comments Off

The Russian Media Ecosystem and the Arab Spring

It is no secret that the Arab Spring has shaken authoritarian governments not just in the Middle East, but around the world. China has engaged in a severe crackdown on dissent, including imprisoning well-known artist Ai Weiwei, and has also gone so far as to prohibit the sale of Jasmine. But what about Russia, which has left its Internet mostly open but is more similar to China in its repression of offline political action?

As I noted in my last post, the recent events in Egypt and Tunisia provide a great example of the appearance of an agenda in the Russian blogosphere that is almost completely absent from official Russian government information channels. The Russian government, it seems, didn’t know what to say, or how to say it.

The polar map above shows the similarity of Russian popular blogs, Russian top 25 most popular media, Russian TV, and the Russian Government feeds that use the terms ‘Egypt,’ ‘Tunisia’ or ‘Protest’ from December 25, 2010 to February 21, 2011 (Mubarak officially stepped down on February 11). The center node on this map (black) is our list of Top 25 Russian mainstream or popular media. The further a given source is from this center node, the more dissimilar it is to the collective content of the mainstream media. (I would have preferred to use the government as the center node, but the lack of data from the government on this specific query made that impossible. So what we really are looking at in the above polar map is the comparison of mainstream media to blogs, and the absence of the Russian government.)

It is clear in the above polar map that there is a large difference between the terms used by the majority of popular blogs compared to more traditional Russian media when discussing Egypt and the protests. Most popular mainstream media and TV channels are found near the center of the map along with a handful of popular blogs. The majority of popular blogs are pushed even further to the edge of the chart, and with a more clearly delineated white space between mainstream media and the outer ring of blogs than in the examples in my previous Media Cloud post.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Media Cloud, Middle East, Russia. Comments Off