Vienna, January 8 – By the end of 2010, Russian experts predict, more than a million Russians will be signed up with Twitter, a trend that raises the question, a Moscow newspaper asks this week, whether “Twitter in Russia can become a genuinely influential political space” in Russia.
According to an article in yesterday’s “Vzglyad,” the political possibilities that Twitter technology opens were suggested both by coverage of the Iranian protests last year and by the use of this new communication tool by American leaders including President Barak Obama and John McCain (admin2.vz.ru/politics/2010/1/7/364498.html).
Russian politicians have begun to use twitter “only recently,” the paper continues, but already those doing so include President Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow’s NATO representative Dmitry Rogozin, Federation Council speaker Sergey Mironov, numerous Duma deputies and Social Chamber members, and various opposition sites.
(An especially useful example of the last is the twitter account of Compromat.org, a site that was forced off the Runet last year but which continues to carry reports about the background to the misdeeds of Russian leaders. That site has a twitter link which is now available at twitter.com/anticompromat.)
Some Russian politicians view twitter as a transformative technology. Duma deputy Konstantin Rykov, for example, said that “before our eyes, an era of instant communications is beginning in Russia,” with various popular twitter accounts numbering “tens of thousands of ‘followers’” or “friends.”
In the course of the next year, he continued, “the Russian-language audience will grow at a minimum by a factor of ten and now imagine with the introduction into Russia of formats like 4G, each of us will have the chance to have in his pocket his own media,” something that will change how leaders interact with the population.
As a result, just as Obama will not need CNN, so too, Rykov continued, “Medvedev will not need the First Channel in order to communicate his ideas to millions” of people across the country.
But other Russian observers are more skeptical. Longtime television host and blogger Maksim Kononenko, for example, argued that “if you have a lot of followers, you can disseminate a them over the course of several minutes, but at the same time, a tweet is poorly adapted to the needs of politicians” than of media stars.
“One needs to have twitter as a resource,” he added. “One must seize the initiative while this is possible but I am not sure,” Kononenko concluded, that politicians will be able to “develop this initiative.” And thus this media innovation, despite the predictions of others, may not matter as much as those participating in it want to believe.
Moscow analyst Pavel Svyatenkov agreed. He told “Vzglyad” that “in order to assemble people in meetings – and it is precisely for doing so that twitter can be useful – people must be prepared to come to them, but those who want to take part in meetings in Russia are not all that numerous.”
But the Moscow paper did point to one way in which twitter may have an impact in Russia very soon: in the census scheduled to be carried out this October. In the 2002 enumeration, some people declared themselves to be “elves” and “gnomes.” Now, some people identify themselves as “bloggers” by nationality.
“When the first hundred people will say, ‘I’m a twitterer,’ it will become impossible to ignore twitter, just as it is impossible today to ignore bloggers, those who post video online, and bikers.” And that identity shift, the paper implied, could have consequences but obviously far different and longer term ones than those the twitter enthusiasts are now talking about.
Meanwhile, the evolving impact of another part of the Internet was highlighted by the report of the Medialogiya organization about the most-cited Russian web media during October 2009. While Lenta.ru, gazeta.ru and newsru.com led the top 20 sites, many more independent sites were next on the list (www.ingushetia.org/news/21226.html).
Kavkaz-uzel.ru was 6th in the rankings, the monitoring agency said. The translation site Inopressa.ru was 7th. The “Yezhednevny zhurnal” site,” ej.ru, was 10th, the Estonian site Delfi.ee was 12th, the embattled Injgushetia.org site was 15th, and Gary Kasparov’s opposition site, Kasparov.ru was 19th.
Consequently, any further opening of the Internet in Russia by twitter or other technological innovations is likely to increase the availability of information to Russians, however much the powers that be in Moscow are opposed, even if it does not lead in the short term to the democratic transformation in which so many continue to place their hopes.