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Russia’s Digital Revolution: Language, New Media, and the (Un)making of Civil Society

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In “Russia’s Digital Revolution,” Michael S. Gorham, University of Florida, examines political communication in the age of the internet and new media technologies, considering a wide range of strategies—rhetorical, political, and technological—that have helped shape, for better or for worse, civic culture in Russia today.

Recent world events have shown that new media technologies are neither “democratic” nor “authoritarian” by nature or design. Depending on a variety of factors—cultural, political, and technological—they have the capacity to both aid and suppress revolution. That being said, Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, social networking, and crowdsourcing sites nearly always begin as alternative spaces and, as such, naturally attract oppositional voices. In the United States political blogging grew out of a frustration with the mainstream coverage of the television and print media for being (from either left or right) too “mainstream.” This has especially been the case in Russia, where Vladimir Putin and associates have maintained tight control over print media and broadcast television especially. Be it in the transformation of the ruling United Russia party into the “Party Swindlers and Thieves,” state-sponsored “e-Government” projects, or behind-the-scenes hacking and “botnet” attacks, the Russian-language internet (or “Runet”) has assumed an increasingly critical role in rewriting the rules of civil discourse. Particularly as the Russian internet continues to grow and compete with mainstream broadcast media for the public eye, how public virtual space comes to be designed, defined, occupied, and contained will have a considerable impact on the political language and the polity itself for years to come.