Russian politicians enter the world of social media

Having their own blogs on social networks has become the fashion for Russian politicians. Source: Kommersant

Having their own blogs on social networks has become the fashion for Russian politicians. Source: Kommersant

It’s fashionable for Russian politicians to have a blog and social media accounts, but this cutting-edge form of reaching out to voters sometimes results in high-profile scandals.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov runs a blog on Instagram and his press service claims that it is the most quoted blog among politicians of his rank. A most extraordinary thing has happened lately: Kadyrov established the new Ministry for Cooperation with Civil Society in Chechnya and made Arbi Tamaev, his Instagram follower, its head. Aleksei Goreslavsky, President of Agency One, a leading communications agency, believes Kadyrov’s Instagram project is one of the most successful initiatives of this kind among politicians: “Kadyrov has achieved a unique mix of reliability (photo-proof) and interactivity (you may comment but you may not start discussions). Giving your active follower a government position is an example of modern populism, an attempt to have fresh staff and make a high quality popular show out of it.” 

Up until 2008, Russian politicians with their own blogs could be counted on the fingers of one hand. But then the Russian blogosphere was revolutionised by Dmitri Medvedev, a noted Internet enthusiast, who was elected President in 2008. He repeatedly called on Russian politicians to launch blogs. The pinnacle of his campaign was his visit to Twitter headquarters in San Francisco during his stay in the US in 2010. He opened his Twitter account while at the Twitter office and his debut read: “Hello everyone. I am now on Twitter and this is my first message.” 

Since then, having their own blogs on social networks has become the fashion for Russian politicians. As a rule, they have two sorts of account: official blogs run by their spokespeople and personal ones. There have been no emergencies with the first group of blogs, while messages posts on personal blogs often cause scandals. In October 2010, then Governor of Tver Region (some 200 kilometres from Moscow) Dmitri Zelenin allegedly discovered an insect larva in his salad bowl at a reception in the Kremlin and immediately posted a picture of it on his Twitter page. Moments later, that very larva started its own blog, forecasted Zelenin’s resignation and announced that the new Governor of Tver Region would be… a larva. But it was wrong, though: when Zelenin resigned eight months later, a man took over, not a larva. 

In February 2012, one more governor gained notoriety with the help of Twitter: Aleksandr Tkachev, head of the Krasnodar Region. (This region is home to all of Russia’s Black Sea resorts, about 1,400 kilometres from Moscow). A local resident complained to the governor about his low, 15,000-rouble wage (around $500), and the Governor recommended that he change his job. Internet users wracked their brains and finally remembered the phrase “Let them eat cake”, commonly attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette, who, ahead of the French Revolution, was reported to recommend peasants starving for bread, to eat cake instead. 

Are politicians running a high risk when they communicate directly with citizens on social networks? Moskovsky Komsomolets, one of Russia’s biggest newspapers, has recently made a couple of stinging remarks about a few female Duma members, using the term “political prostitutes” coined decades ago by Vladimir Lenin. Andrei Isaev, a member of United Russia, the majority party in the parliament, immediately tweeted: “You small scum, relax. We don’t care about you. But there will be severe retaliation against the editor and author.” Readers were trying to guess what exactly Isaev threatened to do, which caused a major scandal.

Some politicians are well aware that social networks are a high risk zone. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin, who used to have 125,000 followers on Twitter, has announced that his blog will be written by his assistants. Earlier, he made very sharp comments about the Pussy Riot case and Madonna’s tour in Russia.

Ivan Zasursky, editor-in-chief of the Private Correspondent online newspaper, believes that, if you keep a blog, you inevitably put yourself in jeopardy: “Everyone makes mistakes but the question is how well people detect the anger and stupidity of the author, how they interpret their viewpoint: if you are not driven by negative emotions, if you don’t lie, you won’t make a truly big mistake.”

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