Theses Doctoral

The Map and The Territory: Russian Social Media Networks and Society

Alexanyan, Karina

This dissertation uses Russian social media as a lens for exploring the historically, culturally, socially and politically situated relationship between individuals and online communication technologies. I propose a framework for comparative international analysis that leverages three interconnected elements – history, network structure and media ecology. On the basis of these three elements, this dissertation examines Russia’s social media ecology and its relationship to Russia’s broader socio-political environment, articulating the various factors that have influenced the specific network structure and nature of social media in Russia, its role within the broader online and traditional media ecologies, and its implications for Russian society and politics in general. In the first part, I outline the features of Russia’s distinct social media ecology, and examine the various historic and social factors that have shaped its evolution, highlighting the implications of the intertwined development of the Internet and social media in Russia. In the second section, I present the findings of my case study of the network structure of Russian social media, examining the culture of Russia’s online social networks and providing a detailed analysis of the network structure and patterns of attention in Russian social media between 2009- 2010. In the final section, I consider these findings within the broader context of Russia’s media ecology, highlighting the distinction between “Internet Russia” and “TV Russia” and evaluating the role of Russian social media networks in offline action, particularly the tumultuous events of 2012. Russian social media networks are not a microcosm, reflection or “map” of Russian society. They are created and pursued by an as yet elite, but growing, segment of the population - active and engaged social media users for whom the relatively uncensored Internet serves not only as an independent source of information, but, more significantly, as an avenue for interpersonal connection and communication. Civil participation in Russia, I conclude, has its roots in these interpersonal social networks. My historically, socially and culturally rooted exploration of Russian social media ecology recognizes it as an interpersonal space as well as a public sphere, highlighting the communication and coordination aspect of social media, as much as the informational one. This approach explains the immediate success, “like a fish to water,” of LiveJournal’s social network based blogging platform in Russia, and provides a foundation for understanding the unique structure and nature of Russian social media networks. Finally, it offers context and insight for a more nuanced understanding of the offline social and political ramifications of social media in Russia, as well as a matrix for cross cultural comparison.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Gitlin, Todd
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 18, 2013