A Comparative Cyberconflict Analysis of Digital Activism Across Post-Soviet Countries
journal contributionposted on 16.01.2017, 11:50 by Athina Karatzogianni, Galina Miazhevich, Anastasia Denisova
It is more common for digital activism scholarship to focus on a political event, movement or organization, or the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in a single country, case study or incident, rather than utilizing a comparative politics and sociology approach across several countries. This article analyses digital activism comparatively in relation to three Post-Soviet regions: Russian/anti-Russian during Crimea and online political deliberation in Belarus, in juxtaposition to Estonia’s digital governance approach. We show that in resistant civil societies in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, cultural forms of digital activism, such as internet memes thrive and produce and reproduce effective forms of political deliberation. In contrast to Estonia which tops the internet freedom table and is innovating in digital governance with the e-residency program, in authoritarian regimes actual massive mobilization and protest is forbidden, or is severely punished with activists imprisoned, persecuted or murdered by the state. This is consistent with use of cultural forms of digital activism in countries where protest is illegal and political deliberation is restricted in government-controlled or oligarchic media. Humorous political commentary might be tolerated online to avoid mobilization and decompress dissent and resistance, yet remaining strictly within censorship and surveillance apparatuses. Our research affirms the potential of internet memes in addressing apolitical crowds, infiltrating casual conversations and providing symbolic manifestation to the burning resistant debates. Yet on the other hand, the virtuality of the protest undermines its consistency and impact on the offline political deliberation. Without knowing each other beyond the social media debates, the participants are unlikely to form robust organisational structures and mobilise for activism offline.