I was thrilled to join host and fellow academic Steven Seegel for a New Books Network podcast to talk about my new book, Beyond the Protest Square: Digital Media and Augmented Dissent. We had a wide-ranging conversation about protest dynamics, internet and social media, witnessing and memory, media and internet freedom in Ukraine and Russia, digital citizenship, and much more!
The book examines how citizens in countries with limited media freedom and corrupt authorities perceive the affordances of digital media for protest and how these enable or limit protest action depending on the political and social context.
The book is mostly focused on the 2013-2014 protests in Ukraine, but it reflects on augmented dissent more broadly and draws connections with other more recent events, e.g. protest campaigns in Russia.
The book is based on extensive research and fieldwork, but also builds on the work of many wonderful protest, activism and digital media scholars, such as Katy Pearce, Sarah Oates, Olga Onuch, Zeynep Tufekçi, Tetyana Bohdanova, Jennifer Earl, Rebecca MacKinnon, Andrew Chadwick, Samuel Greene and many others.
I want to especially thank the amazing scholars who I admire and whose work I was inspired by for their endorsements of the book: Sarah Oates, Ethan Zuckerman, Olga Onuch, and Samuel Greene.
I am incredibly grateful to Laura Portwood-Stacer of Manuscript Works for helping me develop and improve my early drafts, to series editors Ruth Sanz Sabido and Stuart Price, and to my publisher Rowman & Littlefield International for pulling through despite the difficult year that 2020 has been.
In February 2019, the mainstream media sounded alarm as news of Russia debating an internet ‘kill-switch’ and considering a digital sovereignty strategy spread like wildfire. Can Russia really disconnect from the global internet? And what would that mean for Russian internet users and their digital freedoms, already under threat? I spoke to a number of media outlets about the nuances of the new bill, its feasibility, and what it could mean for the RuNet:
If you’re a Russia-watcher, or even Russia-curious, you have likely heard of the Telegram messenger—perhaps you even have a Telegram account. Created in 2013 by internet entrepreneur Pavel Durov, the founder of Russia’s most-popular social network, VKontakte (VK), Telegram has gained a cult following and a loyal fan base in Russia and beyond. As of March 2018, Telegram had over 200 million active monthly users. What makes this messenger service so newsworthy and attractive? And what is its current status in Russia? Is there more to what happens on Telegram than mere encrypted chatting and daily doses of political gossip?
…the paper traces connections between everyday security practices that these activists engage in online and the resistance tactics and repertoires they enact in an environment where the free and open exchange of information on the Russian internet is becoming increasingly difficult. The analysis finds that Russian opposition activists place a high value on digital, media, and security literacy and that navigating the internet using security tools and protocols such as VPN, two-phase authentication, and encrypted messaging is increasingly seen as the default modus operandi for those participating in organised dissent in Russia to mitigate growing state surveillance. Furthermore, the analysis reveals that Russian activists have to balance the need for security with growing visibility—a key factor for entering the mainstream political and social discourse.
For RTÉ Brainstorm, a project featuring popular writing on academic research, I wrote about the prosecution of Russian internet users for irreverent memes and dark humour on social media. Some of the recent cases I discuss have resulted in criminal sentences and jail terms.
In modern hyper-mediated urban environments, public art becomes an inseparable part of the multiplicity of meanings generated by citizens with regards to their city, their country and each other. What meanings can public art convey after a protest in a mediated city? And how do social media users capture and reflect on these visual artefacts? This article focuses on the urban murals that appeared in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital in the post-Euromaidan period (spring 2014 – present day). The creation of murals began as a spontaneous urban practice, but post-protest, morphed into a concerted effort to populate blank walls of decaying apartment blocks around cities with meaningful art, reflecting on the turbulent political, social and cultural changes in the country. The article considers how this mediated public art form resonates with the networked post-protest publics through the affordances of Instagram and explores the different kinds of meanings networked publics in and around the post-protest city can produce. It focuses on how the mediation of the murals on Instagram might reflect or frame the meanings embedded in the murals themselves and how these themes might fit into the broader metaphorical narrative of rebirth and regeneration in the post-Euromaidan city of Kyiv.
I did an in-depth interview with Slate‘s Future Tense about the banning of Telegram messenger in Russia and the ensuing chaos after state censors blocked millions of IP-addresses in an attempt to prevent Telegram’s circumvention of the ban, severely damaging the RuNet’s health in the process. I discuss the messenger’s role in Russians’ online lives and the broader implications of the Kremlin’s crackdown on encrypted communications:
This decision banning Telegram is also threatening other similar platforms that protect communications with end-to-end encryption. We’re talking about Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and potentially any other encrypted communication services. All of those could also be banned in Russia using the same principles. Telegram sets a precedent here.
And if that were the case, then that really narrows down the space for private and secure communications. If you aren’t sure that your communications are encrypted, or whether the encryption keys have been shared, that basically means there is very little space for privacy and security for Russian users on the internet. That’s ultimately the danger: It’s not just one platform, it’s the whole principle of encrypted communication that’s under threat.
The special issue, titled Networked (in)justice and edited by Alison Harvey and Koen Leurs, features some of research presented at the AoIR 2017 Networked Publics conference in Tartu, Estonia. As the editors say,
This special issue is pleased to share the emphasis on the diverging and contradictory consequences of the formation of networked publics. We have chosen to focus in particular on studies of publics that scrutinize how they may exacerbate injustices or work towards social justice.
We propose a focus on networked (in)justice drawing attention to:
How mainstream scholarly conceptualizations of publics and platforms prioritize some networked publics and marginalize others
How networked publics are shaped as an assemblage of hardware, design, algorithms, discourse, bodies, collectives, and affect
How networked publics reflect and shape intersecting power relations of geography, gender, race, and sexuality, among others
How networked publics are distinctively local, but simultaneously shaped by transnational and global dynamics.
The special issue in its entirety is available here.
My review of Ellen Mickiewicz’ excellent book No Illusions: The Voices of Russia’s Future Leaders for Digital Icons is up on the DI website. The book offers a very valuable, in-depth and intimate look into the lives of Russia’s young elites amid the political, social and cultural turmoil in the country and in the world. Mickiewicz is one of the top Russian scholars, and the book is yet more evidence of her expertise.
The spring and summer of 2017 saw a new wave of protests in Russia. Compared to the 2012 discontent, these protests had a broader set of claims and a greater reach, with over 100 cities joining Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Observers have also noted the visible and vocal presence of younger Russians, including students and school pupils. Although they were not a majority, these youths appeared on front-pages and in interviews, becoming the face of the dissent. Should we be surprised? Do we know what the young Russians are doing and saying in the space between social networks and city streets?
Read more of my thoughts and critiques of the book’s contribution here!