Less TV, more conservative

The anti-corruption protests in Moscow and elsewhere a few weeks ago were interpreted in many quarters as evidence that Russian youth were increasingly opposed to the ‘Putin regime’. As I pointed out at the time, the available sociological evidence doesn’t support this claim. Nevertheless, various analysts continue to believe that changing patterns of media usage will eventually work in that direction.

Part of the narrative which emerged from the protests concerned the fact that young Russians watch less TV than their parents and grandparents. According to some commentators, this means that the Russian state is losing its ability to spread its propaganda, and is therefore in danger of losing control of the population. For example, an article published today by the reliably ‘anti-regime’ Intersection Project discusses how the Russian state is waging an information war designed to create a sense that Russia is under attack from external and internal enemies, but:

Not only do young Russians predominantly access news via the Internet but they also choose to ignore the prospect of a conflict with the West. … the inevitable generational change may bring about a situation where the very idea of information warfare as a means of rallying Russian citizens against external and internal enemies will lose its former efficacy.

It is a superficially plausible thesis, but it doesn’t stand up to very close scrutiny. As the Levada Centre’s Denis Volkov argues in a recent edition of Gazeta.ru, on the basis of surveys carried out by the Centre, the fact that young Russians don’t watch as much TV as older generations doesn’t mean that they are compensating by accessing political news on the internet, let along accessing ‘liberal’ or ‘pro-Western’ news sources. They aren’t. Instead, they just aren’t accessing political news at all!

If you turn on the TV news, you get politics whether you want it or not; on the internet, you have to actively seek politics out. Many don’t bother. They use the internet to find out the sports news, to track what’s happening to their favourite celebrities, and the like, but they pay little or no attention to Russian or international politics. Consequently, Volkov says, ‘The massive rejection by youth of television in favour of the internet doesn’t signify an alternative point of view, but a low level of knowledge about what is happening.’ In other words, the shift to the internet isn’t making young Russians more anti-regime, just more ignorant.

Volkov points out that the combination of the internet and Russian youth’s relative political ignorance does offer opportunities to those who can exploit the internet to grab young peoples’ attention. This would seem to give some hope to politicians like Alexei Navalny, but in fact Navalny is less known among youth (45%) than he is among the Russian population as a whole (55%). Young Russians ‘know little about the opposition’, says Volkov. The turn to the internet does not seem to helping the opposition much.

Indeed, Volkov suggests, the increased ignorance may actually make young people more conservative, more supportive of those in authority. Since they don’t bother informing themselves much about politics, they pick up their political attitudes from those around them, such as family and older people. The result is that, ‘as even independent sociologists note, support for the authorities is 15% higher than average among young people.’

The internet is indeed changing how people get information about politics, and thus is shaping the way they view the world – but not, it seems, in the way so many think.

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7 thoughts on “Less TV, more conservative”

  1. What about the premise itself, that support for the ‘regime’ is based on ‘propaganda’? It didn’t seem to work in the 1970 and 80s, and back then it really was propaganda, it was even called that. These days, I don’t see much of it. Certainly (it seems to me) there’s much less of it in Russia than in the west.

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    1. Fair point – the assumption that ‘propaganda’ rather than anything else determines support is definitely suspect. But it is widespread. See this book, which is due out in October: https://www.amazon.ca/New-Autocracy-Information-Politics-Policy-ebook/dp/B06XNXG12Z/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496162632&sr=8-1&keywords=new+autocracy According to the blurb, ‘The authors argue that Putin has created an “informational autocracy,” which relies more on media manipulation than on the comprehensive repression of traditional dictatorships.’

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      1. Putin has created an “informational autocracy,” which relies more on media manipulation than on the comprehensive repression of traditional dictatorships

        Ah-mazing.

        Watch this:

        Not Echo, this is Govorit Moskva. One Roman Tsimbalyuk, the expert in ‘Russian occupation’ and other crimes or the bloodthirsty regime (https://www.unian.net/author/10-roman-tsimbalyuk), is given more or less the whole hour, uncensored, no opponent, on live radio. Where’s a western equivalent of this? Something like “The Jimmy Dore Show” can only exist on youtube. Even DemocracyNow has turned more or less into establishment propaganda these days…

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    2. In the Army I served alongside dudes who were absolutely apolitical, didn’t wathc news programs, but were 100% sure that Russian military is the best in the world and that our country despite its many pitfalls is Good. A lot of them were from various ethno Respublics. No, no “commissar” indoctrination at work. “Political Informatio and Enlightment” of the common troopers by ZamPolits in the Modern Russian Army is done crappy if done at all (belive me – I had direct access to the process)

      Of course Russians are rallying behind Putin and present government no matter what – because it is Our President and Government. How it could be othervise? Why should ordinary Russian wish ill to its government and sabotage it? Is this what you, Westerners, do routinely? Or just some liberast/white collor wet fantasy?

      I remember how in 2011 the same old crows were predicting the collapse of the Regime due to the “Freedom of Internet”. Well? No “Arabian Spring” in Russia. But they repeat the same old story.

      P.S. Despite the official ban on mobiles with the access to the I-net for the enlisted ranks, of course those who wanted had them. They used it either to access social networls (VK, Odnoklassniki +Mail.Ru for “Happy Farm”), watch TV series On-Line (in that time it was either “”Spartacus: Blood and Sand” or “Game of Thrones”), video clips (either “Gungam Style”, “Mosa” or various lezginka renidtions) or porn. It might suprise you, but Army as a good representative of the large swathe of different gropups of people across Russia, shows that, no, the first thought of the I-net posessing person is not to visit Navalny&Co site.

      “In other words, the shift to the internet isn’t making young Russians more anti-regime, just more ignorant.”

      As opposed to the rrrracially Superior West, where the “yoof” is not ignorant [nod, nod].

      .

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  2. Are not most young people “ignorant”
    of politics?
    Why should young people be interested? They have other distractions

    Think about your own experiences- when did you become political?

    I voted at 18 in the UK but I did not know much about Politics I voted the most way my parents did.

    I really became politically aware during the Second Iraq war and that’s because we had good family friends who were from there, and told us the complete opposite to what was on the news.

    The political awakening therefore came because people I cared about were affected.
    It taught me to question the news. The internet is a tool to find out more.

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