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Democracy, protest and public sphere in Russia after the 2011–2012 anti-government protests: digital media at stake

A Research Paper by Anastasia Denisova, published by Media Culture and Society

The 2011–2012 Russian protest mobilisations were largely enabled by the rise of social networks. Social and technological advancements paired to pave the way for the ‘biggest protests since the fall of USSR’. Ubiquitous and uncensored social media facilitated the networking and mobilisation for this protest activity: Liberal masses were able to share and discuss their grievances, unite and coordinate online for the offline protest. The digitally savvy protest public developed to confront the government, which appeared to be astonished by the scale of protest. Those mobilisations marked an important gap between the government’s conception of the society and the real state of resistance. This article studies three main hypotheses regarding the potential of the protest movement in Russia. The hypotheses were drawn from recent sociological, political and media studies on Russian resistance. Current research aims to contribute to the debate from the digital media perspective. It therefore evaluates three main assumptions: Digital media have the potential to empower, dependent upon the relevant political, social and economic factors; digital media isolates protest publics and therefore may be more useful for the government than the resistance; and recent censorship of digital media communication signals a tightening of both formal and informal restrictions against opposition and protest politics. This article uses theoretical and factual evidence on the limitations of democracy and the public sphere and conceptualises the government’s management of resistance in Russia during and after the 2011–2012 protests. It studies how the hybrid political regime in Russia balances restrictions on freedom of speech with strengthened state propaganda and how it mediates media oppression and invites self-censorship. Finally, it examines how the state communication watchdog has recently focused its attention at the digital realm. This move confirms the importance of the online protest communication for the Russian political environment. Yet the state’s acknowledgement of digital political resistance may lead to further oppression and curbing of this emerging component of Russian politics.


Anastasia Denisova


Anastasia Denisova is a Lecturer in Social Media at CAMRI, University of Westminster. Before starting her academic career, she worked as a journalist in Russia for over a decade in the capacity of television news editor and reporter for NTV Broadcasting company, editor at Aeroflot Inflight magazine, and a freelance reporter and columnist for the major magazines, including GEO, Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, Marie Claire and many others. Her work has received the industry and community recognition, including the French government’s award for the best publication on France in Russian in 2014 (the feature for GEO Russia).


26 July 2017
Published By
Media Culture and Society
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CAMRI | Democracy, protest and public sphere in Russia after the 2011–2012 anti-government protests: digital media at stake - CAMRI
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