I'm publishing my reply to a thoughtful challenge to my post yesterday from Moscow blog pundit and Ph.D. writer Alexei Sidorenko, because unfortunately he moderates his comments. Basically, he's pleading a special case for Russia getting to take the short bus again, and I reject that educated affluent intellectuals in a world capital need to be put on the short bus every time. I stand by my claim that social media failed to provide an alternative narrative of event of the Moscow subway bombing #metro29, and that that failure was predicated on the deplorable state of freedom for media in Russia, and raises the question of whether social media really can operate effectively in situations of blanket state control of the media, where a handful of independent and small outlets and bloggers "live on a clearly-delineated reservation".
I don't think it slights "a people" or "a nation" or "the tools" to describe when they don't lead to desired results. My thesis is promoted precisely in response to misleading claims by both individual tweeters and mainstream media, that citizens' journalism "filled the gaps". It didn't. It will never fill the gaps unless we call it accurately. And that means nothing magical can happen with technical tools by themselves; they need people to operate them. And people in a context of suppressed free media do not have a magic wand out of that situation.
>First of all, words like “fail” or “win” lead us to the wrong direction. Covering tragic events is not a competition.
In the news business, covering tragic events *is* a competition. In the blogosphere, it is less so -- people in theory have the space to first show solidarity to victims and organize a memorial before they brag about being first with a picture -- yet we all know that's not so, and bloggers the world over *do* become competitive, and *that's ok*. No uravnilovka, please.
No, I think you have to call it accurately, to avoid the kind of hyping of social media that Evgeny Morozov is very good at debunking (but unfortunately his pessimism then leads to resignation about ever using it at all for good). My point isn't about "competition" but it is a judgement call one has to make in an environment where every time any major event occurs, there are voices loudly crying that CNN is #fail, and there are voices loudly claiming that social media is #fullofwin. It's in *that* context of the exaggeration of online voices *already* grabbing the mindshare that I speak.
Now as to your points about what bloggers did or didn't do:
>1. Disseminated information about the event, while major websites were down or in mobile mode, and TV channels were both slow and ignorant.
2. Brought worldwide attention to the terrorist attack. #Moscow became the top Twitter hashtag.
3. Made some citizen content, which was present in the post. Pictures mostly pictures and scarce videos.
1. But Russia Today was not slow; this Kremlin-funded operation with 100 journalists sprang into action and had most of the pictures and the fastest and completely owned the narrative.
2. You've just lowered the bar, once again making Russia a special case by saying "bringing worldwide attention" is your criteria for success. Alexey, we are not in Moldova here where much of the world couldn't find it on a map. A bombing in the center of Moscow would not need citizens' media to bring it to worldwide attention. RIA Novosti, BBC, CNN would do that all on their own. We are far past the era of a subway explosion in the days of Sakharov, where the news was suppressed and dissidents like him had to question the official story. Citizens' media is asked to do *more* than merely assure a "trending topic" for a few hours.
3. Made some citizen content? That's all you're going to require of Russians as if they are in a kindergarten class with finger paints?
Why? These are educated, relatively affluent, intellectuals we're talking about, with offices and computer and home laptops, not impoverished Haitians who still manage to have cell phones to text to a relative in the U.S. Can't we ask more of this class of Russian people than a "citizen content" that doesn't ask questions? Can't we ask them to wonder if the authorities are doing enough? (After all, it's their country.) That's just my point: if you are going to lower the bar down for "citizens' journalism" merely to be a kind of Sunday-supplement or shopper style people-pleaser, what right does it have to call itself "citizen" and present itself as "better" or "alternative" when it could really be saying then, "We help the regime to do its job better with its utter control of the media".
Sorry, but we all still have an information vaccum here. We do not have any questioning of the events -- and the official response -- except by fringe groups that do this anyway. In a country with free media and a free civil society, hospital administrators and doctors themselves would speak out about what they are seeing -- so would police and firemen. They wouldn't wait for permission and they wouldn't get reprimanded for speaking out of turn. But in this situation, the mayor, the prosecutor and the president spoke out very early -- and with no other voices then being heard, anyway, formally or informally.
There might be dozens -- hundreds -- of people who saw either the bombers themselve or those with them. Are they too scared to come forward? Have the police already silenced them?
We don't know why there aren't bomb sniffing dog in this subway that has been attacked five times already (we have them in NY). We don't know why trains weren't instantly closed to keep people from boarding after the first bombing. We don't know why escalators were stopped when people were trying to leave. And much more. The story is being told by Kommersant that 30 terrorists related to this event trained in Turkey. No blogger has a thought on this? (Maybe I missed it).
To give you an example of what I mean: here, in the U.S., we had a much more minor case of political violence by contrast with your metro bombing -- a half dozen rocks thrown through windows, hate calls, death threats around the country, attacks on congress people by extremists and opportunistic vandals after the controversial health care bill was passed. When the liberal press began to publish exaggerated hysterical commentary about this signifying "domestic terrorism" (I guess they've never been in the Moscow metro), a Republican senator spoke up and said his office, too, happened to have been hit by a rifle shot. A leading blog, Daily Kos immediately jumped on this, gathering local news and police reports and brought a competing narrative: that the office wasn't the senator's main office; that the rifle may have not been aimed at his office but could have been random; in fact maybe it wasn't a case of political violence at all. That's the sort of thing I don't see here (nor an admission even that it is needed): building an alternative hypothesis based on adversarial gathering of the facts.
Now, I don't expect Russia's blogosphere to function at the level of investigative capacity, connections, and publicity as the Daily Kos.
But I'd expect just a little more spirited inquiry. And I wouldn't say that meaningless Soviet-like statistics like "Live Journal got 30 percent usage that day" to translate into "therefore we have a free, independent, critical blogosphere". Maybe people were trading pictures of their cats. Content *does* matter.
Kommersant isn't "citizens' journalism" -- it's professional journalism, and one that has no shortage of speculation about how close it is to the authorities or not.
Now, your admission of what bloggers didn't do:
>1. Provide any other content besides videos and pics.
2. Didn’t provide any investigation/alternative theories of what happened
3. were not critical to the information they were given from the official sources.
But...That's what bloggers do. You live in a country with a fine tradition of samizdat that did just this very thing with pencil and paper and typewriters for decades. Bloggers serving as a chorus to the Kremlin aren't bloggers; they are cheerleaders and adjunct propagandists.
2. The subway stations were closed right after the bombings so there was no physical possibility to make an independent investigation. Besides that people need time for any kind of investigation.
3. You might have a wrong image of the Twitter/Blogosphere. There’s lots of retwitting, copy-pasting, fake LJ-users, spamlogs and so on. All of these things make the analysis of the RuNet pretty challenging. But it doesn’t mean, all RuNet is just a bunch of copy-pasters of Interfax, Rian and so on. No, you just have to know which bloggers to read. Especially it’s true for Twitter, where there’s lots of useless information garbage.4. Alternative theories started to appear from the first hours. I advise you to check such LJ-users as abstract2001, nl, rusanalit, alliruk, barouh, g_golosov, v_milov, grey_dolphin, shirly_noclaf – all of them were writing not about the bombings themselves but about the alternative reasons of the bombings and
1. When we see the state of the bodies directly near the blast site from the amateur videos, and when we hear police reports that the shakhidki's body parts were able to be assembled or identified and only their stomachs by their purses were blown away, we have to wonder if in fact there might be witnesses who are not dead, because the destruction, while intensive, was not so huge such as to make ceilings collapse, etc. Thousands of people streamed out of those subways alive. What are they saying now?
2. Sure, the subways are closed. But what, nobody has a brother-in-law in the police department who could talk? Nobody's next-door-neighbour in the FSB could be persuaded to say something? Nothing? This is Russia, ruled by a kind of dense web of connections to obtain favours. Not a single cop is talking?
3. No, I totally get it about the blogosphere, but I also undertand that *anyone* no matter how qualified, experienced, fluent in Russian, etc., if they are an "outsider," will be told in a debate, sooner or later, that "Russia cannot be understood with the mind." Hence the name of my blog. I disagree. Russia is not so special. Every country has fake blogs, sock-puppets, anonymous alts, etc. It is human nature. It is the Internet. And you know how I know which bloggers to read? I read Twitter. I read Facebook. I follow links on my blog. I read and read. And I'm telling you I saw a lot of copypasta - well, maybe the one link you provided which I saw pasted, too.
4. I totally concede your point that the real action on alternative analysis in Russia is not on Twitter (yet) or Facebook, but on LJ. And I know a few but not all of those users you flagged. But let me tell you the problem with all this -- it is a morass. Anyone, even armed with time, Russian, and curiosity, cannot wend their way through all these thousands of blogs, 80 percent of which are not relevant. So I realize your project is just about that -- blog of blogs, drill-downs of data and analysis, etc. I'm presenting a social demand here for more aggregation, and you can take it or leave it.
This isn't about perfection. It's about an entire spirit in which an enterprise is taken. I think Michael Idov's phrase about the state of the Russian independent media and blogosphere is very apt: it is forced to live on a reservation.
I read karpusha, and that's good, but you'd expect more reactions. Shifttsteller is also what I mean. Ok, that's two -- or three. What is it about the Russian blogosphere and the intelligentsia that produces only a handul of such alternative narratives? And I don't mean that they have to rant that this is an "inside job" like the 9/11 truthers in the U.S. I mean that they attempt to assemble pieces of information and construct hypotheses and ask questions.
Let me tell you what I found eerie. I must have had 600 Live Journal Russian members hit my blog yesterday and read it, and many link it. But following the links, I found just the link. I found no debate. Except for one, I found no agreement. Except for another one, I found no disagreement. Browsing through hundreds of these blogs, I found person after person merely putting up a copypasta of Interfax, RIA-Novosti, etc. without comment. I saw half lines of response. This, from a blogosphere that can rival the works of Tolstoy when it's an issue they feel empowered to speak on, like cops taking bribes or the ban on foreign car imports or the big bosses striking down pedestrians in their big cars with impunity -- all "safe" topics.
From this latest BBC story (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8594375.stm) we see the Russia media -- kak ona est' -- is questioning why authorities didn't do more. Are we to conclude that really, the media which is taking the form of "newpapers" and "online news agencies" of "mainstream media" are really blogs in Russia, making the blogs then merely private diaries?
Now for some examples of Russian citizen media wins -- and there are enough of them so as to create a deman for more with events of greater magnitud:
The "Youtube cop" is a perfect example of successful social media usage. I don't ask that citizen journalists themselves root out corruption and make arrests or spring unlawfully detained whistle-blowers (it's that disappointment that their work doesn't immediately lead to such scores that actually makes them more cynical in Russia). Another "win" was the coverage on hro.org and Facebook of the beating of Vadim Korostylev, and the efforts to defend him. Again, it doesn't prevent his beating, but it enables the showing of solidarity. Here, social media "wins" by doing its job.
Yet another example: the reportage by "Liquid Sky" on LJ and Twitter during #rustechdel -- the American tech entrepreneurs who travelled to Novosibirsk and Moscow last month to discuss the Kremlin's concept of a new Russian Silicon Valley. University authorities locked out students not on a cleared list of insiders; Liquid Sky reported how they were blocked, and how school officials told them to be quiet, or not ask stupid questions. He was able on Twitter and Live Journal to provide an alternative narrative that the Americans could then pick up and amplify. This was a "win," like the vibrant discussions of people in Novosibirsk about why the Silicon Valley should be put in their town -- even though they lost that battle apparently.
I don't ask anyone in Russia ever to walk into harm's way. I have had my colleagues in Russia shot to death in their doorways and I know first-hand how horrible the power of the state and terrorist non-state actors are.
But the first way out starts with an admission of the state of affairs. It starts with a recognition of unfreedom, rather than a deflection of that awareness, and a claim that we need a special measuring stick to measure Russia's special path.
And indeed, we get that with what is described on BBC here: "Anton Nossik, one of Russia's best-known bloggers, was among those who noted the near-silence of the state-controlled TV channels hours after the explosions. And we got this with Miriam Elder's reporting, and also with tweets of various lesser known people marvelling at the lack of news on official TV." The act of reporting on state silence is itself an act of civic courage; we could be reprimanded for demanding more if it were not for the bravery of the people of Iran.