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« Is Microsoft RU Helping to Persecute Local Russian NGOs? | Main | Reply to Alexei Sidorenko of Global Voices »

March 29, 2010

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Micha Sass

Maybe the people of Moscow are too busy checking to see if their close friends and family are OK before hitting twitter. I am sure there will be more news and opinion to follow later today, in the blogs and news story comments pages etc. We will see.

Jaffer

Do you make this stuff up on the go or do you have actual links to twitter feeds to back your story up?

Catherine Fitzpatrick

Er, no dear, I don't "make stuff up" but cite what anybody can go see on the open Twitter feed. Type in the hashtags "Moscow" or "Metro" or "MoscowBlast" and you will see the exact same tweets.

If you are too lazy to do that, and just prefer drive-by anonymous comments, understood.

Another thing you could do is just page through all the tweets I translated from Russian tweeters by reading my blogging account:

http://www.twitter.com/prokofy

for yesterday

I'm busy at work today but eventually I may be able to double back and put in all these links and translate more fully.

Read the BBC, the New York Times, the Moscow Times in English; read lenta.ru and Interfax and Russia Today and Ekho Moskvy in English, and you'll see the same few cell phone snaps and videos replayed and re-cited and re-tweete over an over again, and you will not need me to make the point that social media can fail big-time in a country without free media where the state controls the narrative -- you'll be able to see it for yourself.

Mikhail (Moscow)

Listen guys, you are trying to analyze things that you do not understand at all.

"Hours after the blast, it did not seem as if a single Muscovite was reporting" >>> it means only the following:

The majority of Russian people DO NOT USE twitter and have no need to tweet news and update information there. So you have made wrong conclusion about social media in Russia using your wrong knowledge and lack of understanding current situation in Russian social media...

I understand that you believe that Russians use twitter like Americans do. But this is not true. At least, these times...

Catherine Fitzpatrick

Um, I realize the temptation is great to "set foreigners straight" because they can "never know enough about Russia" (it can't be understood with the mind!) but you're wrong, Mikhail, in trying to claim a "special path" for Russian social media like all the other things that Russia gets a "special path" for.

The average Russian on the metro doesn't use Twitter -- I get all that, Mikhail. I didn't claim that. In fact, if you read my Twitter stream, you can see that I point out that a) only some 30 percent of Muscovites have access to the Internet and b) a larger percentage have cell phones but aren't going to waste minutes and struggle to access the Internet to Tweet, or use a Twitter api necessarily.

And my blog isn't about only Twitter. I mention Youtube and LJ, which are very actively used in Russia, much more than Twitter. That's where to look for citizens' commentary and opinion -- but Twitter, too.

And frankly you don't get to describe social media merely as what you think it is "the majority of Rusian people DO NOT USE" and that's that -- when in fact a significant minority with amplifying power *do* use it -- and then castigate foreigners as never being able to understand it. And that's because the record stands in public, and anyone can access it, it being...*social*.

And the fact is, in fact Muscovites, in fact those at the scene, *did* use Twitter. And there using it even more now for expressing solidarity, even with a twibbon campaign and organizing the Black Ribbon vigil. There were *some* people who did tweet that they were walking from the subway, or calling a friend to see if they were ok nearby, or describing passing by, etc. And TONS of them not on the scene, in Tomsk or wherever they were, had opinions, and expressed them.

Except...that's my point. They didn't do much of that, asking questions, seeing if someone had a brother in the ministery who really knew what was being found, seeing if someone actually saw something in the metro. There is a huge and fairly robust Twitter stream to study in Russian from Russia and from Moscow and from the subways even, and they nearly all regurgitated the official line.

The LJ entries of which there are literally thousands as it is so popular were mere reposts of Interfax, not even a discussion, not even a one-line opinion at times.

I don't expect people in shock to become Tolstoy and I don't except people to think to Twitter when they are being blown up on a subway.

What I do expect that they might behave as people in far worse situations with far more violence -- Haiti and Iran -- and *question authority*. That is what social media is *supposed to do*.

Instead, when people tried to question something about it, they were told by others they were being disrespectful. They should stop discussing or tweeting, and go give blood. "Mitingi--khuitingi" -- like why have a rally? That's fucked. Go and give blood.

So sorry, I completely reject your comment. The record of all your Russian tweets and LJs and tubes stand. We can see them. We can see you reiterated the official line, more than anything. It's not an indictment, because we all get that the media is heavily controlled and manipulated by the Kremlin. But it's a description of a problem, and one social media did NOT fix.

The majority of American don't use Twitter; bunches do. The majority of Russians don't even use the Internet, but some do, and a significant portion of intelligentsia at least have LJ. So I am looking for people who do a lot more research, a lot more looking, and have a lot more curiosity. I didn't see it.

calwatch

Of course the masses are going to retweet what they see on the TV or on state run radio. There are hundreds of times more of them than there are of the eyewitness. Plus the eyewitness is likely either shellshocked or worrying about other loved ones, and in hardly a position to tweet something. US cops are likely to just be as close-lipped as Russian cops if they ran a perimeter around an office shooting or bomb blast, and penetration of social media is much less than in the United States. Tweeting is not a panacea, but to say that Russians fail worse than Iranians is a bit bizarre.

Catherine Fitzpatrick

You seem to have a felt need to protect Russia from criticism. Why? It's just one more country.

Russia is a country which, for many reasons, has a public that is passive about demanding and getting independent and pluralistic news sources. It is a public that for the last 10 years in particular has had a very heavily controlled media diet. As it has been described by Michael Idov, there is only a tiny reservation where the intelligentsia live -- a handful of small papers, a radio station and some blogs. That's great -- but not enough, and even that reservation is not questioning as much as it could.

Look at Twitter as it really is. The masses on Twitter in the U.S. -- and Iran -- don't merely retweet official versions of events. They question them relentlessly, and there is a robust commentary from left and right and center, and when there is commentary, there is motivation to go out and find facts that are alternative to the main narrative.

Look at how Miriam Elder goes to cover this story for the new media investigative project Global Post. She gets to the scene. She asks a lot of questions. She behaves like a reporter. She asks relatives at the hospital what they know (a thankless and revolting task, and one of the main reasons why I don't work in commercial media myself as a real journalist). She pushes to get the head doctor to talk (doctors usually know LOTS in cases like this, as they did in Sri Lanka, Gaza, etc.)

And she gets nada, zip -- because it's a closed and controlled society where no one feels they need to have the habit of speaking even off the record.

Again, for the now 10th time, my critique isn't about asking people with dust in their hair and missing a limb from a terrorist to get to their Tweeting obligations. It's about *everybody else in the Twitosphere* including those who *could* get to the scene *and did not*. They didn't *try*. Miriam *tried*.

U.S. cops are not at all as close-lipped as Moscow cops. When Hassan attacked Fort Hood, you had camera footage from inside the hospital, you had unofficial police reports. You always do. In fact it's a staple of mainstream media to say "an officer who requested anonymity because it was not in his job description to speak with media".

And why are we still nattering about how Twitter -- and Internet -- and cell phone -- penetration are less than in the U.S? So what? They're pretty bleak in Iran, too, and yet Iranians deluged the Internet, not by directly tweeting out of a zone where cell phones were cut off (as they were in Moscow!) deliberately by the authorities, but by relays.

The point is that even while recognizing the contour of the event is different (not a mass movement fighting the regime, but obedient citizens just going to work), even while the penetration of opposition-minded cell phone owners in particular might be less, Russians didn't seem to do an awful lot with what they *did* have.

These are people who can post gadzillion youtubes of their Western knock-off group rock stars. These are people who got tens of thousands of views on the "Youtube Cop" story -- because that story resonated with the population (corrupt cops taking bribes to waive traffic fines).

But on this topic, people have learned to keep silent, or end up dead, I guess.

Nobody made the excuses you are making for Haiti, Iran, the Hudson River, Moldova, and many other incidents. When people said "Wow, citizen's media is picking up the slack when there is a news blackout!" People said "Wow, citizens' media is first with the story!" Nobody made *excuses* like you folks are making for Russians, although Iranians and Haitians and people shivering on the river on a plane have jut as many if not more excuses.

Instead, the reason I spoke up is that people mouthed these platitudes about Russia -- that citizens' media was coming to save the day -- but it was really only...the Kremlin's Russia Today station and...the prosecutor being retweeted. In fact, citizens weren't covering the news, and were commenting about it mainly passively.

Micha Sass

Terrorists are griefers. I think the sense of calm and 'business as usual' that Miriam speaks of is not such a bad response to the attack. Best not to be afraid, and pray the authorities are doing there very best to avoid further attacks. Being alert to obvious dangers (unattended bags and packages) is all a person can do.

In the UK it would seem some people are now afraid of foriegn faces on the underground and on planes. I think this fear is not healthy or useful. The odds of the foriegn person actually being a terrorist is slim to say the least.

Miriam however makes a good point :
'It's this lack of information that helps breed the conspiracy theories that are so rife.'

I think this is so true, most of the 9/11 conspiracy tales are fueled by the removal of information (confiscated cctv footage at the pentagon, the media being kept from the crash site at the pentagon until it was cleared of visible debris). The holes in the story are open to any wild fantasy of what actually happened. However if there was conspiracy/misinfo circulating about the Moscow bombings, I would have thought web2.0 would be where these stories would surface. Web2.0 is great for spreading lies and misinfo.

You have learned Russian, which gives you the ability to peruse Russian blogs and sites. I am humbled by the fact I have not got this skill, and only get to read english language blogs. So my view is very narrow on the whole Russian way of things.

Do you have an idea as to why there is a lack of social reporting in Russia, do you think people are quiet because they are afraid to speak up, or rather the culture of having an on-line voice has not happened yet? Or is it they are not interested in speaking up, or have little to say on the matter.

I hope for them it is not fear, that would be bad. I am not sure it is.

Andrei

I find this blog post outrageously dumb! What, people should've somehow stayed behind while everyone was being evacuated by the police and tweeted their own independent story??? And what does it have to do with the revollts in Iran?

Catherine Fitzpatrick

I find *you* outrageously dumb. I'm obviously not talking about somebody hanging around a bomb site to tweet. I'm talking about the legions of *existing* Twitterers in Moscow who did not have a lot to say except copypasta of official media.

And I'm talking about the dozens who *were* eyewitnesses and in fact *did* Twitter, after they left, or after they heard from friends on the scene.

Iran simply shows us that even in a situation of powerful state media control and news blackouts, even with overwhelming violence and force used on dissidents, people get the story out.

And of course I'm well aware that the difference between people resisting the government over a failed election are more motivated to use social media than people going to work and bombed in a metro. Very different sets of people, at one level. But at another, any ordinary person who faced a steep, stopped escalator with a bomb behind them would understandably be getting on their cell phone which they do indeed have in many cases in this city. So the question is when they will reach the point to call the world, and not just their family.

Mikhail

Dear Catherine, thank you very much for your answer and comment.

I’d like to assure you that I had only one temptation – to show you that to make conclusion about the development of Russian social media based only on microscopic part of social media as Twitter is absolutely incorrect. I’d like you to understand only one thing – Twitter is not so popular in Russia as in the USA and didn’t become an important part of our lives and social media yet.

You know, your research remind me a Russian anecdote: “Internet public poll showed that 100% of Russian population have internet”. The same situation I can see here: you made wrong output using wrong input.

Also saying “you” I meant not Americans but exactly you, Catherine, and some commentators with their opinions with which I can’t agree. And for sure I am not trying to claim "special path for Russian social media”. We have may be not absolutely but very similar way of social media development as in Europe and in the USA.

And for sure Twitter is developing very rapidly in Russia: the number of Russian accounts on Twitter increased by 26 times last year and now there are about 180 thousands accounts. But! At the same time this is very small number for 140 million Russian population. And more over Twitter is very insignificant part of modern Russian social media. Many people have Twitter accounts (e.g. I have and my friends have too) but they do not use them at all.

Much more important part of Russian social media are blogs (e.g. livejournal and etc) and social networking which now playing very significant role in Russia. Examples: the case of Major Dymovskiy, different crimes connected with militia, traffic accident on Leningradskaya highway with “Lucoil" Mercedes, awful case with school teacher in Shelehov town in Irkutsk region and etc (I hope you know about such cases as you research Russia). All these cases became open for public and discussion only because of bloggers and not official radio and TV. It shows that Russian social media is playing very important role in Russia. And making conclusion about social media development based only on Twitter is incorrect.

More over you are wrong declaring that media are totally controlled by government. For sure there are recurrent attempts to take control over blogs and bloggers from government. But right now this part of our life is free from such control. More over there are many internet news sites which are not controlled by government (gazeta.ru e.g.). And what I hear from you is absolutely cliché that I have heard many times from different people in the USA.

By the way if you have a look at publication time of some blogs about the act of terror in Moscow you will find that the time is very close to time of the acts. It says that responsiveness of bloggers to news is very high. In their blogs you can find almost everything: from description of what happened to pictures of occurrence location. It means that Russian bloggers can give you more information than some respected but classic media… By the way some media including American and British ones (CNN, BBC etc) took pictures from Russian blogs, Russian part of youtube and Russian official TV (“Russia today” e.g).

More over you are trying to analyze the concrete case – act of terrorism in metro yesterday. This is not right to take only such events for research:
1. What will people do at first after such shocking event happened as act of terror? Tweet news on your account? Nonsense! At first you’ll call or text your parents, relatives, wife or husband and children in order to say “I’m ok, don’t worry about me”. But for sure there will be some guys who will tweet to their friends and relatives…
2. Then if you want to know more about such news what should you do? Have a look at Twitter. No, you turn on TV, Radio station or at least open a news site in order to get faithful information about what is happening. That’s why so insignificant number of tweets you have found in Twitter after that act of terror. And what does it mean? That Russian social media play very small part in Russia? Absolutely wrong.
3. Can tweets give people appropriate information such as telephone numbers of hospitals, names of people suffered from this tragedy or, at least, what should you do after that? No… So why do you need to read twitter? And so why do you need to tweet? You can get much more information if you simply call your friends…
By the way, do you know that exactly the Twitter spread wrong information about the third explosion on “Prospect Mira” metro station?

So my summary is the following: you have researched an insignificant part of social media as Twitter and impropriate event as act of terror in order to make a conclusion about Russian Social Media. So I have to reject your “rejection” and repeat once more: “you are trying to analyze things that you do not fully understand” and you repeated common cliché about Russia. And stop saying about "foreigners as never being able to understand something" - I have never minded it at all (you repeat cliché again)...

But any way I’d like to thank you very much for your research. I’m glad that you are interested in Russia and our social media and trying to know Russia.

P.S. "Mitingi--khuitingi" – do you understand what it means?:)

Andrei

well, that's no wonder, u prolly find most of us locals dumb and u know exactly what we should be doing to make things better. tweeting! now that would give the terrorists a pause and they'll think twice about attacking moscow again!

Catherine Fitzpatrick

Andrei, you're not worth a reply, as you are descending into that hysterical inferiority complex stuff again.

Mikhail,

Mikhail,

I realize the itch to "set foreigners straight" runs very, very deep. I fear not.

Let's go over it again.

I didn't say that "Twitter represents all of social media" anywhere. In fact, I said that Live Journal is the main game in town, and Twitter is less. But say, do you realize just how many Russian twitterers there are! You may not. Do you use it? I'm an early adapter of Twitter, and have been on it since its founding, looking for and following Russians. There are TONS of Russians now, and they aren't quite the same thing as bloggers. They overlap, but they tend to be people interested not in politics, but in commerce, business, technology, socializing, shopping, etc. So they make an interesting group to watch.

Again: social media -- Twitter, Live Journal, etc. -- failed because it could not mount an alternative narrative to the official one on any significant point. The best that Russian Twitterers could do to make their mark was to get a twibbon (a memorial "M" for the tragedy) and organize some vigils. That's not trivial. But they aren't mounting the curious, investigative, probing, alternative discussion by any means -- that's happening *at online newspapers, which are not social media, they're newspapers*.

So that means Moskovsky Komsomolets, Kommersant, Moscow Times, polit.ru, etc. -- these aren't "blogs". Page through Live Journal, find what you find, but you don't find anything remotely resembly what is happening on the online papers -- which almost have blog status, given how much pressure they are under "on the reservation".

I didn't use "wrong" input. I used obvious visible input that you're having a hard time recognizing: the Twitter stream, and the feeds on LJ that in fact came later than a lot of tweets. This is because I was first interested in countering an American and European myth about this situation -- that "citizen media was filling in the gap." It wasn't. Russian twitterers were not getting the story; getting it wrong; retweeting prosecutors; and berating people who tried to ask questions, telling them angrily they should *shut up* and mourn the dead and not ask questions about inside jobs. THAT's the story here. I realize it's hard to hear.

"Social media development" isn't some animated creature like Hegelian history. It's technology that tends to induce the same results in many places, particularly because the people who invented it baked into it a lot of cultural memes from their own Silicon Valley hacker/geek culture. That's another story.

It doesn't matter if there are only 180,000 Twitter accounts (I'm willing to bet there are more, but not some huge number more) compared to "the 140 million". You remind me of the Soviet Peace Committee chairmen telling us that "82 million adults are members of our committee" and therefore litttle alternative committees meant nothing. At a time like this, one dissenting blogging can make a huge difference (see my Daily Kos example or Youtube cop examples). You don't need "masses"; you need persistence and a willing to look at the story from a fresh and compelling angle. You don't judge a country's twitosphere by its Internet or cell phone users but by the impact it has on the Twitterati -- the opinion shapers on the Twitter platform itself who then lead in blogging and old media. I guess you will come to see this.

You don't need to lecture -- is this about the 10th time somebody's trying to do this? -- about how Live Journal is more important than Twitter. Hey, I get all that. I'll go you one better -- not Twitter, but blogs on various platforms like blogger (less so LJ) and Facebook were likely more important for Iran than actual live Twitter accounts from Teheran -- because the government blocks cell phones. Even so, the few that did make it through had an ENORMOUS amplified audience that fed into blogs then.

Only some 30 percent or something Americans who start Twitter keep their accounts, so I get it about Twitter uptake. I am not a Twitter utopian. I'm hugely critical of the premise that Twitter is the lead of citizien media and it leads on every event, beating CNN (which was claimed about this event, too).

And that's why I made the thesis that social media failed, because Twitter did not do anything like what it did for other events; but *more to the point* those numerous Russian tweets out there were not independently-minded. They weren't curious and questioning. And flipping through hundreds of ordinary Live Journals and famous ones, I stand by the same statement: paste-ups of official media with some really notable exceptions that will grow as the days go by, and will be all the more the next time, but which *on this day's first event* did not mount the alternative narrative.

Russia Today won this round -- you bloggers didn't. That's the sad thing. You don't deserve to lose.

I don't know why you're reciting to me all the cases you just listed of the Lukoil Mercedes and such *when I have cited them all myself* as "success stories". But those aren't international stories. They are "safer" stories. I'm interested as a watcher of *international* affairs what the impact of Russian social media is on *international* perception and coverage of *internationally-significant* stories. That doesn't mean I cast aside the much more vital story of Major Dymovsky -- for ordinary people -- indeed I mentioned the youtube cop in every single post I've done on this issue (you must not be reading my previous posts). And this *did* reach an international audience via Youtube to create an alternative narrative.

But this did not happen with the metro29 story.

You also are going on and on in a defensive and hurt way lecturing me about how Russian social media is playing an important role in Russia. Hello! Don't you think *I* get that?! You have no idea. But on *this story* it failed. And it failed not because "I think Russian social media depends on twitter" -- it doesn't. It's because LJ didn't create the alternative narrative with sufficient weight *either*. AND again -- there are more people on Twitter than you apparently are willing to realize; they aren't like you in terms of being sophisticated, and they shape the discourse maybe more than you know.

I think a key element to this debate is that

Apparently you haven't read some of my past posts because you replied while they were still held in moderation (a reason why Global Voices needs to junk its overly-scrupulous pre-moderation police, it gets in the way of authentic debate).

1. Yes, we got it that people don't think to tweet from a blast scene, but think to get out and call their wives. That was said many times already, and is self evident.
2. Even so, people were tweeting anyway, despite your notion of what their "proper" behaviour was, and other net nannies. There were even a few tweeting right from the scene. Imagine that! So they really stood out. And within a few hours, many were using Twitter -- such as they are -- to respond. And that's of interest.
3. You have to be *kidding* when you said "can tweets give people appropriate information such as telephone numbers*. Of course they can! Hello! Have you *read the stream*? I think we have a disconnect here. Read the stream by using not a cell phone, which can be costly and cumbersome, but use your internet page. Go to www.twitter.com to the search bog. Type in #metro29 or #Moscow or #Moscowblast and you will see long pages of stuff -- lots of it. Keep scrolling, click on people's individual comments to see the rest of their stream, etc. etc.

People provide lists of dead or pictures or useful information *through links*. It's a linking device going back to blogs. I found lots of LJ blogs by this method.

As for "why do you need to tweet, you can get much more information by calling your friends" -- actually no.

Again, I think you may need to dip into the Twitter raw feed with hashtags more and click around a lot more and see it as a vaster body of information than you are recognizing. It's not "insignificant". It's hundreds. It's not like some silly service where you talk about your cat or what you ate for lunch -- sure, there's a lot of that, but many more practiced users have harnessed it to be a mindcast, not a lifecast. That is, they chock it full of links, shortened to fit, to news and blogs, they make rapid fire analysis of evolving situations, they point to other people who are experts, they simply translate (which I spent hours doing right after the blast).

4. As for the "Do you know Twitter spread false information?" Hello! I was right in the middle of that one. Spreading it too like thousands of others -- who got it from not from Twitter, but a Russian online news site l -- and then unspreading it when I looked at the pictures and realize they had the wrong name, and saw the corrections etc. As I've noted repeatedly: people picked up that tweet precisely because it was authentic; unlike the "citizens' videos rebroadcast by Russia Today" which was suspect due to the Kremlin affiliation, this was someone saying "I'm here, I'm an individual, not an official source, and here's what I see". The mistakes on Twitter get corrected a lot faster than they do on news sites, which sometimes have to have someone with HTML come on, etc.

And...you're going to tell me that official media isn't spreading information? You're *sure* the bombers are two Chechen shakhidki? You're sure they are with a band of 30 trained in Turkey? You're sure they came on buses? Etc.

Let me tell you what's going to happen, if you are a serious blogger and newshound. You are going to come to understand the role of Twitter and your fellow Russians you don't seem to understand are on Twitter, then we won't need to have this debate.

But it is a problem of the blind men and the elephant. If you blank out twitter, you don't see the story. If you blank out LJ, you don't see the story. Even if you blank out official media, you don't see it, and you need all of them. Social media is not a replacement for independent professional media, and even a replacement for official media, even discredited pro-Kremlin media that at least can perform the human function of putting up a hotline to call for information about missing people. So it all is part of the media picture, but so far, only one -- officially media -- wants to tell the story of Russia. You should not let them do this.

BTW, um, I understand what "mitingi-khuitingi" means. Who wouldn't after even a few weeks of studying Russian? What's more the point here isn't that this guy swears creatively with mat, but that he has a cynical, nasty attitude toward people having demonstrations to protest. THAT is the problem. He can't accept that other Russians *protest* when something goes terribly wrong, and people are killed by terrorists that the government cannot seem to stop, and seems to incite more each day.

So in conclusion, let's go over it again:

o I didn't claim Twitter is the be-all and end-all of Russian social media so you've come to the wrong address; I'm skeptical, which is exactly why I declared it a failure
o But there was a lot more happening on Twitter than you appear to realize, especially with your ignorant comment that you can't use Twitter to transfer emergency phone lines. Of course you can. That was a large part of what people did on Twitter in Russia!!!
o When you make such patronizing statements like "thanks for trying to understand our media," I'm afraid I'll still have to diagnose you with a case of "Russian can't be understood with the mind.."

You're always welcome to write in Russian, I read it fluently : )

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