Political media consumption of Russian students on social networks

Diana Ekzarova,
Student (Political Science),
Higher School of Economics,
Russia, Moscow

Nowadays information agenda is inscribed in the digital age – there is a growth of new media, based on Internet sources. New media are distinguished by the use of digital technologies to convey information, interactivity, that is, the interaction of the media consumer with the content, and the ability of consumers to reproduce the content. Blogs, YouTube channels, social networks and other platforms within the Internet have replaced the old traditional forms of information transfer. Indeed, with the development of technology and the emergence of new electronic functions, many human interactions have moved to the online format, as evidenced by the dynamics of Internet users since its inception.

At the same time, social networks have “evolved” over the course of their existence, expanding the services they offer. If initially they were created for the transmission of messages to the category of “friends” or for acquaintances, then today there is, first of all, the creation of publics as interest groups in which a public discussion is born. As the authors of the Bavarian School of Public Policy note in their study, users who express their opinions on personal pages are a minority of the total and are characterized as “hyperactive”, since most users are passive and prefer to view the news feed without being marked as a like, repost or comment. But it is precisely this type of “hyperactive” users that plays an important role in the perception of news by passive users, since it matters to them what kind of response and discussion they find in a post that a passive user reads.

As according to some experts, Russia has a hybrid regime[i], and according to others – electoral authoritarianism[ii], it is worth paying attention to how social media works in a state with a non-democratic regime. According to Freedom House, Russia gains 31 points and receives the status of a not free state in relation to freedom of Internet. Even though social media are not heavily censored, compared to traditional media (for example, on TV), in the Russian context they remain a field with their own limitations.

According to statistics, in 2017 76% of the Russian population uses the Internet, ranking 6th in the world in terms of the number of users. The share of the Russian population registered and using social networks was 48% as of January 2020. Almost half of Russian Internet users are in the social media space for various reasons: from communicating with friends and colleagues to blogging and writing posts.

Douglas Bloom analyzes contemporary Russian youth, describing them as the “Putin’s generation” and, importantly, the “Internet generation”. This interpretation highlights the main difference between today’s Russian youth from the previous ones – receiving political information via the Internet, social networks and blogs, in particular.

The majority of VKontakte (most popular social network in Russia) users are young people and students. At the same time, according to the results of a survey of Russian youth, it turns out that their level of political awareness is low: they are poorly versed in parliamentary parties, political leaders, and ideological values. Therefore, I would like to draw attention to that group of young people, or rather students, whose specialization is political science, because they are the ones who have professional knowledge and the potential to create public discourses with expert opinion. The source of empirical data is the results of a survey conducted among Moscow students, in particular, in the faculty of “Political Science”.

Regression analysis based on a survey showed that students receiving political science education turned out to be quite active, which is expressed in such indicators as the degree of participation in political public and especially private discussions, in addition to having a subscription to political communities on VKontakte and common among users’ social networks of reactions in the form of likes, reposts and comments. Even though the proportion of those who enter discussions about political posting was not high, this confirmed the theory of “hyperactive users” even among political science students. Less than a quarter of the surveyed students in political science prefer not to enter a public discussion with unfamiliar users, and still this share is higher in comparison with students of other specializations. Anyway, the fact of political science education increases the likelihood of greater involvement in political activity on VKontakte.

From the general sample, there is a trend towards liberal views and tracking political news and expert assessments (the most popular answers) on VKontakte, but this did not have a strong effect on activity on social networks. Political science students who hold social democratic views are significant because their political orientation influences their social media activity presence so that they are more inclined to engage in public discussions under political posts on VKontakte. Political activity has remained rather moderate, since the majority of political science students take part in the elections as a voter or deliberately boycott in some cases. Participation in rallies and membership in a political party was not popular among respondents receiving political science education.

With the help of regression analysis of the data, it was possible to find out that, in addition to political science education, the political activity of Russian students on VKontakte can be influenced by social democratic political orientations.

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