Moscow (AFP) – Russian authorities may have succeeded at quashing dissent on television and mass media but a new generation of voters has found a way to still get relevant news: on YouTube.
While the older generation is exposed to the state media’s spin on current events and may know little of recent nationwide protests which were ignored by most broadcast channels, millennials are watching the news on social networks.
Invisible over the airwaves, opposition leader and fierce Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has stepped up his presence on YouTube this year as he campaigns ahead of the 2018 presidential elections: a new Navalny Live channel now streams daily updates about the campaign and features a morning talk show.
Not only has Navalny’s video alleging corruption by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev been viewed by more than 23 million people, his call for anti-graft protests to be held on March 26 and June 12 was heard by thousands of young Russians.
Out of the 866 people detained at the June 12 protest, 136 were aged under 18, according to Moscow police.
After the demonstration, “the Kremlin realised it’s powerless over the internet,” said video blogger Dmitry Ivanov, whose popular YouTube channel kamikadze_d is highly critical of the government.
“Politics is a new fashion among young people,” said Ivanov, 30, a lawyer by education who has more than one million subscribers between the ages of 14 and 21.
“The authorities want to take the internet under their control as they did with the media,” he said.
Political analyst Olga Kryshtanovskaya said pro-Kremlin trolls are “omnipresent” in social media and leave “perhaps half of the comments on influential blogs,” but there is evidence that creating original content which appeals to youth does not come easy to them.
“The Kremlin is making an effort on the web, but a decade too late, and each year the lag grows more and more,” political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin said.
- ‘Selling out to the Kremlin’ –
In late May, the Russian parliament held a special session on youth policy and invited beauty blogger Sasha Spilberg, who is popular among 10 to 14-year-olds. She said MPs should “be as transparent” with voters as she is with her followers.
Lawmakers later organised a “council of bloggers”, sending invitations to Russian YouTube stars in genres ranging from political satire to stand-up comedy in an effort to reach out to young people.
But most of the invited bloggers skipped the event, and the council had to contend with lesser-known names.
Lisa Peskova, the daughter of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who lives in France and mostly posts selfies to her 48,000 Instagram followers, turned out to be the most famous social media star in attendance.
Those who didn’t come to the council “didn’t want to become an instrument of political propaganda,” said Yegor Yakovlev, who was invited but did not go.
Nikolai Sobolev, who has over three million YouTube subscribers, put the idea of attending to his viewers in one clip this month, but got an overwhelmingly negative response.
After some fans accused Sobolev of “selling out to the Kremlin”, he decided to opt out.
“It’s because of censorship in the press and on television that political discussions have moved to the internet,” political columnist Maxim Artemyev said.
But it is difficult to say how long this freedom will last.
The Kremlin has increasingly prosecuted online users for “extremism” and is looking to further restrict content. Some lawmakers have called for a ban on internet access for children and are seeking to end all anonymous online activity.
<figure><figcaption>Many of the protesters who joined anti-corruption protests in Russia on June 12 were young <span>Copyright AFP/File Mladen ANTONOV</span> </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/0fac8d29bfb69944ce831f2e66b1e386840ac249.jpg" width="768" height="631"><figcaption>Internet-savvy Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny checks his phone at a court hearing earlier this month <span>Copyright AFP/File Andrey BORODULIN</span> </figcaption></figure>