VKontakte and Facebook Play Important Social Role in Russian Protests

If it weren’t for the light bulb, groups of people could not gather together at night to work and read.  This is one of the examples that Marshall McLuhan uses to explain how the medium — or the technology — is vitally important in creating new experiences for humankind.  Is social media such a technology?  We’ve had the web forever, but like many pundits pontificate, the web was about pages, now it’s about people, and that’s because of social media.  And, like many protests before it, the current set of protests in Russia are using two main services for their revolution: VKontakte and Facebook.

Social media has proven to be a key technology for revolution.  The protests in various Middle Eastern and North African countries have shown that social media elements like Twitter and Facebook have played crucial roles in allowing the people to outmaneuver oppressive regimes, that have even resorted to cutting down their entire communications infrastructure to stop people from self organizing on social networks.

With Europe sitting on massive debts in Countries that don’t have the money to fund, political corruption coming to the fore and a threat of the entire Eurozone being disbanded, it’s no surprise that people are up and out in the streets, and it’s been happening in Greece and Spain and it’s now hitting Russia.  But how are the people rebelling?  What’s the ‘light bulb’ in Russia?  Well, if we take a look at VKontakte, we can see that over the course of about 10 hours, 15,000 people have signed up to go to the “Revolution Square Saturday” event, where people will rally for honest elections after what is believed to have been a deceitful December 4th election in Russia.  Take a look at the page below.

Browsing the comments (and using Google Translate), we can see that the people are concerned with getting some of the politicans to show up to explain themselves, and are also concerned about the police using water cannons on the people.  Apparently, if the peaceful rally doesn’t disperse after 2 hours, they can use batons and gas.  So bring a “respirator, goggles and helmets,” says one of the comments on the page.

It’s interesting to note that the comments are just seconds apart here, and that VKontakte is a network that many Russians access through their mobile devices.  It has 26 million monthly active users (as reported in May 2011) and was one of the leading mobile social networks in the world for a while.

That said, we can see that it’s a key factor in the Russian protests.  But is it going to stay relevant?  If I look at the Russian Facebook version of the protest event, I can see that there are 30,000 people attending and 9,294 maybes, as well as 100,000 other invited users.  The layout of Facebook is also so similar, that I wonder if people aren’t just slowly going to flock over to Facebook as time passes.

So while today’s protests are powered by a bevvy of networks, will it stay that way in the future?  What will be the next light bulb for protesters?

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