Managing public outrage: Power, scandal, and new media in contemporary Russia
From New Media & Society
This article challenges the long held assumption that political scandals can only occur in liberal democracies, also as most studies on scandals were authored before the rise of the internet and social media. It scrutinizes scandals that emanate from the new sphere of social media. To address both aspects this study asks the question how are such ‘internet scandals’ impacting politics in contemporary Russia? Furthermore it aims to enrich the broader, currently on-going academic debate on the question of whether the internet is to be seen rather as a ‘technology of liberation’ or as one of ‘control’. Do scandals that emanate from the new sphere of social media actually ‘empower’ Russian citizens?
Two case studies are presented to vividly illustrate how public outrage over key political issues can also be sparked by blatant violations of moral feelings deeply rooted in the populace. Russian citizens were not outraged because the culprits of the scandals had broken the law. Nor did they later care if the perpetrators were punished according to it. Rather, Russian citizens were appalled because they shared the deep moral feeling that the occurrences were so despicable that they simply should not happen in their country. These scandals presented could not have occurred without the existence of certain ‘spheres’ of media that functioned independently of central power. The relative weight of these media spheres, their respective political ideologies, and their internal structures seem to be crucial variables that determine the course and outcome of political scandals in a context that might be called a ‘hybrid’ media system. The approach proposed in this article seems to open up promising avenues for further comparative research across cultural and political contexts. While the scope of this article was limited to two case studies from Russia, it would be valuable to see how the findings are paralleled by or deviate from those, for instance, related to internet scandals in China, Arabic countries, or other regions of the world.