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Putin’s Aspiration to Control Reality

March 22, 2022
Jennifer Earl and Tom Maher


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Jennifer Earl, Professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, and Tom Maher, Assistant Professor at Clemson University, analyze authoritarian use of disinformation.

Two things are true in Russia right now: at a minimum, tens of thousands of Russians have protested against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and potentially millions of Russians do not believe that Russian soldiers have attacked and killed civilians. Indeed, even relatives of Ukrainians living in Russia don’t necessarily accept that there is anything taking place other than a “special military operation” designed to benefit Ukraine. While arrests and beatings of protesters are well-known forms of repression, the Russian state is showing it has a broader array of repressive tools available—including many focused on shaping beliefs. In addition to traditional forms of repression, such as physical surveillance of, and physical attacks against, street protesters, the Russian repression repertoire also includes a large dose of digital repression, which, in a recent review of research on digital repression, we show can take many forms.

Two broadly different categories of repression are evident in Russia. The Kremlin has prominently paired an escalating amount of censorship, which is a kind of repression focused on controlling and limiting information, with substantial cheerleading and disinformation campaigns, which are forms of repression focused on distracting or misleading. Significant disinformation campaigns are also being used, on some of the same platforms that are being restricted, including TikTok, where key influencers have been coordinated to amplify a pro-Putin message. While these efforts are not brand new, they are important escalations.

Do censorship and disinformation need each other to succeed?

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.

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