The most recent election in Russia was always going to be controversial no matter what the result. Many however did not expect the usual accusations of election fraud to lead to such large and widespread protests. More interesting however, at least to me, was how the response of pro-Kremlin groups illustrates the evolution of establishment responses to social media and the organization of protests.
Iran’s 2009 election was a watershed moment for clicktivism in the media – though the actual effects of Twitter in the Green Revolution are certainly up for debate and often over-emphasized. In the lead up to the election Iran moved to block Facebook and Twitter; despite their best efforts they failed. Proxies were set up, Google stepped in, Twitter itself pitched in. In the end efforts to censor the web proved ineffective.
It seems that Russia has learned from Iran’s failure. Trend Micro, a security firm, is reporting that bots were used to flood Twitter with pro-Kremlin tweets in response to the protests arising against the election results. The tweets came at a rate of up to 10 tweets per second and all contained the hashtag #триумфальная (Triumfalnaya). Anti-government opposition groups had previously established this tag as the one they would use to exchange information. What this did was effectively flood the conversation, essentially blocking the feed of the hashtag. The Guardian is even reporting that they took these tactics old-school and jammed the phone lines with pro-Putin voice-recorded messages.
It’s not clear whether the bots were officially sanctioned or not, but frankly it doesn’t matter. In either case it is clear that lessons of social media are not being ignored by the establishment. How you combat this, without having Twitter devolve into a shouting match, eludes me at the moment. What is perfectly apparent however is that as those wishing to maintain the status quo step up their game so to must we.