By Paul Goble
Vladimir Putin is deeply suspicious of the Internet, viewing it as a source of “disinformation and manipulation,” Ekho Moskvy editor Aleksey Venediktov says ((echo.msk.ru/blog/pressa_echo/1985746-echo/). But he is also a very clever politician who recognizes that there are some things he must adapt himself to, Yevgeny Gontmakher observes.
The Internet is one of those things, the sociologist insists in an interview with Roza Tsvetkova of Nezavisimaya gazeta today, and thus the Kremlin leader is likely to make use of it in various ways, including Youtube interviews and Tweets, in the future – and possibly sooner than anyone now thinks (ng.ru/ng_politics/2017-05-23/9_6993_twitter.html).
Before the electronic age, the sociologist begins, a politician’s success depended on his ability to use oratory and the print media to reach and mobilize voters. After television appeared, he or she had to learn how to use it. “Now there is the Internet,” something no longer “exotic” even in Russia, “a Rubicon has been crossed,” and political leaders must adapt to it.
“For the new generation of Russian politicians,” Gontmakher says, “the Internet is the only variant available to promote himself … A Politicians must be able to interact with people via the Internet, to get their reactions back.” Up to now, however, the number of leaders who can do that can “be counted on one’s fingers.”
Gontmakher says that he “does not exclude that in the nearest future, not in these presidential elections but for example in the next parliamentary ones, television debates, which no longer interest anyone, will be shifted to the Internet, online,” where people will be able to react and far more will watch.
He says that he does not exclude that “in the Internet will be presented some exclusive materials with Putin, perhaps in the form of the Youtube.” Putin is “carefully studying the experience of the American elections,” and so are other (e.g., ng.ru/ng_politics/2017-05-23/9_6993_party.html), as are leaders of the LDPR and the KPRF.
The Internet is one of those irreversible forces, one that has profound consequences for both society and the powers that be. It helps promote the former because “social networks are the most horizontal links, the most civic society.” But for that reason, the powers that be as a vertical find themselves “in a certain sense” at odds with this.
Some among the powers may want to ban it, but doing so in Russia, with its millions of users, would provoke a crisis, Gontmakher says. And thus they must adapt because “to go against the flow would be deeply counter-productive.” And that process of adaptation will only accelerate.
Why isn’t Putin on Twitter now? the sociologist asks rhetorically. The reason likely is that Putin, Medvedev, the ministers and the head of the Presidential Administration are politicians. And for them, the time when as they though politics was only in the offices of those at the top … is already passing – and doing so irreversibly!”