Social media and state repression: The case of VKontakte and the anti-garbage protest in Shies, in Far Northern Russia
This article analytically describes the digital technologies-embedded repression practices developed against a local grassroot environmental protest in Far Northern Russia. Unlike urban political opposition that uses United States-based social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter), grassroots movements mainly use VKontakte, the Russia-developed dominant social network in the country. They use it despite the potential privacy and security risks this platform has posed to users since 2014. By means of an ethnographic approach, this article focuses on government responses to online protest activities and counter-practices formulated by activists to circumvent limitations. Inhabitants have been fighting since July 2018 against a waste landfill project designed to ship vast quantities of garbage from Moscow to a remote site called Shies. A protest camp was set up and maintained to physically preserve the site, joined by people from all over Russia. This article shows that, even as it became a target of government surveillance, VKontakte remains a crucial tool for local activism.
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