Guest post by Dr Charlie Walker of Southampton University
Many thousands of Russians have protested against the war in Ukraine, and have been imprisoned for doing so. However, the available public opinion data suggest that we should not expect hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets anytime soon. This is not only because of the obvious dangers of social protest in an increasingly authoritarian state, but because a large proportion of the broad mass of the Russian population either supports the war or, at least, does not object to or condemn it. Given that Russian media has acted as a propaganda tool for Putin’s regime for more than twenty years now, and that there is very little independent media, we should not be surprised that many will be following the disinformation directed from the Kremlin, especially those who watch television, which Russians have long referred to as the ‘zombie box’.
A campaign to break through the wall of disinformation that surrounds many ordinary Russians, the CallRussia initiative, was recently launched in the UK, and involves Russian speakers randomly telephoning Russian citizens, working on the assumption that many are simply starved of alternative viewpoints to those pushed by the Kremlin. However, if we look at Russian social media such as VKontakte.ru it becomes clear that providing alternative forms of information about the war is unlikely to break down the wall of disinformation, not least because ordinary Russians themselves (sometimes bots and trolls, but often real) are busily engaged in reinforcing it.
Responses to war-related posts on social media replicate what social psychologists refer to as mechanisms of moral disengagement. As McAlister et al. (2006) argue, in order for a country to go to war, it must create conditions that enable both soldiers and publics to suspend the moral evaluations and self-sanctions they would ordinarily undergo in the face of inhumane conduct. The psychosocial manoeuvres that enable moral disengagement take a number of different forms, all of which are amply demonstrated in responses to the present conflict amongst Russian social media users…
Continue reading the full post on Charlie’s page: