Impact of the Violent Suppression of Protest on its Discussion in Social Networks




protest, repression, violent suppression of the protest, social networks, political communication


The paper is focused on social media reaction to the repression against protesters carried out by law enforcement bodies. Being rather unstudied this topic is examined at the intersection of two large areas of protest policy studies: firstly, the interrelation between repression and protest activity, and secondly, the role of social networks in protest dynamics. Based on an analysis of the modern theories, the authors argue that the discussion of a suppressed rally becomes wider and attracts more public attention than the discussion of a peaceful action. In addition, the violent character of a suppressed protest action takes the discussion out of the circle of political fellow-thinkers. To prove the hypothesis, the authors explore two protest actions which occurred within less than a week, whose organizers had an overlapping composition and distinctly different scenarios. The first rally under consideration is “Rally in support of Internet/Rally against Telegram ban” which took place on April 30th, 2018. The second protest action titled “He is not our tzar” was related to Putin’s inauguration for his fourth term and took place on May 5th, 2018.  All open access publications (posts, reposts, comments) in Vkontakte network from April 29th through May 2d and from May 4th through May 7th 2018 containing the word “rally” were collected. To gather the data the methods of network analysis and descriptive statistics were used. The analysis shows that the rally suppressed by police drew wider public attention both at the expense of plentiful comments and a longer and a wider debate in the original posts. The equal number of authors discussing both protest actions generated more posts about the rally suppressed by police. The posts devoted to this rally were more likely to cause a “costly” reaction from the users.  Discussions of the rally suppressed by police turned out to be more centrally-controlled, with communications being rather dense. These results prove the hypotheses set by the authors. Thus, the use of force by law enforcement bodies helps increase the number of actively engaged users, enhances interaction between them and improves the “quality” of their participation. 

Acknowledgments. The study was supported by Russian Foundation for Basic Research (project no. 18-011-01134 “Dynamics of the development of political instability: designing a theoretical model and its empirical testing”).

Author Biographies

Andrei S. Akhremenko, National Research University Higher School of Economics

  • National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
    • Dr.Sci. (Polit.), Professor, School of Social Sciences

Ilya B. Philippov, National Research University Higher School of Economics

  • National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
    • PhD Student, Doctoral School of Political Science