“Feel in the game”: how protests are organized in Moscow

Translated by Eva Bartlett.

“To coordinate the protests in #Moscow, they actively used social networks, instant messengers, interactive maps, and even dating apps. On the eve of rallies and processions, opposition activists distributed manuals through closed Telegram channels explaining in detail how to attract their relatives, friends, and neutral citizens to participate in the rallies. According to sociologists, the campaign is aimed at the younger generation, the organizers play on the needs of youth to increase self-esteem and experience new emotions.

Young people under the age of 30 have become the most active part of the protests. It was they who most often came into confrontation with the police, shouted slogans and started the crowd.

The rally on Akademik Sakharov Avenue was mainly attended by young people, it follows from a survey conducted during the event, “however it cannot be said that they were mainly schoolchildren or even students.” Of the 306 respondents, 50% were under 33 years old.

The composition of participants in unauthorized “festivities” in Moscow on July 27 and August 3, according to RT observations, was even younger.

According to Maria Fil, participants in rallies and processions were guided by emotional rather than rational reasons.

“Most came because it hooked them emotionally. They did not analyze deeply why they refused to register candidates, what were the legal grounds or what candidates had the opportunity to challenge this decision…As for youth, here in a sense we are dealing with a situation similar to the rallies on Bolotnaya Square in 2011…

…The main source of information about the protests was social networks.

64% of respondents learned about the rally from Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, YouTube or VKontakte. For young people, the hype motif played a large role. The protest by the efforts of opinion leaders has become a trend. In the absence of well-known opposition leaders, the appearance at the rally on Sakharov Avenue and the atmosphere on it were provided by super-popular performers with a multi-million army of subscribers – IC3PEAK, Oxxxymiron and the Krovostok group.

Another hallmark of the protest was its gamification – a deliberate attempt to wrap illegal calls for mass rallies in the game. The protesters were called to “walk” along the Boulevard Ring, using even dating apps for agitation.

“Go out at 14:00 for a walk on Sakharov Avenue: listen to Face, Krovostok and IC3PEAK, and then we will walk around Moscow,” writes a 20-year-old girl in Tinder.

“Calls for the rally were actively circulated in social networks, and very often on Instagram stories, by people who are far from politics and the metropolitan issues,” notes Maria Fil. “Among them were stars of show business and just public people, because it has acquired the character of a snowball.”

On the eve and during unauthorized “festivities” on July 27 and August 3, unwritten protest leaders and volunteers who took on the function of agitators actively used social media accounts, instant messengers, navigators and interactive maps.

For coordination in real time, messenger chats were used, where tactics of behavior, gathering places and other important information were actively discussed.

Moreover, calls often sounded as aggressive as possible.

Users who send such messages usually acted under false names and fake avatars. They started young people and shared the secrets of street protests. Agitators aggravated the situation in advance, as if preparing the participants not for a peaceful walk, but for a battle.

Some called not just for unrest and violence, but for forms of real political terror.

To attract a neutral, “conditionally dissatisfied” audience that can be campaigned to come to a protest, bots, advertising and cheating were used.

For example, on the eve of the rally on Academician Sakharov Avenue on August 10, 2019, new announcements appeared on the resources where they pay for cheating likes and comments. On such services, the user can actually sell their pages on social networks. Customers on such online exchanges publish the task to like the photo on Instagram, write any conscious comment on the post on VKontakte or on Facebook.

So, on Friday, August 9, 2019, blogger Yuri Dud published a video appeal calling to come to Sakharov. By evening, orders were placed on the exchange to write provocative comments on this message. For example, someone for 40 points, which is much higher than the average value of orders on the exchange, wanted to see the calls “to ruin and shred, to break windows” under the Dude post. Dud is a network influencer, he has millions of subscribers, so the chance that they will see such a comment and, possibly, it will have the desired effect, is several times higher.

On the eve of the uncoordinated protests on July 27 and August 3, custom-made publications with clearly oppositional subtext were posted in completely apolitical groups on the VKontakte social network.

For example, in a group of an online store that sells sneakers, there were records calling for support of the opposition and a pseudo-analysis of socio-economic phenomena with a bias in the polemic “what the country was brought to”.

“Political” posts with identical content and photographs appeared in five neutral automotive and music-related groups and another online store, RT found out. Posts were published between July 15 and 30. The most common publication is a photo in which a woman holds a poster with recognizable design in the style of Navalny’s supporters and an inscription criticizing tax reform and raising the retirement age. Under the photo the administration of the groups posted the same inscription: “Let’s support!”

According to statistics from the VKontakte social network, in seven groups these records were viewed more than 1.5 million times. As RT found out, placement of advertising posts in such communities can cost from several tens to hundreds of thousands of rubles.
“Come to the barricades and bring mom”

According to the White Counter volunteer organization, up to 60 thousand people took part in the “walk along the Boulevard”. According to the survey, 14% of participants received information from friends, relatives or neighbors.

Shortly before the rallies on social networks, instructions were actively distributed on how to persuade your relatives to come to rallies and how to involve neutral citizens in protests. One of the main protagonists of this project was the employee of the headquarters of an unregistered candidate for Moscow City Duma Lyubov Sobol Alexey Minyailo (arrested for two months on charges of organizing riots). The manual was distributed through a private chat in the Team A Telegram channel.

After collecting applications for participation in Team A, Alexey Minyailo invited everyone interested in a separate Telegram chat through a mailing list to mail addresses.

“Friends, hello! I’m Lesha Minyailo, entrepreneur, observer, civic activist and trainer, ”Minyailo wrote in a message to the post office. – I coordinate our cool special forces team … Thank you very much for fitting in. We will bring a lot of people to the rally on July 27 and break in a new technology for Russian political reality, which will soon help draw millions of Russians into political action and bring closer the Great Russia of the Future. ”

In a chat, he described the action plan to those who joined: “As long as everyone acts by conventional means, we will try something new … What we will do is technology tested from elections to charity: involving friends, relatives and acquaintances in the common cause. Most people trust what they hear from people they know personally. It is a personal appeal – the most effective. Therefore, we … will work on persuading acquaintances, friends and relatives to come out with us on July 27, we will get together and talk about new methods of attracting people to the rally. ”

Followed by detailed instructions. At first, the participant was required to make a list of ten acquaintances who, he thinks, are most likely to be ready to go to the rally. A conversation with them needs to be started from afar: do they know about the situation around the elections to the Moscow City Duma? If they don’t know, tell and start asking further: are they satisfied with the state of affairs, do they want to change something and do they support the opposition? If the interlocutor came across apolitical, it was required to use more mundane arguments.

“If a person, in your estimation, is politically active, use arguments rather about democracy and values. If a person is not very interested in politics, start the conversation with the specific benefits that your interlocutor and Moscow will receive from the presence of the opposition in the Moscow City Duma, ”the manual said.

A significant part of the text is occupied by psychological analysis: there are ten options for arguments and counterarguments for people who do not want to go for an illegal action and are trying to argue on this topic with an agitator.

For example, to the phrase “I won’t go because I don’t want a revolution”, the agitator should answer according to the instructions: “This is just a rally against the revolution. Think for yourself: if you do not defend legitimate elections, if you do not give people legal means to influence what is happening in the country, then then revolutions happen. And it will be arranged by much less peaceful people than the candidates for whom we are fighting. If you don’t want a revolution, go to a rally. While it is possible to resolve the issue by peaceful rallies, you need to take advantage of this. After all, if these issues are not resolved now, a revolution is inevitable. ”

By the way, the authors of the instruction bypass the fact that the action on July 27, 2019 was not agreed.

Head of the Clinical Psychology Department of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, candidate of psychological sciences Sergey Enikolopov, who, at the request of RT, has studied the techniques used in compiling the training manual, notes that they are aimed at creating a feeling of one’s own importance and exclusivity in a person.

“Hello, fighter!” Is not an abstract appeal, but a concrete one. People are always pleased when they are addressed in person. Military vocabulary itself – “fighter”, “special mission” – winds up more than just a rally. When the “fighter” is told to you, you begin to feel the confrontation, subconsciously contrast the “we” and “they”. Moreover, “they” are depersonalized, turn into Mordor, “black power”, and “we” are bright, of course. Due to this, self-esteem and internal willingness to be a “fighter” are increased. There is a heroization of the act, there is a readiness for some specific actions. It can be assumed that this document was compiled by professionals who knew psychology well, ”RT Enikolopov said.

Maria Fil agrees that the text imbued with mobilization rhetoric may have been developed by experts.

“They are trying to convince that something depends on your individual behavior:“ You will succeed, this is your chance. You are a kind of Gavrosh, who must come to the barricades and bring his mother. ” For a modern person who rarely feels his significance or does not feel it at all, this is a very attractive topic. The theme of the fight against a certain evil, which is exaggerated, is also quite attractive. All Hollywood products, all computer games are always a confrontation between a hero and a villain. And such propaganda allows the young man to feel himself in the game. Only this is not a game on the computer, but in life. Here also the “villains” are real, and you can get into some kind of critical situation. For a young greenhouse Muscovite, getting into a car wagon is tantamount to adventure. This is something that can become the most vivid test in his life, because there have never been any real tests in his life, ”the sociologist summarizes.

The training manual reminded Sergey Enikolopov of the precepts of the American political technologist Gene Sharp, the ideologist of the use of “soft power.”

“Sharpe is considered the father of the color revolutions.” He analyzed how such mass events take place and how protest scenarios are realized. His book contains specific technologies for the non-violent overthrow of the current government. These methods have already been tested in Egypt, Tunisia, Yugoslavia and Georgia. What we see in this document is, in fact, a version of his concept, redesigned to modern realities, ”concluded Yenikolopov.”

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