on 4 July 2012
The New York Times
In the wake of the presidential election, the opposition has developed a new means of self-defense: a small tech-savvy corps able to launch rapid-fire counterattacks, posting evidence to YouTube, Twitter and an ever-growing array of popular Russian Web sites. No one has deployed the digital arsenal to greater effect than Sobchak. As her political critique intensified, she made a series of mock campaign ads — parodies of the Kremlin campaign that enlisted artists and actors to support Putin. One faux ad featured Sobchak speaking haltingly, like a hostage at gunpoint, to praise this candidate who’s done so much for Russia — without mentioning Putin by name. On YouTube, the video was seen more than two million times. An estimated 66 million Russians use the Web every day — the largest such national population on the European continent and one of the fastest-growing in the world. Russians have adopted the Web not only as a public sphere for debate but also as a refuge of last resort, a citizens’ court to vent anger at and post evidence of official malfeasance. Videos depicting supposed police abuse, state theft and even car accidents go viral in minutes.