Статья 'Using Social Networks to Shape the Image of the CEC of Russia in 2019' - журнал 'Politics and Society' - NotaBene.ru
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Politics and Society

Using Social Networks to Shape the Image of the CEC of Russia in 2019

Berezkina Elena

Lecturer, Department of Foreign Languages No. 2, Federal State Budgetary Educational Institution of Higher Education "Plekhanov Russian University of Economics"

115093, Russia, g. Moscow, ul. Stremyannyi Pereulok, 36

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Abstract: This article is devoted to the analysis of the content of state organizations' social networks with the example of the CEC of Russia and an attempt to conduct a scientific study of the current tools offered by social networks for building a communicative connection ("power-citizen") and the formation of the image of a state organization. The subject of the study was the CEC of Russia’s communication strategy and presence on selected social networks. An analysis of the actors influencing its creation and implementation was carried out, as well as a study of the audience (target and real) for which information is produced and the formats of interaction with it. When writing the work, the author used the method of content analysis and Integrum monitoring systems to collect statistical information about the reactions of Russian Internet users to the activities of the CEC of Russia. Due to the development of social media algorithms and the increase in their users, there is a request for research describing current processes and changes in society. The specificity of modern society is that there is a formal erasure of borders and simplification of interaction between the state and the citizen, while it is implied that this process is mutually beneficial. The authorities are gaining new tools to influence citizens and new opportunities to form a positive image. Citizens have received a channel to express opinions and direct dialogue with the authorities, especially with regard to expressing dissatisfaction with the government's response to society’s social and political demands.


mass communications, mass consciousness, CEC of Russia, self-presentation, political image, look, political perception, social network, content analysis, public participation

Social networks have become important platforms not only for interpersonal communication between users but also platforms for government interaction with citizens.

According to the data given in the Higher School of Economics statistical collection, 78% of Russian Internet users are on some social network [1].

According to digital research [2], in 2018, people around the world spent 6.5 hours on average on social networks. Russia's indicators differ slightly from the global average. According to the study, Russian citizens spend a little over 6 hours a day on social networks.

Undoubtedly, such popularity of new communication channels could not fail to interest the authorities as another platform for interaction with citizens. According to the Government Decree "On the Approval of the Concept of Openness of Federal Executive Bodies" [3], the openness of the decision–making process is one of the elements of improving the quality of public administration. Following this concept, almost all government agencies are represented on one or more social networks. This contributes to increasing the transparency of the authorities' activities and should serve to simplify and improve the quality of citizens' interaction with them. In addition, the presence of official representative offices on social networks makes it easier to track the opinions and moods of society.

The core social network audience consists of men and women aged 25–34, and the second most active group is 18–24 years [4].

According to VTsIOM, in 2018, the average age of those who voted in the presidential elections in Russia was 45–60-year-olds [5].

The results of surveys and studies indicate that the most active portion of social media users shows low electoral activity. Perhaps this is the reason that prompted government agencies to create their own accounts on social networks to establish communication with the least active part of the electorate.

The fact that the decision to register the representation of a state body, in our case, the CEC of Russia, on social networks was unified and purposeful is evidenced by the dates of registration on social networks. Instagram Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube registered their accounts in Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube from July 31 to August 1, 2017, according to the CEC of Russia sites.

The low voter turnout in the elections can be explained by several reasons, including disappointment in domestic politics, distrust of the Russian electoral system in general, and the prevailing negative image of the Central Election Commission. The activity of the CEC of Russia in social networks is aimed at eradicating the second reason.

This paper presents an analysis of the formation of the image of the CEC of Russia on social networks in 2019 based on the example of the study of mentions on Twitter, Vkontakte, and Telegram.

The relevance of the research is due to the need to identify and study the influence of social networks on the formation of the Russian Federation’s image of state bodies.

As a hypothesis, it was accepted that the chosen strategy for the formation of a positive image of state bodies in the example of the CEC of Russia is ineffective.

The paper considers the semi-annual period from 01.05.2019 to 31.10.2019 as the period of the most active electoral phase and the stage of summing up.

Within the framework of this article, an attempt is made to identify new trends in political perception through the mass consciousness of state organizations under the influence of social networks. Research methods: a content analysis of messages from users of selected social networks mentioning the CEC of Russia, situational analysis of the image of the CEC of Russia.

The first task of this work is to demarcate such concepts as "image" and "impression," which are often mistakenly used interchangeably. For this work, it is important not only to find an adequate definition for the conceptual apparatus but also to trace the sources of image, image formation, and the main actors involved in image formation.

The second research task is to describe the content components of the political image of the CEC of Russia and its political image in the period from May to October 2019.

One of the reasons for the heterogeneity of domestic research in the field of imagology and political perception is the use of both the concept of "image" and the borrowing of the concept of image.

Among the Western studies of the political image, it is worth highlighting the works of R. J. Dalton [6], V. M. Farel [7], A. Sanders [8], and I. A. McCallister [9].

In Russian historiography, E. B. Shestopal is the founder of political images and image studies. The achievements of Russian science are reflected in the works of: E.B. Shestopal [10], O.V. Gaman-Golutvina [11], O.A. Podgornova [12], I.S. Palitaya [13], T. N.Food [14].

E. B. Shestopal shares these two concepts: an image is a purposefully and consciously constructed representation of a political object, while an image is formed spontaneously [15, p. 13].

It is worth adding here that the formation of an image is influenced by different actors (active participants in the process of image formation, forming content). The formation of the image is carried out by directly interested persons. Here, the figures of ideologists and the personalities of the performers themselves are very important. While the spontaneity of image formation implies the collective participation of those, who form the content and those (actors) who perceive this information (acceptors). On the one hand, collectivity contributes to the depersonalization of the image-creation process. On the other hand, the final image of the organization is formed for each participant of communication personally, and here the personal political perception of acceptors comes to the fore.

There are 5 groups of factors that influence the formation of the political image of an object in the mind of an individual: object, subject, spatial, temporal, and communicative [15].

As part of this work, we will focus exclusively on the concept of political image and its main characteristics: purposefulness and awareness.

To describe the influence of social networks on image formation, we have to determine the circle of those persons who influence the image (actors), the audience (acceptors), for whom the tools of social networks are used, as well as platforms and tools through which actors and acceptors interact.

In Western Europe and North American countries, the personification of the political process is widespread [16] – the formation of an image and images occurs at the expense of a key figure (usually leaders of political parties or statesmen are considered). Domestic studies also practice a similar approach [17, 18, 19].

In this paper, it seems appropriate to use an approach in which the political process is personified, and the formation of the organization's image is considered through the prism of the analysis of key figures involved in creating an image. Several levels of actors were identified, influencing the image of the CEC of Russia.

Actors. In the case of a federal state body such as the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, we can talk simultaneously about several levels at which purposeful work is carried out with the organization's image.

The first level is the "elite," which includes 15 members of the CEC of Russia. A high personification of political processes characterizes this level because the Commission's activities are often associated, for example, with the personalities of E. A. Pamfilova, N. I. Bulaeva, A. Yu. Kineva, or M. V.Grishina. On social networks, their quotes, photos, or videos are used when creating official and user-generated content (expressing personal opinions, commenting on events, creating memes, jokes, and catchphrases).

A group of these actors has a wide range of functions. At this level, ideological work is being carried out to choose the direction of the development of the image of the CEC of Russia.

The second level is expert, which includes members of the Scientific and Methodological Council under the Commission. At this level, a high level of personification is also maintained, but here this is due not so much to the high status of the members in the hierarchy of the Commission as to the fact that they act as individuals. The members of the Expert Scientific Council at the CEC of Russia do not work on a permanent basis but on a project basis, taking into account public and expert opinion when solving issues related to the development of the Russian Federation's electoral system. As the people who are members of the Expert Scientific Council hold high positions in educational institutions and publications and are widely known in professional communities (lawyers, economists, political scientists, journalists, etc.), their speeches, thoughts, and quotes are also of high importance to users on social networks, and can also be used to create user content. However, these people do not regularly participate in designing the developmental direction of the self-presentation of the CEC of Russia on social networks and participate in approving materials only if it concerns them personally.

The third level is professional and includes heads of departments of the press service, FCI (Federal Center for Informatization under the CEC of Russia), and RCOIT (Russian Center for Training in Electoral Technologies). At this level, the personification of processes drops sharply. The responsibility for making a decision is still assigned to specific individuals, but their identities have yet to be known to a wide range of users. However, at this level, theoretical ideological solutions are transformed into applied ones, platforms are selected, and the target audience and methods of interaction with it are identified.

The fourth level is linear and includes employees who are not in leadership positions of the press service of the CEC of Russia, FCI, and RCOIT, as well as third–party experts in social networks (monitoring, copyright, design). Personification reaches the lowest possible indicators at this level, and responsibility for the decisions taken is low. However, at this level, applied work is carried out on the tasks set above. The interests of the audience are studied, the tools of social networks that are as adequate as possible for the selected audience are selected, the material is adapted to understand the target audience, the audience's reactions to the submitted material are monitored—applied work is underway to form the image of the CEC of Russia on social networks.

The fifth level is hidden. It includes employees of Russia's election commissions at all levels who are not directly related to creating the image of the federal body. However, they interact personally with voters and candidates, so their actions affect the organization's image as a whole.

Acceptors. During the period under study, a paradoxical situation developed with the social networks of the CEC of Russia of the discrepancy between the expected audience (in accordance with the analysis of content, headings, and graphic component) and the real one. The content of the pages of the CEC of Russia and attempts to gamify the content by making it more interactive (surveys, test tasks, comics, infographics) suggests that the information provided is intended for a young audience (18–35 years old), the so-called generations Y and Z. While the analysis of the real audience suggests that the real subscribers of the CEC of Russia in social networks belong to an older audience (35–44 years old). Such a gap may be because, in addition to creating interactive content, no other channel promotion tools have been used, and the bulk of subscribers are members of Russian election commissions at various levels and employees of the body itself.

Platforms and tools. Facebook INSTSIOM data [20] allows us to compile the following rating of the popularity of social networks among Russians in 2018: VKontakte – 28%, Odnoklassniki – 19%, Instagram (14%), Google+ (7%), Facebook and My World – 4% each, Twitter and Live Magazine – 1% each.

They have accounts on the following sites: Twitter [21] (2,489 subscribers as of 15.01.2020), Youtube [22] (15,000 subscribers as of 15.01.2020), Facebook [23] (1,353 subscribers as of 15.01.2020), Instagram [24] (3,278 subscribers as of 15.01.2020), Odnoklassniki [25] (23,176 subscribers as of 15.01.2020) and Vkontakte [26] (19,850 subscribers as of 15.01.2020)— this covers the most popular sites where their target audience is represented.

As tools for interacting with the audience, a standard set is used, which can also be used by any user, both a company and an individual: polls, voting, a question-and-answer section, infographics, online broadcasts, and a report from events (Single Voting Day 08.09.2019, meetings of the Central Election Commission).

A unique tool for interacting with the audience is comics, which clearly explain the electoral processes for voters (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 "Voting outside the polling station" [24, dated 02.09.2019]

However, the content analysis of the social networks of Russia‘s CEC made it possible to identify several problems at once.

The main thing is ignoring current news events, such as the protests in Moscow on July 27, 2019, against the refusal of the Moscow City Election Commission to register some candidates for deputies to the Moscow City Duma. In addition, it was impossible to find information about unpopular procedures, for example, the "municipal filter"—the need to collect signatures of deputies of municipal representative bodies in support of candidates for the positions of heads of regions. The main subjects for infographics and comics are positive coverage of the CEC’s innovations: the "Mobile Voter" mechanism, an experimental project of remote electronic voting in Moscow and digital polling stations in Moscow, and the adaptation of polling stations for people with limited mobility.

The avoidance of topics that can cause controversy is supported by restrictions in commenting on posts on some platforms (Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, Youtube). Instagram and Facebook are not closed, there is no dialogue with users, and questions remain unanswered or deleted. This approach to communication with users contradicts the purpose of maintaining social networks as a tool for interacting with the audience. Also, it demonstrates the rating of this tool, which cannot positively affect the image of this organization.

This conclusion is supported by the results of an empirical study of publicly available publications on social networks (Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, Live journal, Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram), in which the CEC of Russia and E. A. Pamfilova are mentioned. The research was conducted using the Integrum monitoring system.

The results of the tonality of mentions are shown in Fig. 2:

Fig. 2 "The number and tone of mentions of the CEC of Russia in social networks"

Quantitative indicators as a percentage of sites are shown in Fig. 3:

Fig. 3 "Distribution of mentions by social network sites"

Research data shows that about a quarter of all messages are negative. At the same time, the Integrum system refers to negative mentions only those messages that contain offensive and vividly negatively emotionally colored speech while being unable to label sarcasm and irony as negative. It can be assumed that the real indicators of negative mentions are significantly higher than those given in this paper.

Conclusion. The hypothesis that the CEC of Russia’s chosen strategy for behavior in social networks was ineffective was justified. The author identifies several mistakes in building a positive image of the state body.

Among the key reasons is the lack of a deep understanding of how to effectively build communication with inactive voters. The experience of private companies in building communication between users/clients and the authority is ignored.

In this paper, the question of the causes of errors has not been studied in detail, but there is a hypothesis that the reasons for the low voter turnout of the target audience have not been studied or their wishes have not been taken into account.

Due to a lack of understanding of communication processes, only the formal part of working with the audience takes place—interactive tools are introduced, complex information is presented in a simplified graphical form (comics and infographics), and practical work is not carried out.

The use of social networks does not automatically lead to an increase in voter loyalty if there are no relevant topics and the user does not get a sense of proximity to the authorities and the opportunity to influence political processes even by expressing their opinion in the comments.

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