Studies of Anti-European protests (that often overlap with Pro-Russian protests) in Ukraine are scarce. There were at least three major reasons for this: too dangerous, too difficult, too stigmatised. The impact of each varied in the course of time. Furthermore, the subject remains quite sensitive making retrospective surveys impossible. It is hard to imagine someone walking around reclaimed territories asking questions like “so, did you participate in Anti-European movements last year?”. Not to mention that the research community in Ukraine is in hassle. Large-scale surveys in Crimea and Eastern regions are conventionally condemned after GFK surveyed Crimean population (the reaction of Sociological Association of Ukraine is here).
Of course, there are some exceptions. For instance, a brilliant qualitative study during the emergence of the pro-European and anti-European movements in Ukraine was conducted by PS.Lab. But to my knowledge it is written only in Russian. And, as any other qualitative study, it spots important phenomena but says nothing about the magnitude. Another important research has been done by the CSLR (the report is in Ukrainian language). However, the crude number of protests says little about the interactions between the participants, their motivation, mobilisation, and values.
Having said this, I think there is a way to fill at least a small part of the gap in knowledge we have now. Looking at online conversations and interactions among anti-European/pro-Russian activists it’s possible to spot the dynamic of the political mobilisation, to see the real-life invention of the group identities, to study what kind of obstacles people faced in their attempts to build a dialog.
So far I have made only few steps to explore this. First of all, I have collected the data from the “Antimaidan” Facebook page that was launched as a response to its pro-European vis-a-vis “EuroMaidan”. The data cover daily online interactions among activists for February – May 2014.
Some simple descriptives can be a starter. This figure shows only March-April 2014 (I do not show all the data here for technical reasons).
I like using this measure of Comments-to-Shares ratio as a metric of how often people were engaged into a dialog when compared to simple spreading. I did the same calculations for the EuroMaidan page, and it seems that Anti-European page witnessed quite more conversations. Why is that? I guess the most accurate explanation would be the content of posts. Pro-European page signalled a lot of urgent requests for actions. People had to come at some place, bring resources, help others – no time for talks. Whereas at Anti-Maidan page people were engaged in real mobilisation through sharing messages and debating them.
Here I try to look at this by measuring reciprocity and the content of ties.The following graph includes several posts published during at the very beginning of the existence of the Anti-Maidan Facebook page (late February 2014).
Large red nodes numbered 1 to 7 are posts. Blue nodes are people connected to them by reading. Edges between blue dots = conversations between people. The point of an edge shows the direction. It may be reciprocal, may be not.
Yellow edge – they are fighting. Pink edge – complementing each other
You may see a number of isolated nodes – people read the posts but never talked to each other.
As you see there were a lot of fights between people. So this group – at least at the beginning – was really about people with different views arguing about their believes. And more detailed investigation of their debates may show when and how the threshold was passed and the Pro-Russian/Anti-European majority excluded their opponents.
The last technique that may be handy in studying the developing of this group is the dynamic visualisation of the network.
This video features people (blue nodes) reading posts (red nodes). Some new readers appear in time following new topics, some of them disappear. But a big proportion of readers are quite stable in the course of time. It would be very interesting to investigate whether the views of these stable readers changed over time due to the overall network developments.
Of course, this post hasn’t solved any puzzles, but I think it shows at least that the process of online mobilisation among Anti-Maidan activists was very much dynamic. And this line of research may be very fruitful.