The Organizational and Communication Structures of Anti-Authoritarian Movements: Dissidents in Russia and Belarus Prior to the Ukraine War

Friday, 1 December 2023, 12:30pm (HKT) at CVA 1022 and on Zoom

One of the most significant and least understood aspects of a movement is the dynamics of its internal organizing. How do evolving digital communication technologies, such as messaging platforms, facilitate internal organizing in contemporary anti-authoritarian movements? I analyze the two cases of recent relatively successful and sustainable movements led by dissidents in Russia and Belarus. I base the analysis on data collected through interviews, observation, and scraping of Telegram, VK, OK, and Facebook content prior to the Ukraine War. Contrary to their popular image, I found that both movements were neither spontaneous nor highly centralized or bureaucratic. Instead, digital platforms like Telegram facilitated the emergence of newer types of organizing structures: segmentary and polycentric networks linked by the activities of their charismatic leaders. Such networks consist of a vast multitude of nodes of strong local ties that are themselves weakly connected to one another. They can dynamically adjust their organizational configurations, representing a crucial ability necessary for the sustainability of anti-authoritarian movements.

ALIAKSANDR HERASIMENKA is a fellow at Oxford Martin School and a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. He studies computational propaganda and political communication in authoritarian regimes.

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Organised by Centre for Media and Communication Research, School of Communication