Russian Fashion Dominance on the Web. A Study on Local Googles in post- Soviet Countries.

Even after the dissolution of physical borders, can we still see the cultural influence of a particular country on the others? Can these social conditions be seen on the Web?  The countries belonging to the USSR used to revolve around Russia and Russian language.  After the collapse of this empire Russia still remains a leading economic power. But what about culture? Are the former USSR countries nurturing their own (online) cultural independence, or are there still some remains of Russia’s cultural dominance?

The local Googles can be peep holes through which we may see how much content on the local webs of the former USSR countries is really local, and how much is global or imported from other countries. The plural form “Googles” is used on purpose, since the results obtained from different geographical locations (different local Googles) differ to  a great extent. Some scholars even talk about the “transition of the Internet from “cyberspace”, which invokes a placeless space of email and packets, to the web of identifiable national domains” (Rogers et al. 1), therefore, forming a network of many national webs (spheres). Precisely because of these local differences the internet can be useful for studying local cultures. As Richard Rogers says, “the Internet is a site of research for far more than online culture and its users. With the end of the virtual/real divide, however useful, the Internet may be rethought as a source of data about society and culture.” (Rogers, The End of the Virtual)

A starting point of this research is a claim made by Daniel Ford and Josh Batson on their Google Research Blog, “The language webs of many former Soviet republics link back to the Russian web, with the strongest link from Ukrainian. While Russia is the major importer of Ukrainian products, the bilingual nature of Ukraine is a more plausible explanation. Most Ukrainians speak both languages, and Russian is even the dominant language in large parts of the country.”# This research tests the relevance of this claim for Ukraine and other former USSR countries. It is a study on the national webs in six Russian speaking countries, i.e. the countries in which more than 10% of the population are native Russian speakers. Thus, the analysis does not include all post-Soviet countries, since some of them, like Armenia and Moldova, do not have a significant percentage of Russian native speakers# and, therefore, we assume that Russian online content plays relatively insignificant role in their national webs.

We attempt to see to what extent the web in Belarus, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan rely on Russian content related to fashion. The query “fashion” was used to find out the degree to which those countries have developed their own tastes and trends visible online, and to what extent they look up to Russian fashion trends and import them to their culture. More specifically, what is the proportion between local and non-local content per country when using national search engine?

Since for using most search websites it is necessary to choose a language in search settings, another question was posed: to what extent do the search results differ depending on the language identified in the search settings? To check this, the query was googled twice in Russian, but with different language preferences (once with a preference set on the dominant language of the country, and once with Russian language preference).

It should be mentioned that this research does not aim at showing Russian dominance in a sense of deliberate imposing of values, language or culture on other countries. That is why the query chosen for the analysis is not politically or morally charged, but relates to tastes and trends. We assume that the presence (or absence) of Russian websites among results on local Googles is a result of an organic process, and these particular websites are simply the most popular and most viewed in a particular country.

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Apartheid According to Wikipedia. A Comparative Analysis of English, Dutch and Afrikaans Wikipedia Pages on Apartheid.

An issue of apartheid history is a fascinating one. It involves actors of many nationalities and languages, from native South African inhabitants, descendants of slaves (often of Asian origin), former Dutch and British colonizers, to the apartheid government itself. Brendan Luyt in his research on The Nature of Historical Representation on Wikipedia writes that “the basic premise is that Wikipedia history pages represent a collective vision of the past, one that is shaped by the dominant historiography of the country or region so that the potential of digital history writing is more or less circumscribed according to preexisting social visions of what constitutes valid or accurate historical representation.” (Luyt 1058) However, if an issue involves many countries, societies, languages and cultures, what is the “dominant historiography of the country”and by whom is it created?

A comparative study on Wikipedia pages about apartheid would reflect different accounts on history of apartheid and illustrate whether, in fact, we can talk about a dominant historical narrative. By comparing and contrasting content and history of changes on Wikipedia pages in English, Dutch and Afrikaans, this research attempts to answer the question: to what extent do national points of view on apartheid history emerge on these particular Wikipedia pages? It also tries to investigate how Wikipedia is a bearer of these differences, i.e. what these differences consist of?
This research can also test two of the claims posed by R. Rogers and E. Sendijarevic. First hypothesis is that “Wikipedia language versions “distort” by emphasizing the local over the universal (Rogers, Sendijarevic 544). Second premise is that there is a “bias in Wikipedia in the sense of the coverage in the articles, with the English- language ones containing more information.” (Rogers, Sendijarevic 544)

Some researchers, like Livingstone, also doubt the adequate representation of particular geographical areas on Wikipedia, such as Africa, Latin America, Asia, and parts of Eastern Europe. (Livingstone 503) This research, since it relates to the part of South African history, addresses Livingstone’s doubt. It has a potential to illustrate the extent to which the area of South Africa is covered on Wikipedia, and whether the content on page in Afrikaans emerged organically from within South Africa.

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The Censorship of Extremist Content in the Russian Internet

This research paper aims at investigating the effectiveness of the Russian law enforcement in combating cyber hate. The implemented research strategy consisted of two major steps: building a list of the extremist websites in Runet and testing whether they are accessible in Russia and in the Netherlands. For building the URL list the editorial approach was used; the federal list of extremist materials was used as a source for the list. For checking the accessibility of the websites we used the Censorship Explorer tool and ten proxies located in Russia. The research shows that the implementation of the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity in Russian internet has not been done rigorously. Even though some websites display extremist content, they are still available online.  The research also did not detect any instances of the first generation control. That means that online content, at least content officially listed as forbidden, is controlled in different ways. The majority of investigated websites was most probably taken down or deleted entirely, instead of blocked only on the territory of Russia. In addition, researchers and reporters wishing to monitor the instances of censorship in Russia will face a challenge of very low transparency of the Russian internet control. It is not common to see a message clarifying the reason for a website being deleted. It is interesting that the blacklist of extremist content is official and publicly available, whereas the execution of the law is not that transparent.