Thousands of Russians gathered at a so-called “Facebook rally”, protesting the results of recent legislative elections in the country. The elections were won by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party amidst widespread claims of fraud.
Several thousand people reportedly gathered in Moscow, in what news service Russia Today calls, “unsanctioned rallies”.
Mirroring techniques used successfully in the Arab Spring uprisings, prominent Russian bloggers took to Facebook to organise the rallies.
The march received no coverage on mainstream television. In fact one of the few channels to show the march, called Dozhd (meaning rain) is privately owned and broadcasts primarily online. It did, however, herald the marches as “The Facebook revolution”.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” journalist Sergei Parkhomenko told Dozhd. “This all started with a few posts on Facebook and (blogging platform) LiveJournal.”
Although the rallies were hailed as a success, some 300 participants were arrested in their immediate aftermath, with another 600 arrested the next morning. Among those detained was Alexei Navalny, a whistleblower with a growing online celebrity.
The protests come in the wake of reports that a number of sites monitoring reports of opposition and electoral fraud reporting sites were the victims of massive hacking attacks.
The demonstrations are reportedly the largest Moscow has seen in years.
“The most important outcome of yesterday’s rally is that it not only drew people who usually come out to such events, but also those who never attend them,” wrote LiveJournal’s most followed Russian blogger drugoi (other).
“That is what people in the crowd were saying — we are not for your Solidarity (opposition movement), we are against Putin and his United Russia.”
A slew of internet jokes, many with a dark twist, appeared online in the wake of the elections.
“The falsifications passed smoothly. No voting reported amid the violations,” one joke read.
Even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev drew ire after sending out a tweet thanking people for their support in the election.
“What support? No one supported you … except for Churov and his magic maths,” wrote opposition blogger Roman Dobrokhotov. “Are you not ashamed?” wrote another.
Analysts suggest that Russian authorities are becoming increasingly sensitive to the political role of the internet in Russia, given that it provides Russians with one of the few uncensored outlets of expression on the internet.
“The Internet played a very important and possibly decisive role in changing people’s attitudes toward elections,” said independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.
“The number of actual violations may not have grown, but people’s response to them was much stronger.”
Russia has around 60-million internet users , giving it the world’s seventh largest online population by numbers.