Rothrock at “Tweetskrieg”

On March 5, 2014, Kevin Rothrock, a POLS graduate student spoke to a group of Wesleyan students and faculty about the contemporary political situation in Ukraine and Russia, viewed through the lens of online social media. He explained the ways in which the Internet plays a different role in authoritarian regimes, where government agencies and traditional mass media outlets—namely, television and radio—are closed to the political opposition, driving important civil society actors into digital spaces that would be politically peripheral in consolidated democracies.

Rothrock also provided illustrations of the ways in which online claims (such as a rumor that the first casualty on the Maidan was an Armenian terrorist) take on a real significance, when they are used to legitimate political decisions (in this case, Yanukovich reportedly believed the Armenian terrorist story, leading him to dismiss in part the Ukrainian opposition’s protests against his government). Finally, Rothrock curated a sample of political memes shared online, explaining how messages and images (including debates about the same image) help mobilize competing political factions.

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