Social media, online activism and government control in Kazakhstan

Social media, online
activism and government
control in Kazakhstan
IAMCR 2013 Conference Dublin, 25-29 June
Crises, ‘Creative destruction’, and the Global
Power, and Communication Orders
Dila Beisembayeva, Evangelia Papoutsaki, Elena
Kolesova and Svetlana Kulikova
Panel: Post-Socialists & Post-Authoritarian Societies
Research overview
• Preliminary findings from an on-going research
project on the role of online social media and
activism in political processes and political
participation in Kazakhstan
• Events in Zhanaozen in 2011 is used as a case
• Methodology used – content analysis as well as
discourse analysis at a later stage
• ‘Mapping’ of the content of the Kazakh
• Framing theory as analytical tool
Background information
16th of December, 2011 – the worst civic conflict in the post-soviet history of
Kazakhstan during the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s
independence in Zhanaozen
16 people killed and over 100 injured
Nazarbayev imposes state of emergency in the town of Zhanaozen, and all forms
of communication with the rest of the country were cut off, including mobile
and internet services
• A video demonstrating the police marching
towards the civilians and then opening fire is
uploaded to YouTube, which led to the opening of
the criminal investigation by the Prosecutor
General’s office
• The Prime Minister of Kazakhstan at the time –
Massimov, invited country’s popular bloggers to
• This triggered an opposition group of bloggers to
form their own team to visit the town
Media, Internet and Censorship in
• Kazakhstan declared independence on the 16th of
December of 1991
• Nursultan Nazarbayev became Kazakhstan’s first president,
a position he still retains today
• Despite the high hopes after the dissolution of the Soviet
Union, Kazakhstan is still viewed as an authoritarian state
• 2,500 regularly published newspapers and magazines –
80% of which are private
• 238 representatives of online media, as well as 100 TV and
radio stations
• Kazakhstan ranks 182nd out of 196 countries and 26th out of
the 29 former Soviet states for press freedom
Media, Internet and Censorship in
• In 2012, 40 opposition media outlet were banned
• As a result, it has been suggested by RWB that Nazarbayev’s
government ‘moved closer to the ultra-authoritarian model of
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan’
• Initially, Kazakhstan’s government considered the internet as a new
source of strengthening its economic position in Central Asia by
becoming the region’s information-technology hub
• In 2012, Kazakhstan ranked was at the top in terms of ICT and
digital uptake amongst the CIS states
• However, the government realised the democratising power of the
internet and tried to control access to it
• In addition, Kazakhstan is now looking at mechanisms to control
social networking sites in order to prevent ‘extremist’ actions – like
those seen in Tunisia and Egypt
• Explanatory research – preliminary findings
• Stage one – ‘mapping’ of the blogging sites content
and participation to identify netizens’ activities in
Kazakhstan’s blogosphere
» Qualitative oriented content analysis which examined significant
aspects of the text
• Stage two – framing theory used as an analytical tool
to understand the role of social media on political
processes in Kazakhstan by analysing information
posted online as well as of that published in
Kazakhstan’s press
• Stare three – discourse analysis
Data collection
• Data was collected of a period of three months from 16
December 2011 (when the events started) to 27 March
2012 (when the trials of the 37 oil workers began)
• Blogging websites Yvision and LiveJournal were primary
focus of analysis due to their popularity in the
Kazakhstan’s blogosphere
• Two national newspapers – Kazakhstanskaya Pravda
and Respublika, as well as the online version of the
Respublika were included too as they both represented
the mainstream traditional media. These newspapers
provided a comparative context against which the
blogging sites are positioned in terms of context
Identifying data categories
• A two stage content analysis was conducted:
– First stage – general mapping of content and
– Five questions were developed for the initial content
analysis which generated separate themes with subthemes
How was the conflict in Zhanaozen framed?
Who was the voice of the events?
What is the story subject of the news reports/blogs?
What story sources are used?
What is the main language of blogging?
• The early mapping of content and participants
identified the following three main groups of
– Those selected by the government, also known as
the ‘bloody bloggers’
– Those who went on a trip to Zhanaozen
independently, as called by others the ‘free
– And the remaining bloggers who either supported
the first of the second group or remained neutral
Framing of the conflict - bloggers
Socio-economic issues
“Сейчас уже всем стало ясно,
что Правительство Масимова не
в состоянии справиться с
возложенными на него
обязаностями. Обманутые
дольщики, разорение села,
стагнация промышленности и
как жирная кровавая точка:
Law and (dis)order
Political instability
caused by the
opposition in exile
Political instability
caused by the internal
“Если кто не в курсе что в Жанаозене случилось – короче рабочие-нефтянники
обнаружили подлог – в «жировках» (так они называют ведомости по зарплатам) на
местах суммы оказались вдвое-втрое меньше чем в бумагах в головном офисе. И хоть
зарплаты у них не маленькие – возмутились. Вышли на митинг, отдайте говорят нам
наши деньги и стояли семь(!) месяцев”
The Voice - bloggers
General's Office
The Oil Company - KazMunaiGaz
Political opposition
Story subjects - bloggers
Discussions about social
networking websites
“После событий в Жанаозене мне
звонили нефтяники с просьбой
отключить их от smsрассылки«Твиттера». Слезно
просили, потому что силовики
жестко проверяли тех, кто
использует «Твиттер», «Фейсбук» в
Socio-economic issues
Role of printed media and TV
in covering the events in
Framing of the conflict – mainstream media
Socio-economic issues
Law and (dis)order
Political instability caused by the opposition
in exile
Political instability caused by the internal
The Voice - mainstream media
General's Office
The Oil Company - KazMunaiGaz
Political opposition
Where to from here?
“Интернет сегодня дает
возможность сформировать в
общественном сознании такую
картину происходящего, которая
будет альтернативна картинке,
транслируемой властью через
телевизор. И дальше такое
противостояние будет только
усиливаться, если власть не изменит
своей информационной политики”
• The old authoritarian method dealing
with social and political unrest by
cutting the place off from the outside
world no longer works in Kazakhstan
• Political activists mobilised online social
media to inform the nation and the
world of the uprising in Zhanaozen
• Kazakhstan’s government mobilised to
find effective ways to control online
social media to transmit the official
message and state ideology
• What do online social activism and the
emerging public sphere tell us about the
changing nature of the Kazakh society?