Is Telegram a “harbinger of freedom”? The performance, practices and perception of platforms as political actors in authoritarian states

Mariëlle Wijermars*, Tetyana Lokot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

This paper examines the practices, performance, and perceptions of the messaging platform Telegram as an actor in the 2020 Belarus protests, using publicly available data from Telegram's public statements, protest-related Telegram groups, and media coverage. Developing a novel conceptualization of platform actorness, we critically assess Telegram's role in the protests and examine whether Telegram is seen as playing an active role in Belarusian contentious politics. We find that Telegram's performance and practices drive citizens to form affective connections to the platform and to perceive Telegram as an ally in their struggle against repressions and digital censorship. Meanwhile, the Belarusian state uses Telegram's aversion to censorship and content moderation to intervene in contentious politics by co-opting grassroots approaches and mimicking manipulative efforts of other authoritarian regimes. Our conceptual framework is applicable to post-Soviet authoritarian contexts, but can also serve as a useful heuristic for analyzing platform actorness in other regime types.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalPost-Soviet Affairs
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Mar 2022

Keywords

  • Telegram
  • platform actorness
  • platform governance
  • Belarus
  • protests
  • authoritarianism
  • SOCIAL MEDIA
  • NETWORKED AUTHORITARIANISM
  • INFORMATION
  • VISIBILITY
  • RESISTANCE
  • EXPRESSION
  • SECURITY
  • RUSSIA

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