Late last week a Facebook look alike social network sent out messages to users directly from the government. After Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended air traffic between Russia and Egypt, Russian based Vkontakte, relayed a message from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to 20,000 users who in past weeks visited Egypt in hopes of helping them return to Russia.
Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.
At first it seems the Russian government is simply trying to help Vkontakte users get out of Egypt safely and figured the site was the best way of connecting was through Vkontakte because it is the most used social networking site in Russia to date. According to Brand Analytics, Vkontakte (VK) is the largest social network in Russia with 300+ million registered users and around 85 million active users.
However, Foreign Ministry’s official spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, has said that the government “needed to send out a mass alert, and that is what we’ve accomplished. This wasn’t our only option, but as one of our options it proved to be the most efficient.”
From what I have read about Russia recently, a lot of skepticism has been floating around VK for being too close for comfort with the Government and its leaders. A topic that has always seemed to come hand in hand with life under President Putin’s time in office. This choice of communication naturally makes one wonder if there was an ulterior motive behind using Vkontakte besides efficiency. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Ms. Zakharova goes on to tell TJournal that “our experience of cooperation with other social networks simply doesn’t compare- and that’s not because they’re foreign companies and it’s not because we want to praise a Russian company.” Ms. Zakharova makes it clear that VK is the Russian government’s favorite when it comes to connecting on social networks with its citizens due to its reliable cooperation with the government that other sites such as Facebook simply do not extend. Vkontakte allows users to send messages to others in a group message or directly, to be able to post and tag photos, to create groups,pages and events. Ultimately just like any other social network it allows users to share information with one another. The same goes for Facebook yet the Russian Government prefers Vkontakte due to what one can only infer is because of it’s close connection to the government, strengthening speculation.
This causes great concern because if the government controls the strings to a private company it makes VK look like Putin’s puppet which many people could find a conflict of interest. It would seem that the government would try to sway people’s view of the government and putin in an unlikely and unwarranted way. One of social media’s main purposes is not only to connect people but also providing a platform to discuss and share information and news freely. If the Russian government holds the power behind (according to eBizMBA) the 8th largest social networking site it compromises this promise of free speech. It’s hard to believe in the benefits of social media when in today’s modern digital age a government can still interfere and control the flow of information.