After blocking Facebook and slowing down Twitter in Russia, more than ever, the social network VKontakte, often called VK, found itself at the center of digital exchanges of residents of this huge country.
It looks like VKontakte ?
Appearing two years after Facebook, of which it is a quasi-clone, VKontakte has the same basic functions as the American social network: news, like buttons, discussion groups and messaging. The functions of VKontakte are far from being as numerous as those on Facebook, but there is, on the other hand, a music component that the American network lacks, which allows you to listen to artists and watch titles that your friends appreciate. .
Who uses it?
VKontakte has about one hundred million unique visitors a month, the vast majority of whom are concentrated on Russian territory, according to various institutes for measuring audiences. In 2019, according to the Global Web Index, VKontakte was used by 83% of Russian Internet users, far ahead of its American competitors: it is the dominant social network in Russia, even ahead of Telegram.
In a 2015 study, information science researchers at the University of Heinrich-Heine in Germany pointed to the reasons for this dominance:
” The perceived quality of VKontakte, as well as its level of acceptance, is twice as high as Facebook’s (). It is a Russian product, a source of national pride (…) Many Russians prefer to communicate exclusively with other Russians, which makes the adoption of Facebook superfluous. »
Are other countries using it?
VKontakte has several million users in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. However, the Ukrainian government tried to turn off VKontakte 2017 in order to stop misinformation: it only slowed down their use. Pro-Russian VKontakte users remained particularly active, while Free Ukraine supporters reduced their presence, according to a 2019 NATO study. According to two Ukrainian media, Russian disinformation is still very active there.
In France, VKontakte is used very little. Controversial comedian Dieudonné and far-right ideologue Alain Soral joined in 2018 before leaving the network the same year, probably due to a lack of enough audience.
Who controls Vkontakte?
The social network was founded in 2006 by the Russian Pavel Dourov, who has been showing his independence from the government for many years. The application passed in 2014 under the control of billionaire Alicher Ousmanov, an oligarch close to the Kremlin, and then in 2021 it was bought by the oil company Gazprom, a group controlled by the state. The leadership was taken over by Vladimir Kiriyenko, the son of Vladimir Putin’s direct associate, Sergei Kiriyenko, the deputy director of the Russian president’s administration.
What content is moderated on Vkontakte?
Freedom of expression has its limits on this network. 2016. German media Deutsche Welle he condemned the Russian Internet user’s sentence of three years in the camp for extremism, because he condemned the Russian invasion of Crimea on VKontakte.
In 2015, the Russian NGO Sova recorded 194 convictions for “extremism” after publishing comments on the Russian Internet, which is a rapidly growing number, which resulted in imprisonment in 20% of cases. Russian media Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBTH), under the control of the Kremlin, reminded in 2016 of the great predominance of comments published on VKontakte in the history of condemnation.
In columns from Deutsche WelleDirector of Sova, Alexander Verkhovsky, attributes this sharp rise to technological advances in Russia: “You can explore extremism without getting up from an office chair”, before adding that it was especially easy to identify the authors of messages on social networks. Especially since VKontakte is owned by the Russian state and, to our knowledge, the network encourages Internet users to enter their mobile phone number when registering.
In addition, VKontakte quickly removes posts that interfere with power. In 2021, when Alexei Navalny returned to Russia, VKontakte cleared many messages of support for the opponent when a Russian telecommunications police officer asked him to do so. According to a BBC survey, Facebook and Twitter were less accommodating.