Abstract: The full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022 has put the future of the Russian opposition further at stake. The new limitations towards political, internet, and press freedoms have led to a severe disintegration of the anti-regime movement in Russia, including its leaders like Alexey Navalny. Digital platforms had previously hosted anti-Kremlin narratives online and played a role in the facilitation of Russian anti-regime protests. The latest scalable anti-regime rallies to date were the Free Navalny protests, caused by the imprisonment of Navalny in 2021. Digital platforms strengthened the voice of the Russian regime critics; however, their growing visibility online caused further suppression in the country. To understand this paradox, we askwhich main anti-regime communicators were influential in the protests’ discussions on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, and how platform features have facilitated their influence during the Free Navalny protests. We develop a multi-platform methodological workflow comprising network analysis, social media analytics, and qualitative methods to map the Russian anti-regime publics and identify its opinion leaders. We also evaluate the cultures of use of platforms and their features by various Russian anti-regime communicators seeking high visibility online. We distinguish between contextual and feature cultures of platform use that potentially aid the popularity of such actors and propose to cautiously confer the mobilisation and democratisation potential to digital platforms under growing authoritarianism.
Keywords: digital platforms; Navalny; non-systemic opposition; political influence; social media; Russia