Ten Thousand Signatures

The campaign to keep Russian language in Latvian schools goes digital

The Russian language community in Latvia consistently protested efforts to have Russian schools in the nation increase levels of Latvian language instruction. @DFRLab previously reported on a demonstration that took place on October 23 in front of the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science. Since then the opposition has shifted to the digital realm.

Over the last two weeks, an initiative to keep bilingual education in Latvia launched on citizen participation platform Manabalss.lv raised over ten thousand electronic signatures. This quantity of signatures makes it eligible for consideration in the Latvian parliament.

Translated title: “To keep bilingual education”. (Source: Manabalss.lv)

In comparison, two other initiatives on the issue launched on the same platform raised only a couple of hundred signatures each. An initiative to select the language of education freely raised over 500 signatures in couple of days and an initiative to get rid of Russian language in schools entirely raised slightly over 170 signatures in a week.

Left title: ”For freedom to choose the language of education” (Source: Manabalss.lv); Right title: “To get rid of Russian language in governmental and municipal institutions of education” (Source: Manabalss.lv).

A similar petition against the Ministry of Education policy was launched on global petition platform Change.org. At the time this report was created, it had over 4,000 signatures.

Translated title: “To save Russian language in Latvian education”. (Source: Change.org)

The fact that three initiatives to keep Russian language in schools perform better than one to eliminate it, suggests strong engagement from the Russian language community with the issue and indifference on the part of the native Latvian population.

Digital information campaign

According to content analysis tool Buzzsumo, the initiative on Manabalss.lv was shared over 1,700 times, primarily on Facebook.

(Source: Buzzsumo)

One of the most active Facebook users who promoted the initiative publically was the author of the initiative Antonio Bandera, also known as Deniss Barteckis. The initiative was launched on October 27. A day later, Barteckis created a Facebook group named “For a bilingual education. Against Shadurski’s reform”. Karlis Shadurskis is the current Minister of Education in Latvia.

Translated title: “For a bilingual education. Against Shadurski’s reform”. (Source: Facebook)

The group has over 250 members. At the time this report was created, there were 48 posts published in the group in two weeks’ time. Barteckis, who is also the admin of the group, posted 32 posts. The other admin of the group is Facebook user Anna Ivanova. She posted in the group seven times.

(Source: Facebook)

On the day the group was created, Barteckis added 43 members. In the two weeks since, he added 162 members. The other person adding many members to the group was Anastasia Visockaya. She added 65 members.

(Source: Facebook)

Her profile information in the group members’ list indicates that she works at the organization Dzimta Valoda (Mother Tongue), the same organization that organized a referendum in 2012 to make Russian the second official language in Latvia. Back then only 25 percent of voters supported the idea.

Despite her clear support of Barteckis’ initiative, Visockaya did not post about the initiative publically.

Influencers on Facebook

The most engaged with public post on Facebook about the initiative was shared by the account of local Russian-language media outlet rus.delfi.lv. The outlet’s post was shared 126 times, garnering 237 impressions and 16 comments. The post did not elaborate on the issue or call for signatures of the initiative. It simply shared the link to an article Delfi published.

(Source: Facebook / rus.delfi.lv)

The second most highly engaged public post was shared on a public group about a district in Riga city, Плявниеки (Pljavnieki). The author of the post, Eduard Dalecky, shared a direct link to the initiative on Manabalss.lv.

(Source: Facebook / Eduard Dalecky)

The post read:

Guys!!! If Pljavnieki alone will sign, it will go to parliament. Let’s not sit and wait. Sign the petition.

The post was shared 81 times, garnering 56 impressions and 17 comments.

(Source: Facebook / Andrejs Mamikins)

The third most highly engaged post about the initiative was shared by a Latvian member of the European Parliament, Andrejs Mamikins. The post linked to the article published by Delfi.lv and was shared 51 times, garnering 170 impressions and 28 comments.

The post read:

I support this initiative. I will definitely sign it myself. I call on everyone to sign. All means are good in the fight for our schools.

Media that moved the needle

Despite the fact that most of the traction for the initiative was raised on Facebook, coverage of it in the media also played an essential role.

Overall, there were 57 articles that linked to the page of the initiative. Most of them were shared on Facebook. The only article that was shared mostly on Twitter was published by RT on November 8.

(Source: Buzzsumo)

On October 30 Barteckis announced a “challenge” in his group. The group members had to name the only Russian language media outlet in Latvia that ignored the news about the initiative he launched on Manabalss.lv. The next day Barteckis wrote a comment that outed the media outlet as Press.lv, one of the leading Latvian online media outlets in Russian. Additionally, he mentioned that news about the initiative was also published by media in Russia and admitted “the topic lives only while it is in the media”.

(Source: Facebook)

The comment read:

Firstly, I would like to say a big thank you to the media that published the news about the initiative as such. Secondly, I would like to express my gratitude to those who published the news without labels. Third, thanks to the media that followed and monitored the collection of signatures. Yes, yes, it was you. Each of the editors, I believe, recognizes themselves in these three “thanks.” They are sincere, without cheating. The information about the petition was published in the following Latvian Russian-language news not local portals: rus.delfi.lv, Rus.Tvnet, Mixnews.lv, News today, Rus.LSM.lv, Sputnik Latvia: Baltic news, BaltNews.lv. On all resources material about the initiative was the top news. A similar situation was in a number of regional Russian-language portals in Latvia. Information about the initiative was shared also by websites and news agencies in Russia.

And now to the main point. Who? I must say that no one gave a correct answer in the comments. So, the correct answer is: until now, for reasons unknown to me, the information about the initiative is obstinately ignored by the portal Press.lv. Persistently.

And so — thank you all, more than half of the signatures have already been collected. I think everyone understands that the topic lives only while it is in the media.

Conclusion

In two weeks, the initiative to keep bilingual education in Latvia gathered over ten thousand digital signatures on the citizen participation platform Manabalss.lv. This number of signatures raises the initiative to the consideration of the relevant commission in the Latvian parliament.

Digital evidence suggests that at least 57 online pages linked to the page of the initiative on Manabalss.lv. Most of the articles that promoted the initiative were shared on Facebook.

Facebook was also used by a public group run by people connected with the organization Dzimta Valoda to promote the initiative. Dzimta Valoda is the same organization that initiated the referendum to make Russian Latvia’s second official language in 2012. Very little activity around the initiative was seen on Russian social media platform VKontakte.
 
 The number of times the initiative page was shared on Facebook (1700) equals only 17 percent of the total amount of the ten thousand signatures raised. Nevertheless, we can conclude with confidence that though online media promoting the initiative played a crucial role in mobilising the Russian community in Latvia, Facebook was the most relevant social network platform that helped the initiative to gain traction.


Nika Aleksejeva is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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