How Twitter Shaped Western Coverage of Punk Rock Group Pussy Riot's Conviction

By Parks, Staci | Media Report to Women, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

How Twitter Shaped Western Coverage of Punk Rock Group Pussy Riot's Conviction


Parks, Staci, Media Report to Women


On Feb. 21,2012, five women entered Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of the Russian Orthodox Church. A few people were scattered throughout the church, as services had concluded for the day. The women removed their heavy winter coats, replacing them with colorful balaclavas. Within seconds, they rushed the altar, a priests-only section, punching and kicking the air as aggressive, loud music played: Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away/ Put Putin away, put Putin away! (Free Pussy Riot, 2014). Instantly, security guards removed the women from the altar.

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour had become a target of Russian feminist punk rock protest group Pussy Riot, an anonymous, interchangeable 11-member group whose lyrical basis often includes themes such as feminism, LGBT rights, and opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies. Formed in August 2011, the all-female group had spent the previous two months working up to this moment, staging guerrilla performances in public locations, which were edited into music videos and posted on the Internet, a medium much less regulated by the Russian government than traditional outlets (BBC News, 2012). The performance was strategic, staged in the month before the election that would hand Putin, whom they regarded as a dictator, another term as president of Russia-the result of a campaign process littered with speculation of corruption. Within a few weeks after the 40second performance, 24-year-old Maria Alekhina, 23-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and 30-yearold Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested on charges of hooliganism. The three women were convicted on the hooliganism charges, but Samutsevich was released on an appeal. Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were released in December 2013, two months before their sentences were due to end as part of an amnesty law announced by Putin (Mullen, Magnay & Hanna, 2013).

However, the release was viewed as a publicity stunt as it came weeks before the February kickoff of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Criticism of the women's August 2012 conviction and sentence erupted throughout the social media platform, Twitter. Through Twitter, worldwide outrage over the verdict was connected through hashtags including "#pussyriot," "#PussyRiot," and "#FreePussyRiot." The activity and interest generated through Twitter was manifested in American media outlets, both traditional and alternative forms, creating a Western narrative of the women's stories, the Russian people's struggles, and differing opinions of Putin's newly reinstated regime. The question of whether Twitter chatter around world events influences mainstream media coverage, and vice versa, is of interest to social science scholars researching the interplay of social media and news coverage. The purpose of this paper, a textual analysis of tweets collected from the week immediately following the band members' arrests, is to examine how news media outlets described this case via social media.

Review of Literature

In an effort to comprehend the magnitude of Pussy Riot's formation and resistance through performance, it is necessary to understand the implications the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s had on Russia, Putin's political history, the nature of Russian press freedoms, as well as human and women's rights within the country. Additionally, in order to comprehend Twitter's role in the globalization of the Pussy Riot verdict, it is vital to understand the ways in which Western journalists have adapted Twitter into their daily reporting practices.

Putin's Russia: A Post-Soviet Nation. Russia's history is a tumultuous one, rifled with conflict, civil war, economic depression, and government-sanctioned rule. The dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991, which also signaled the end of the Cold War, left a nation divided as some citizens were partial to the Soviet regime, while others wished for a new direction for Russia-one of independence. …

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