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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

Digital Inequality in Russia through the Use of a Social Network Site: A Cross-Regional Comparison

P. 70-83.

An important role of digital inequality for hindering the development of civil society is being increasingly acknowledged. Simultaneously, differences in availability and the practices of use of social network sites (SNS) may be considered as major manifestations of such digital divide. While SNS are in principle highly convenient spaces for public discussion, lack of access or domination by socially insignificant small talk may indicate underdevelopment of the public sphere. At the same time, agenda differences between regions may signal about local problems. In this study we seek to find out whether regional digital divide exists in such a large country as Russia. We start from a theory of uneven modernization of Russia and use the data from its most popular SNS “VK.com” as a proxy for measuring digital inequality. By analyzing user activity data from a sample of 77,000 users and texts from a carefully selected subsample of 36,000 users we conclude that regional level explains an extremely small share of variance in the overall variation of behavioral user data. A notable exception is attention to the topics of Islam and Ukraine. However, our data reveal that historically geographical penetration of “VK.com” proceeded from the regions considered the most modernized to those considered the most traditional. This finding supports the theory of uneven modernization, but it also shows that digital inequality is subject to change with time.