The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Anatoliy Gruzd, Ksenia Tsyganova: Politically Polarized Online Groups and their Social Structures formed around the 2013-2014 crisis in Ukraine

Anatoliy Gruzd, Ryerson University

Ksenia Tsyganova, Saint Petersburg State University


As more and more individuals and organizations are turning to social media to express themselves, debate politics, share news and organize protests, their online interactions and content that they create offer researchers in social sciences a unique opportunity to study political events as they unfold and glimpse into how different groups in a society react to these events and organize themselves in the real time. 

Online groups just like face-to-face groups often connect people with shared interests and background. On the Internet, we can find a wide range of groups from those that have specific goals and objectives to more loosely connected groups that discuss more general topics. During a crisis like the one that is unfolding in Ukraine today, we can observe a sudden growth in online groups (in terms of the number and size) that are associated with the current events in this country. By studying these groups and their social structures, we will be able to take the societal “pulse” on the events in Ukraine and investigate the role of social networking sites in supporting the collective action. 

The broad goal of this research is to better understand how online groups are formed and sustained during the crisis period, especially when the political polarization in the society is at its highest level. To address this research goal, in this paper we focus on the use of a popular social networking site in Ukraine called Vkontakte (VK). We are interested in studying how and for what purposes the two opposing camps, Pro-Western and Pro-Russian groups, used VK during the 2013-2014 crisis in Ukraine. As network scholars, we want to know if there would be any observable structural differences or similarities in social networks formed by VK groups in these opposing camps.

This work is starting to reveal some possible relationships between group goals and membership composition on the one side, and user engagement behaviour and social network properties on the other. Furthermore, this work identified a number of group-level indicators that could help to differentiate different groups based on user interaction and network structure. Other community researchers can begin examining and applying these group-level indicators to online communities outside VK. Online community organizers can also learn from this work how to examine what influences the success and longevity of an online group. 

Anatoliy Gruzd, Ksenia Tsyganova