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Social Media Use by BBC World Service and Russia Today during the Sochi Games

The final speaker in this ASMC14 session is Marie Gillespie, whose interest is in the tweeting of global events – she focusses here especially on the controversial Sochi Olympics in early 2014, which were also affected by the unfolding political crisis in Ukraine.

One player in the media environment around the Olympics is the Russian state broadcaster Russia Today, whose mission is to present a Russian perspective on world news. It receives $300m per annum, at the same time that comparable public diplomacy broadcasters like BBC World Service or the Australia Network are being downsized or discontinued.

Such broadcasters exercise a certain soft power; while BBC World Service seeks to derive influence from its impartiality, Russia Today was engaging more obviously in a form of information war once the Ukraine crisis emerged – its soft power strategy is one built around conspiracy theories about western agents.

Social media play a key role in these processes. RT turned out to be more adept in working with social media, and its social media updates had a much greater longevity, while the BBC's tweets were received much more sceptically. Marie's project examined the key themes of tweets (LGTBI rights in Russia, Putin, the Sochi games), and the key Twitter accounts participating in such conversations.

For LGTBI topics, there were clear parallels between Twitter discussions and the BBC broadcast narrative; Putin discussions were largely tongue-in-cheek; and the Sochi discussion gradually shifted towards a general critique of the games. RT was better attuned to social media uses, while the BBC switched somewhat jarringly from 'ritual' to 'crisis' mode as Ukraine unravelled – at RT, the coverage remained in a mode of exposing 'Russophobia' in each case, but gradually became more militarised.