Vladimir Putin's New Arch Enemy: YouTube
As more details emerge about the very messy, probably corrupt Russian election, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling for a full investigation, and believe it or not, YouTube might be the best place to look for evidence.
As more details emerge about the very messy, probably corrupt Russian election, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling for a full investigation, and believe it or not, YouTube might be the best place to look for evidence. Thanks to a coordinated effort by both amateur and professional election monitors, the site is packed with clips that appear to catch officials in the act of everything from changing votes after they've been submitted to stuffing ballot boxes, literally. President Dmitry Medvedev denies the videos actually show voter fraud. But the clips have gone viral, and they're not exactly calming down the thousands of angry Russians who've taken to the streets to protest government corruption.
It's difficult to tell whether the YouTube voter fraud videos come from coordinated election monitoring efforts or simply concerned citizens with smartphones. With view counts now peaking in the millions, though, it also doesn't really matter. Indeed, the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) sent 340 election monitors to Russia and are actively pursuing the election-rigging allegations. It was to this group that Clinton took her appeal. "We have serious concerns about the conduct of the election," she told the OSCE on Tuesday. "The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted, and that means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them."
Most of the real action seems to be coming from the Russians, however. Take Golos, for example. As Russia's only independent voter monitoring group, Golos has been fending off accusations from the suspiciously successful United Russia party and its golden boy, Vladimir Putin. The Guardian reports:
The group, Golos, was found guilty on Friday of breaking Russian electoral law, part of an apparent campaign to discredit it. The case came as the state-run television channel NTV aired a report that claimed to show the group is part of a US-funded plot to disrupt the vote on Sunday, where the ruling United Russia party is expected to make its poorest showing ever amid increasing voter discontent. …
"We're under colossal pressure," said [regional Golos chief Andrei] Morgunov, who also claims a car has been following him since Thursday. "We're far from Moscow -- they can do whatever they want."
However, the reported detention of activists and unannounced raids of their apartments isn't scaring the election monitors off. On Tuesday, The New York Times cataloged some of the more compelling clips that have emerged on YouTube over the past few days, and while it is sometimes unclear exactly what's happening at the voting stations, the election officials don't seem to appreciate being filmed. Volunteer election monitor Yegor Duda leads the Times coverage with this video that's forced a response from Russian officials. A day after Duda uploaded the clip on Sunday, "Valentin Gorbunov, the head of the Moscow City Elections Commission, confirmed the substance of the video and announced that Russian investigators had opened a case into ballot tampering by the head at Polling Place No. 2501, where the episode occurred," The Times reports. Indeed, the guy fiddling with ballots not realizing he was being filmed looks pretty shady.
The below video reportedly shows a group of paid ballot box stuffers fleeing an election station. According to The Times the group had been "hired to stuff ballot boxes in Moscow. Caught with multiple ballots marked for United Russia in bags they wore under their clothes, some involved in the plot tried to flee. The video showed the police stopping them at the doors." (Pro tip: click the "CC" button to turn on English captions if you don't understand Russian.)
Regardless of the subtitles, this video speaks for itself. While it doesn't show any paid ballot stuffers running for the door, it's hard not to be suspicious about why Russian election officials supplied voting stations with erasable pens.
Another real visual appeal comes from YouTube user ATEISTGNOOM, whose Sunday upload shows bundles of ballots "stacked flat," and apparent sign that they were stuffed into the ballot box together by a fraudster rather than individual voters.
As the world has made thrillingly clear in 2011, in the face of a tone deaf government and an apparently corrupt state media apparatus, the people are perfectly capable of making quite a bit of noise. Russia provides the latest example of what a little bit of social media and a lot of angry citizens can do. Thanks Internet!