Digital Gulag, bombings by the Russian jets: what disgust, scare, and enrage Russians?

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Executive Summary

  • Russian respondents were skeptical of anti-war and anti-regime narratives, especially the idea that Russia might become a Chinese colony or the text on Russian territory being threatened by Russian bombs, despite a recent missile striking the center of Belgorod. They were less doubtful of the narrative that Russia has few friends among other countries.
  • Reading narratives about war generates negative emotions, with the future digital concentration camp and the threat of Russian bombs to Russian cities eliciting particularly strong negative responses. Such narratives can undermine Russians’ sense of security and create a malevolent image of the totalitarian government.
  • To discourage support for the war in Russia, highlighting the authorities’ role and connecting it to negative consequences, such as the threat of Russian bombs, can be effective. Additionally, appealing to emotions like fear and disgust, which are often elicited by narratives about war, may help mobilize public opposition. However, the use of negative emotions and narratives should be used with care to prevent increased cynicism and disengagement towards the society itself, but not the authorities.

Key Findings

The results of the ANOVA revealed that all of the test narratives generated significantly lower levels of agreement from participants compared to the control narrative. The narratives that were found to be the most persuasive were those discussing Russia’s declining number of allies and the importance of ending the war to regain stability. Interestingly, in the majority of the narratives, approximately one-third of respondents provided responses in the middle, indicating that these narratives may have the potential to be more persuasive to a significant portion of the Russian population.

Respondents tend to experience negative emotions (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, etc., but not guilt) after reading the tested narratives compared to the control narrative. While narratives about Chinese control over Russia and the Russians were emotionally impactful, the strongest effect was observed in the narrative about the digital concentration camp, which tapped into concerns related to state surveillance and the use of QR codes during the COVID-19 pandemic. It elicited significantly more hatred, fear, and disgust compared to the control narrative. Reading about Putin’s actions leading to instability, caused by military action against Ukraine, also generated strong negative emotions, including sadness.

The respondents demonstrated moderate surprise for all of the tested narratives, except for the narrative that Russia has no friends left. However, the statistical comparison between this narrative and the control narrative did not yield a significant result.

One surprising finding is that respondents experienced a significant level of shame when reading about the potential digital concentration camp that might be built in Russia with the help of China, as well as the Russian bombs that continue to be dropped on Russian cities due to obsolescence and oversight.

The study didn’t reveal any noteworthy differences in attitudes between the respondents who read the experimental narratives and those who read the control narrative. This was evident in the responses related to the direction of the country, the correlation between Russian life issues and SMO, and the willingness to end the war with or without territorial concessions. One possible reason for this is that reading a single text may not have a substantial enough effect to alter attitudes toward the war.


The findings suggest that the tested anti-war narratives did not have a significant impact on the respondents’ attitudes toward the war. However, the narratives did elicit strong negative emotions, particularly those related to the potential digital concentration camp and the threat of Russian bombs. These negative emotions could contribute to a sense of insecurity and distrust towards the Russian authorities.

The possible way to use the feeling of a malevolent totalitarian government in Russia to persuade Russians not to support the war would be to emphasize the connection between the war and the government’s actions. By highlighting how the government’s decisions have led to negative consequences for Russian citizens, such as the threat of Russian bombs, and by connecting these consequences to the government’s broader authoritarian agenda, it may be possible to erode support for the war.

Additionally, by appealing to emotions like fear and disgust that are elicited by narratives about war, it may be possible to mobilize public opposition to the invasion. Ultimately, the use of negative emotions and narratives about an evil government must be approached with caution, as it may also lead to increased cynicism and disengagement among the public.


The article was published HERE.

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