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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Little Sign of Top Questions From Internet

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President Vladimir Putin's contact with the Russian public via the Internet last week was illuminating. The questions submitted for Putin were as interesting as the answers the president gave. The 160,000 different questions asked by a total of 1.2 million people provide a portrait of a very promising segment of society -- the country's 22 million Internet users, of which, according to a study conducted by Romir Monitoring in April, 63 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34.

The popularity of questions about robots and giant squids says less about people's willingness to take the exercise seriously than about the ability of certain groups to mobilize their resources. But a general breakdown of themes allows us to make some generalizations about the interests of the Internet audience. The most popular questions concerned housing, living standards, Putin's personal life, education, economics and business, the army, pensions and benefits, corruption and bureaucracy. Nearly all of these are related to the message being pushed by the government and national television and are in some way related to support for the national projects. First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's responsibilities appear to be more fashionable than those of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Questions about the army, hazing and the country's defense capabilities ranked a mere sixth in overall popularity.

Even more interesting were the questions within the more general themes. For example, the top two spots within the economic bloc were related to the alcohol market. There was, conversely, only one question about inflation. There was, however, a great deal of concern over the situation with small business, accounting for five of the top 20 questions. The most popular housing questions, as might be expected, consisted mostly of appeals for help. Concerns over living standards, if six of the top 20 questions are a fair indicator, would best be addressed by raising salaries and pensions. The redistribution of profits from natural resources was touched upon in only one question. Not long ago, populist slogans of the same sort would have been a surefire way to election success.

That, as it turned out, Putin did not provide answers to the most popular questions is not surprising. In contrast to the questions, the answers were filtered. Popular and responsible themes like poverty, housing and small business remained largely uncovered. The televised answers covered a number of international themes and questions that generated little interest among Russian Internet users. And the G8 seemed to be of no interest to anyone at all.

This comment was published as an editorial in Vedomosti.