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Teachers outside Moscow were ordered to ‘like’ posts on social media written by top local officials, and they were monitored for compliance

Source: Meduza

Teachers and civil servants in the Moscow region’s Voskresensk district received instructions to “like” posts on social media written by local state officials

Meduza has obtained instructions apparently drafted by state officials in the Moscow region’s Voskresensk district (or possibly written on their orders) and addressed to staff at local educational and cultural institutions, demanding that they “like” posts shared by the district’s top officials on Vkontakte, Facebook, Instagram, and Odnoklassniki. The document circulated in Voskresensk tells teachers and other civil servants how to like social-media posts and how to report back that they’ve carried out the instructions.

Titled “Rules and Regulations for Specialists on Social Media,” the instructions require staff to open accounts on social networks (if they don’t already have them), and then to “submit a friend request” to Voskresensk municipal district head Oleg Sukhar, district chief of staff Vitaly Chekov, education department head Irma Pismennaya, and her assistant, Igor Podolenchuk.

The number of likes received on the most recent 100 Vkontakte posts by Vitaly Chekhov (blue) and Oleg Sukhar (orange).
Data courtesy of Alesya Marokhovskya and Irina Dolinina

After these friendship requests have been approved, civil sector workers are instructed to visit the officials’ social-media pages and “click the like button on the most recent posts” that they “haven’t yet read.” To record this activity, teachers and other civil servants are supposed to create spreadsheets where they document all the posts they’ve liked. Every Friday at 3 p.m., they’re expected to submit this list “on paper” to a staff member tasked with “monitoring responses.”

These instructions are being circulated “informally”: The document doesn’t have a date, any signatures, or a state seal, and it wasn’t written on the district government’s letterhead. Several teachers and other civil servants in Voskresensk, however, have confirmed to Meduza that the instructions arrived in mid-April from top local authorities. School principals reportedly treated the document like an official order.

Staff at municipal institutions started posting “likes” under threat of being singled out, if they refused

A woman working in the administration at one of Voskresensk’s local theaters told Meduza that management instructed the staff in mid-April to start reacting to district officials’ posts on social media. Elena (who asked Meduza to conceal her surname, and whom we found because she “liked” a post by Vitaly Chekhov) says she’s heard from friends and colleagues that these instructions went out to “all municipalities in town.” “They really do expect weekly reports from us, saying how many likes we’ve posted. If you don’t do it, they threaten to withhold bonus payments.”

Elena says there are “specially appointed people” who check the weekly reports. “I realized it when I just claimed a random number of ‘likes’ in one of my reports, and my supervisor came up and told me that I was lying and that they knew that I’d actually posted a lot fewer likes. They checked,” she says.

A teacher named Alexander (who also asked Meduza not to reveal his last name) says his school called a staff meeting in late April, where the principal informed the faculty about their “new pedagogical duty” to like district officials’ posts on social media. The principal even told the older teachers who don’t use social networks to sign up and start liking posts with everybody else. He also instructed the staff to write “glowing praise” in comments on these posts.

“This was all presented to us as a new requirement: oh hey you already fill out electronic journals, so now at the end of the week on Fridays you have to fill out a spreadsheet saying how many likes you posted and how many approving comments you wrote,” Alexander explains, saying that his school’s principal generously excused teachers from writing favorable comments on posts with which they disagree. In these cases, they can simply like the post without leaving any “glowing praise.”

“They told us: Whoever doesn’t record their ‘like’ numbers will be ‘called out’ by the principal, and they’ll have a little ‘one-on-one.’ In every way possible, they’ve hinted: ‘You don’t want to hurt the principal, right? These are new orders, so take them seriously. This is your extra responsibility — your civic duty, if you like,’” Alexander says.

He says only a few of his colleagues spoke out against the instructions. One teacher said he’d rather quit than obey the order, but most of the faculty silently agreed to do as they were told. “When a group of angry teachers asked why this is necessary,” Alexander says, “we were told, ‘You know perfectly well that we need to set an example for the students and their parents. We’ve got our orders and we need to follow them!’”

The head of a Voskresensk municipal enterprise verifies the number of likes posted by his staff, but he refuses to say if he’s acting on orders

In early May, another document was circulated to educational and cultural institutions in Voskresensk (Meduza also obtained a copy of this letter). The document — which begins with the phrase: “Dear general education organization director!” — requires supervisors to report on the likes posted by their employees “according to the attached table” by May 8. Supervisors were supposed to send these reports to a email address identified in the document. The letter also expressed dissatisfaction with the initial monitoring results, which showed that staff in all but 10 schools were shirking their new duties, while individuals tasked with monitoring them were “not complying with orders.”

This second document bears the signature of Vladimir Kasyanov, the director of the Voskresensk Scientific and Methodological Center (where education staff take advanced training courses). In the letter, Kasyanov also identifies himself as a specialist “responsible for monitoring employees’ reactions on social media to the accounts of Voskresensk municipal district officials.”

Kasyanov confirmed to Meduza that he circulated a letter demanding that teachers report to him by May 8 about how often they read social-media posts written by the district’s top officials. Describing the assignment as “something for himself,” Kasyanov said, “What, you have something against people appreciating what the local administration is doing? You want to condemn the fact that people can go on social media and ask about the work of someone [in the district government]? People should be following the messages from state officials, and whether or not they click ‘like’ is up to them.”

Kasyanov refused to say if he’s acting on orders from the district government, or if he’s the author of the first document circulated to teachers and other civil servants in mid-April. In a phone call, when Meduza’s correspondent asked him about this, Kasyanov suddenly complained about the telephone connection and hung up.

Voskresensk district head Vitaly Chekhov (one of the top officials whose posts teachers have been ordered to “like” online) told Meduza that he never issued such instructions. The other officials mentioned in the first document were unavailable for comment at the time of this writing.

* * *

A source told Meduza that principals at several schools in Voskresensk called emergency staff meetings on the evening of May 7, trying to determine who spoke to journalists. School administrators also reportedly informed teachers that they may have “incorrectly understood” the new social-media expectations. “This time, our principal’s tone was entirely different,” the source told Meduza. “She said the instructions about liking top officials’ posts were just meant to be informative, and that no new requirements had been introduced.”

Story by Irina Kravtsova, translation by Kevin Rothrock

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