24 Nov

#Armenia versus #Հայաստան versus #Армения

Twitter is a great platform, but for better or worse, it added support for non-Latin alphabets quite late. Today media.am had a great article on the use of the hashtags #Armenia, #Հայաստան (Armenia in Armenian script), and #Армения (Armenia in Russian).

I thought that I’d add an additional layer by doing a NodeXL hashtag analysis.

Here’s #Armenia


This is 2000 twitter users (a limit of 18,000 tweets) that used #Armenia in the last week. Group 1 are those that tweeted #Armenia but didn’t reply to or retweet anyone. Not surprisingly this is the majority of the use of this hashtag. They were mostly tweeting news stories about Armenia or were spammers.

The other groups though are quite interesting. They’re very tight clusters.
Group 2 seems to mostly be discussing the recent helicopter issue and features the popular Twitter user GoldenTent as well as the British Embassy in Armenia and the OSCE. Group 3 is talking about Armenia and Turkey and Kurds and seems to be mostly people in Turkey. Group 4 are talking about the city of Armenia in Colombia! Groups 6 and 10 are certainly Azerbaijanis based on the links that they share.

Here is #Հայաստան.


This contains only 90 Twitter users with tweets from the last week. There are almost no clusters as you can see. It does appear that these users are mostly writing in Armenian though.

And this is #Армения.


There were 162 Twitter users over the last week. Most were not replying or retweeting each others (see group 1) and their favorite links are usually instagram photos. Group 2, however, is considered a “broadcast” network where a lot of people were retweeting or replying to one user, SovietExplorer, a Russian news site. But Group 2 users didn’t have anything else in common other than a lot of tweets from Azerbaijani news sites. Group 6 is similar in a lot of posts from pro-regime Azerbaijani news sites.

I’d suggest that #Армения is a place where Azerbaijanis (also with Russian skills, obviously) are “seeking” to talk about Armenia.

03 Nov

Why I’m Going Device-Free (sort of) in My Classroom (9/29) – UPDATED 11/3


My classroom is literally a sea of devices. This may surprise those of us that went to college before the era of affordable laptops, tablets, and smartphones. For us, going to class meant writing notes in a notebook. Only two of my undergraduate professors used PowerPoint and I explicitly remember getting a C in a science course where the professor put the PowerPoints online, thus resulting in me not attending the lecture. Even in my graduate school years, laptops in the graduate classroom were pretty rare.

But today, things are quite different. For the last 3 years at least, every class that I’ve taught has 95%+ of the students watching me over the edge of a device.

My attitude toward all these devices has generally been laissez faire. I usually teach classes about technology. And I had a syllabus policy asking students to be considerate in their use of technology while in the classroom.

And when I am in a lecture environment at a conference, I too like being on my devices. I tell myself that I am taking notes or Tweeting comments, but I am fooling myself. I am also checking Facebook, email, or reading Twitter. And as a result, I am not getting as much out of the lecture.

And my students must not be getting much out of my lectures either.

This summer an article appeared in the Chronicle that made me change my mind about my laissez faire attitude. Anne Curzan presents the empirical evidence against having devices in the classroom and how she presents this evidence to students. I was convinced. The main findings that were meaningful to me were that the brain learns better when taking notes and that students who can see other students’ laptop screens are distracted enough that it impacts their learning. It is that second-hand smoke situation that pushed me over the edge.

This quarter I’m teaching an undergraduate course on social effects of technology. This is the second time that I’ve taught it and it emerged from another course on social effects of mobile communication, which I taught three times. The class is semi-flipped in that I lecture for one of the 2 hour sessions (and I put the PowerPoint online days before the class meets) and the students do a group project on the other 2 hour session. Students write a 750 word reflection paper each week and do weekly reading quizzes, but there are no exams.

In such an environment, in my opinion, students do not need to take detailed, searchable lecture notes on a device. My lecture only plays a small role in their reflection papers. They could easily print the PowerPoint or just write in a notebook.

My class isn’t “device-free” though. I will ask students to take out devices for small research activities. (Tomorrow I’ll be asking them to think about the affordances of sites/apps like YikYak, Ello, Whisper, and Secret. The students may need to do some research on what these sites offer.) And on the weekly class sessions that are exclusively group work, research, blog writing, and PowerPoint creation will all happen on devices.

But will the students hate it? It is possible. So like Anne Curzan, I’m trying to introduce the idea with research. This class is organized around weekly questions. “What’s the effect of technology/social media on X? (X = learning, relationships, privacy, etc.)” and our first week’s question is what is the effect of technology on notetaking.

The students were assigned these readings:

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/05/multitasking_while_studying_divided_attention_and_technological_gadgets.html – a Slate article on multitasking

http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-case-for-banning-laptops-in-the-classroom – a New Yorker article that summarizes the research on laptops in the classroom

http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2014/09/why-clay-shirky-banned-laptops-tablets-and-phones-from-his-classroom/ – a Clay Shirky article on why he banned devices in the classroom

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131509001900 – an ethnographic study arguing for devices in the classroom

And in our weekly activity, the students will work with our departmental librarian to do more research on this topic.

Then their first writing assignment asks them to make an argument, with evidence, for or against devices for notetaking.

I am going to be open minded. If the students can convince me, I am willing to consider having a “device zone” in the back row of the classroom. Also, if any students need devices for disability accommodations, I will automatically set a “device zone” policy.

Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing what will happen. And I’m starting to wonder about devices in my other classes. In MA/PhD graduate seminars, the students have devices to refer to the digital assigned readings. There is a strong expectation that they’ll refer to the readings multiple times in a seminar session. I don’t think that devices are as much of a problem in that environment. In the winter quarter I’m teaching a large exam-based research methods class. I don’t think that I can ban devices there. But maybe I could? Or maybe I could do a device zone there? Any thoughts?


UPDATE early November.

I’ve been teaching without devices for notetaking for over a month now and I have to say that I LOVE IT and the students do too. I had the students read a lot of the research and write reflection papers arguing for or against devices for notetaking. The vast majority argued against using them. I then asked them in class to vote (by moving to a side of the room) for, against, or don’t care. And only one student wanted them. I was amazed.

Since then I’ve been pleasantly surprised – the students are incredibly engaged. I taught this last just last spring term and it is like night and day. The students’ grades on every assignment are statistically significantly higher. More students say more things in class – to the point where my timing is off because all my slides are timed for 1 hour and 50 minutes. In almost every class I’ve had to skip a lot of slides because the discussion was so good.

There have been 2 or 3 times that I see a device out – but this has never been while I’m lecture, rather when other students are presenting. I go over and lightly touch the student on the shoulder. And when they have their devices out for a project, I’ve noticed less goofing off. They’re honoring the spirit of being device-free.

Every student that has come to office hours have said how much they like it and many have told me that they have stopped using devices in other classes.

I do a mid-term feedback survey and here’s what the students had to say about devices:

“I particularly like the way we learn through interactive and engaging discussions in class with the visual aids. I also love the fact that we are encouraged to just use notebook paper to take notes, I like that there are minimal distractions. Everything is very insightful and entertaining, and in no way boring.”

“I think not allowing technology really helped us concentrate more during class.”

“I really enjoyed the in class discussion and group work part. I feel that it is very nice and interesting to hear what others think about the topics. I also think the way you asked us to vote about the in class use of devices really got us into deeper thinking about the topic.”

“A device-free zone and focusing on topics that are relevant in our lives, such as social media. I also love the structure. It is consistent every week and having to perform my best on every assignment instead of just one midterm and final is refreshing and I think working quite well.”

I’m finalizing the syllabus for my large lecture course next quarter and I’m going to stay device-free. I’m thrilled.



27 Oct

Hashtag Shenanigans Again – Karabakh Edition, #azesaboteurs and #saveazehostages

It has been awhile since there has been hashtag shenanigans in the Caucasus. Some of the major hashtag shenanigans players fell out of favor. But this week things heated up again. I started seeing random odd tweets from accounts and upon clicking through it seemed like they were likely fake accounts – brand new, stock photos for the profile picture, few followers. These were usually in response to any criticism of Azerbaijan, but often with regard to Nagorno Karabakh.

This week the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are meeting with French president François Hollande and last week the German Foreign Minister visited both countries. (John Kerry met with with last month, Putin in late summer, etc. etc.)

But perhaps of greater interest is that this week the authorities in Nagorno Karabakh put two Azerbaijani citizens on trial after they were caught crossing the border (a third was killed). The men say that they were going to visit relatives’ graves. The NK authorities say that the men killed a military officer. Azerbaijani authorities also note that NK has no right to hold a trial because it isn’t a recognized state.  RFERL story ArmeniaNow story Armenian RFERL

The other day I noticed a Twitter hashtag and Facebook group (with 8000+ “attending”) being promoted by the Azerbaijani ruling party’s youth wing. These sort of rallying around the flag issues are always interesting to me and I was a little surprised to see a lot of my oppositionally-minded Facebook and Twitter friends following this hashtag: #SaveAzeHostages. There was even a photo hashtag meme thing happening.


Meanwhile, Armenians created their own hashtag: #AzeSaboteurs.

This quickly turned into a hashtag battle.

It appears as if there are some fake accounts of some sort. For example, look at all these duplicate tweets (red/pink = duplicate).


Users zuma885, oqtay88, raminka10, and maxelmira, for example, have a lot of repeated tweets. And let us look at when these four joined Twitter! (Plus they use stock photos.)

These users showed up in both #SaveAzeHostages and #AzeSaboteurs.


Here’s the network analysis for #Azesaboteurs. It seems like Azerbaijanis may have “taken it over” but not to the extent that we saw in previous hashtags like #armvote13.


But look at #saveazehostages – what an interesting network analysis!


That center is the official Twitter account of the ruling party’s youth wing. Another power player is msabina34 who seems to be most interesting in One Direction. She tweeted on this hashtag over 100 times in one hour! There are also a number of other fake accounts on this hashtag.

It isn’t too hard to buy fake twitter accounts, but I wonder if this is a worthwhile investment? It is so obvious. I guess that the person in charge of this (likely someone at that youth wing) wants to show that s/he is a really dedicated member?

As a side note:

But this went beyond hashtag shenanigans and turned into a DDoS war. Here’s a report on what Azerbaijani websites Armenians took down. I don’t have any reports from Azerbaijanis.

08 Oct

Caucasian attitudes toward joining international organizations

There is so much discussion about Armenia’s possible membership in the Eurasian Economic Union. Today I was in the 2013 Caucasus Barometer for other reasons and noticed that the EEU came up in a question. I’ve also posted the results for EU and NATO.




I’m a little annoyed that EEU wasn’t asked about in Azerbaijan. This is sort of a proxy question for attitude toward Russia.

04 Oct

Do Sanctions Work Against Authoritarian Regimes?

Recently former Ambassador Richard Kauzlarich and Freedom House head David J. Kramer published an article calling for sanctions against Azerbaijan. And while I agree that more drastic and creative measures must be taken, I am not sure that experience shows that sanctions are an effective tool against an authoritarian regime.

Now, you may wonder if I have a better idea. I don’t. But I do know that “annoying” the regime in Azerbaijan does not seem to “help” any citizens. And I know how to review literature. So here it is. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but in my review of the literature, this is what I’ve found. If you don’t have access to these articles and want it, please let me know.

This is a great summary of the work on targeted sanctions, by the way.


“Because personalist regimes and monarchies are more sensitive to the loss of external sources of revenue (such as foreign aid and taxes on trade) to fund patronage, rulers in these regimes are more likely to be destabilized by [economic] sanctions than leaders in other types of regimes. In contrast, when dominant single-party and military regimes are subject to sanctions, they increase their tax revenues and reallocate their expenditures to increase their levels of cooptation and repression.” [Article]

I’d probably argue that Azerbaijan is more personalist (with an emphasis on patronage) than single-party/military, so there’s a point in favor of sanctions.

I couldn’t find any other articles that said that sanctions work.


““With very few exceptions and under highly unusual sets of circumstances, economic sanctions have historically proven to be an ineffective means to achieve foreign-policy objectives.” [Article]

Oh. Crap.

“Single-party regimes, when targeted by sanctions, increase spending on subsidies and transfers which largely benefit their key constituencies. Likewise, military regimes increase their expenditures on goods and services, which include military equipment and soldiers’ and officers’ wages. Conversely, personalist regimes targeted by sanctions reduce spending in all categories and thus increase repression more than other autocracies.” [Article]

Increase repression? Oh no! This isn’t looking good.

“We argue that economic sanctions worsen the level of democracy because the economic hardship caused by sanctions can be used as a strategic tool by the targeted regime to consolidate authoritarian rule and weaken the opposition.” [Article]

This is possible in Azerbaijan.

“Most significantly, sanctions strengthen nondemocratic rule if the regime manages to incorporate their existence into its legitimation strategy. Such a rally-round-the-flag effect occurs most often in cases where comprehensive sanctions targeting the entire population are imposed on regimes that enjoy strong claims to legitimacy and have only limited linkages to the sanction sender.” [Article] [Article]

Damn – more evidence that sanctions strengthen authoritarian rule. This isn’t looking good.

“Leaders targeted with economic sanctions or the threat thereof face systematically lower risks of losing office through a mechanism indicative of failure than do those who have not been “punished” by another state or the international community.” [Article]

So sanctions may help a leader stay in power?

“Autocratic regimes lower the supply of public goods to reduce private-sector productivity and hence the resources of potential challengers. As a result, sanctions-induced challenges become less likely and the sanctions episode may end in failure.” [Article]

The leader will just make sure that people don’t feel the hit from sanctions – this is entirely doable in Azerbaijan. They have a lot of money.

“While agreeing that authoritarians are indeed more robust to sanctions at most times, this article argues that there exist “windows of opportunity,” created by domestic instability, which make dictatorships particularly vulnerable to sanctions pressures.” [Article]

Sanctions only work in windows of domestic instability – and Azerbaijan rarely sees that. So this doesn’t bode well for sanctions.

“Sanctions can have a devastating impact on both the target country’s economic and political stability, and women often suffer significantly from the effects of such external shocks due to their vulnerable socioeconomic and political status. We thus argue that foreign economic pressures will reduce the level of respect for women’s rights in the targeted countries.” [Article]

Uh oh – economic sanctions can hurt women. Azerbaijani women are already doing pretty poorly. But in this model, economic and political stability must be impacted first, so because of the lack of a direct effect, maybe we shouldn’t be too worried about this.

I really enjoyed the original article and I am happy to hear some creative ideas about Azerbaijan, but the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that sanctions, even targeted ones, don’t make a big difference in the lives of everyday citizens and may even hurt people more.

29 Sep

Facebook digging in Azerbaijan

Pretending to create an advertisement on Facebook allows for insight into who is using Facebook in a particular place. I document how I do this here.

Today I was playing around with the Ad tool to see what Azerbaijanis are on Facebook.

According to Facebook Ads, 52% of Azerbaijanis accessing Facebook own a smartphone, 25% own a featurephone (some advanced features on a mobile device). And 55% of Azerbaijanis on Facebook are using Android and 18% an iPhone or iPad.

Less than 1% of Azerbaijanis on Facebook use a Mac, and 4% use Windows 8.

41% of Azerbaijani Facebook users access the site via Chrome (mobile or computer based). 3% use Firefox.

41% of Azerbaijani Facebook users are college graduates. 4% are parents.

59% have expressed some interest in sports and 55% in music.

Are these incredible insights into Azerbaijani society? No. But I’m open for suggestions in things to look at.

01 Sep

September 2014 – Facebook ad suggestions at Facebook use in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia

This is an update to this post from January and this post from March.

It is hard to know how many people in a country are using Facebook, but through Facebook’s Ad selling program, you can get some rounded information. The numbers they give are not exact, so these percentages displayed below are not accurate for the true number of users. THESE RESULTS MAY NOT ADD UP TO REASONABLE 100%S. I calculated everything from the actual population. So when it says 36% of Georgian women are X, I calculated from the population data from the World Bank. This isn’t SOLID information, but it does come FROM Facebook, so it is a little bit better than SocialBakers.

This is what it looks like to find out this information:


So, Armenia has 2,974,184 people, Azerbaijan 9,590,159 people, and Georgia 4,555,911 people total according to the World Bank and after I subtracted those age 0-14 (World Bank’s category, not mine) the populations are Armenia: 2,460,436; Azerbaijan: 7,419,487; Georgia: 3,855,233.

Facebook Ads says that this many people in each of those countries is a potential viewer of their ads (thus a Facebook user): Armenia: 580,000 (in January) 620,000 (in March) 680,000 (in September) ; Azerbaijan: 1,320,000 (in January) 1,380,000 (in March) 1,460,000 (in September); Georgia: 1,220,000 (in January) 1,280,000 (in March) 1,380,000 (in September).

Thus, here are the percentages of the age 14+ populations of each country who are on Facebook:



Armenia: 28%
Azerbaijan: 20%
Georgia: 36%

So that is interesting, but let us look at gender differences (I took the direct gender population data from the age distribution tables – this is not 50/50, but more accurate).



Armenians and Georgians are evenly distributed gender-wise on Facebook. And Azerbaijanis, well, this gender difference isn’t surprising.



In terms of the balance of users, Armenians are fairly even, Georgians have a bit more women and you can see that about 2/3rds of Azerbaijanis on Facebook are men. Although this may seem shocking, this is much better than it has been in previous years.




Wow Georgia! Most Georgian young adults are on Facebook, no doubt about that. About half of Armenian young adults and for Azerbaijan 60% of male young adults and a little over a third of female young adults.

For comparison, here’s Caucasus Barometer derived information from 2012 and 2013.

03 Aug

Social Media and Information Wars

The past few days have seen a notable increase in cease-fire violations on the frontline of Nagorno Karabakh, with deaths on both sides (although more Azerbaijani deaths).

I’m currently in Azerbaijan, but I keep an eye on both Azerbaijani and Armenian social media spaces and these are a few thing that have happened on the Internet in the past few days:

1. A simultaneous “hacking war,” where teams from both sides try to take down websites, especially news sites, in the other country. This is far from new. Check out this article on this topic from the year 2000! Samvel Martirosyan does a good job keeping track of these sort of attacks from the Armenian perspective. There has been a major increase in DDoS and other attacks in the last few days, including popular Azerbaijani tabloid Haqqin.az being taken down on Sunday morning, although by noon Baku time, it was back up.

BuFzHCSIAAQc6G1(When the hacking teams take the site over, the usually post a graphic with the attribution of the hacking team that took it down.)

2. Information about what is going on is spread via social media and inevitably, information is not sourced well on either side. Granted, media is so politicized in this region that individual social media posters sometimes are the only source of information on a given topic. However, it creates situations where a piece of information can spread via social media and become “truth” quickly. This is especially the case when it comes to the number of soldier deaths – an individual says “There were 2 soldiers shot in THIS PLACE today.” without any source attribution.  In my estimation, there are more “quasi” journalistic sources in Azerbaijan than in Armenia and in both countries they are sometimes the source of new information, but that’s just my impression.

A case of this is photos of tanks going to the front line. One social media based Azerbaijani news source posted a photo of tanks on a train that was widely liked and shared. Then another set of tank photos was shared via social media and originated from a Russian news site, but social media users demonstrated that the photos were old. While it is possible that tanks are going to the front and that some of the photos are recent, some are obviously not.

Another interesting case that came out was ANS-TV (Azerbaijani state TV)’s website posted that there were 51 casualties on the Armenian side, and cited an Armenian journalist named Eduard Abramyan’s (that’s an incorrect spelling of that surname, by the way) Twitter account. But savvy social media users saw that the ANS screenshot of the Armenian’s Twitter account had the “delete” button visible, and that can only appear if one is the OWNER of the Twitter account. (Photo via Meydan TV.)


3. Yet, it is understandable that people are getting news from social media. There was a lot of anger in Azerbaijan on Friday that the TV stations were not covering this major news story. (Photo via North Caucasus Caucus.)


But at the same time, I wonder if the local TV stations CAN actually cover this story “live” a la CNN. I don’t know if they have the authorization to do so, or the capacity. Plus, this isn’t like an earthquake where there is a public service need to inform people “live” about what is going on. I suspect that people are angry and they want to direct their anger somewhere and the local TV stations are an open target.

4. And then there is the demonstration of concern about this issue via social media. The initial reaction amongst Azerbaijani social media users, across the political spectrum, was a great deal of profile and cover photo changes (or Instagram photo posts) to a black ribbon, sometimes with the Azerbaijani flag. (Much of it is of a religious nature as well, as noted by North Caucasus Caucus on Twitter, who is also collecting a lot of the social media posts.)


ribbon2 remember

And beyond individuals, a number of the Facebook pages for Baku shops and eating establishments also started posting memorial graphics.

2014-08-02 20.31.402014-08-02 20.27.402014-08-02 19.51.102014-08-02 08.39.572014-08-01 11.54.512014-08-01 12.49.06

I guess if you’re a business, you’re damned it you, damned if you don’t.

For both individuals and businesses, there is a great deal of social pressure to demonstrate this sort of concern for this issue. I’m not saying that the concern is not genuine, but that social media encourages this sort of viral social pressure mentality. (See other cases of this here and here.) And this may be especially true in Azerbaijan where the demonstration of patriotism/nationalism is especially salient. (See here and here).

5. Twitter, unlike Facebook, is a space where Armenians and Azerbaijanis can “discuss” this issue and there certainly seems to be a lot of chatter, compared to the normal quantity of Twitter activity in both countries.

These are all the mentions of the word “Karabakh” on Twitter in the last 9 hours and the links between those users (note that most people in Armenia and Azerbaijan were sleeping at the time, so a lot of the posters are based in North America and Europe). Most mentions are disconnected from any other users – a lot of posting of news stories, basically. So this introduces a lot of people into a Twitter analysis who might just be posting a big news story “There is fight in Nagorno Karabakh” and they aren’t usually involved in regional Twitter stuff, nor are they engaging in any sort of discussion. This makes social media analysis tough!

Yet I have seen (not measured, but seen) an increase in random Armenians and Azerbaijanis responding to Twitter posts. I suspect that some (bored? young?) people do searches on Twitter to find people to “troll.”

In conclusion, this is a scary time and the escalation of violence is upsetting. Karabakh is a “frozen” conflict that is not actually frozen at all. And the Internet allows for information to be shared and disputed – which is both a good thing (more information from more sources may be good; and as more citizens have the ability to report on what they see, we know more about what is going on) and a bad thing (the ability to create false information, lack of attribution). Social media as a platform is similarly good and bad. People can demonstrate their concern for what is going on and discuss events, but also the harassment through hacking and trolling brings a lot of negativity to an already negative situation.

I wonder how the regimes themselves feel about all this social media information spreading. Are the regimes using it to their advantage or is it a dangerous unknown variable in the equation of battle?

There is a lot of other stuff going on in both states right now – Azerbaijan is in the midst of a human rights crackdown and Armenia is on track to become closer to Russia (who arms both sides of this conflict, FWIW). Escalations on the frontline may very well be a tool to distract citizens from other issues and rally them around a concern about “the enemy” – also this provides a good social pressure tool – “why are you so worried about X when our boys are being killed!?!”. And based on this social media analysis, people are very distracted by this escalation right now.







30 Apr

WVS: Is homosexuality justifiable? – entire world – map

I’ve written before about how difficult it is to measure attitudes toward homosexuality. But nonetheless, with the new World Values Survey out this week, I looked at some global comparisons asking is homosexuality ever justifiable (in this case 1 = never justifiable, 10 = always justifiable) and here are the results. Take them with a grain of salt because there is such a strong issue with social desirability here:

Here are the means:


And methodology notes.