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Tweeting blood lust and cynicism

News about the terrorist attack in Moscow appeared on Twitter minutes after the explosion shook the city’s busiest airport. And…

By Lena Smirnova , in Maybe Avos: Inside the Russian State of Mind , on February 6, 2011 Tags: , , ,

News about the terrorist attack in Moscow appeared on Twitter minutes after the explosion shook the city’s busiest airport. And as soon as the news spread, people looked for someone to blame. Yet there was no talk of Chechen rebels and suicide bombers. The target was much closer – the city’s taxi drivers.

Twitter overflowed with reports that taxi drivers hiked up prices after the attack and refused to drive people (Russian) out of the airport for less than 10,000 roubles (the regular price is 1,500 to 2,000 roubles). Some Twitter users estimated that prices went as high as 30,000 roubles (Russian).

Airport workers hadn’t even finished scrubbing blood from Domodedovo’s floor when some of the more militant Tweeters started to outline their own version of justice. Here are some examples, translated to English:

  • @scarraver “I wish all taxi drivers who hiked up prices for taking people out of #domodedovo to burn in hell!!!”
  • @diramiis “Dear suicide terrorists. Next time, please blow yourselves up in #domodedovo among taxi drivers. (Russian people.)”

Other Twitter feeds were more subdued, but many still encouraged people (Russian) at Domodedovo to take photographs of the offending taxis’ license plates and send them to the open email [email protected]. The plate numbers would apparently later be used to scorn individual taxi drivers or for revenge.

Here’s the complication: there were no confirmed reports (Russian) that taxi drivers increased prices for trips out of the airport. This information eventually floated into Twitter feeds (Russian), but it was not nearly as prominent as the rumours on the price hikes.

I am not particularly concerned about people who started these rumours on Twitter. Emotions ran high in the country after the attacks and people looked for a target to their frustration. But I am concerned about how easily other people believed and repeated these rumours.

The witch hunts on Moscow’s taxi drivers revealed a disturbing trait in the Russian character. They showed that the Russian people are ready to see the worst in each other.

No authoritative reports came in to confirm that taxi drivers increased prices at Domodedovo, but Twitter users already wrote that this must be so. It seemed inevitable that the taxi drivers who hastily hiked prices in the aftermath of the Moscow subway bombings in March 2010 would do so again. Even the truthful reports could not replace the Russians’ cynicism in society and each other.

Man is wolf to man. What an accomplishment it would be for Russia if this was no longer so.