27 July

Results of the National Index of Anxieties, identifying and ranking the phobias and fears of Russians based on the analysis of the traditional and social media, have been announced for Q2 2021.

According to the overall evaluation of the traditional and social media coverage, Russian citizens were most concerned about the third wave of the coronavirus and mandatory vaccination. With a large gap, they are followed by the worries related to abnormal weather conditions, as well as price inflation.

It should be noted that in terms of the importance for people (the Index of Phobia Experience), the main topic was associated with vaccination: its Phobia Experience Index is almost three times higher than that of the topics directly related to coronavirus and its consequences. Running a close second and third are the increasing rate of tick bites and recognition of the media as “foreign agents”.

The rating of phobias according to their presence in the traditional and social media:

1.  A third coronavirus wave
2.  Mandatory vaccination
3.  Abnormal weather
4.  Inflation and rising prices
5.  Phone / bank fraud
6.  Tick bites
7.  Vacation uncertainty
8.  Indian black fungus
9.  Recognition as a “foreign agent”
10.  Child insecurity in schools

“Most of the phobias in the second quarter of 2021 are related to the obvious risks of the pandemic, including economic risks, and situations that people cannot control themselves (school shootings, climate anomalies). Against this background, the fear of becoming a victim of "telephone" scams stands out. It has become so widespread that every adult Russian is now concerned: fraudsters can rob senior parents, deceive friends, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs has not yet fully learned how to promptly investigate these cases. Moreover, in most cases the damage is irreparable,” Peter Kirian, CROS Director for Media Projects and a co-author of the research, says.

“The second quarter of 2021 turned out to be very dynamic. At first, the topics of the pandemic and vaccination played the backseat. In June, against the backdrop of a new outbreak of COVID-19 in Moscow (and later in regions) and the subsequent introduction of mandatory vaccination for certain groups of citizens, they became the dominant ones. Interestingly, mandatory vaccination has an Index of Phobia Experience, an indicator showing what people really care about, almost three times higher than that of the coronavirus third wave itself. This suggests that vaccination has become a true phobia for many Russians, indicating a real problem with the authorities' awareness and explanatory work on the topic. Among the other fears and anxieties drawing our attention, there is the situation with ticks: a seasonal issue got very big. Telephone fraud is becoming increasingly worrisome and requires very active measures from authorities. The relevance of this topic can only increase in the next quarter, as on August 16, the government will start paying out 10 000 rubles to families with children from 6 to 18 years old, as announced in the President's Address. The media are already reporting that fraudsters will try to take advantage of this case,” Andrey Lebedev, CROS head of analytics and a co-author of the research, comments.

Anxiety rating leaders in terms of importance for people

The Index of Phobia Experience is a significant indicator of an issue’s relevance and significance and the depth of its discussion. It also allows to reveal pseudophobias, i.e. topics that are present in the traditional media, but are of little interest when discussed in social media. Last quarter, they were mandatory vaccination and tick bites. They were discussed in the media, but did not cause any concern among citizens.

Mandatory vaccination

Against the background of the surge of COVID-19 cases in June, some Russian regions introduced mandatory vaccination of certain categories of the population. The respective orders of local authorities got on everybody’s lips. For unvaccinated citizens, a number of restrictions were introduced: they could not enter social welfare offices, peace justices’ offices, cafes and restaurants, receive routine medical care, go on vacation to the Krasnodar Territory. In a number of regions, the option of a ban on the use of public transport for unvaccinated people was discussed.

The restrictions caused a negative reaction in the society. One of the main concerns was the direct or veiled threats from employers in a number of industries: those who refused vaccination were threatened with suspension, withholding of salaries, bonuses and vacations, or dismissal despite medical exemptions, possible contraindications and / or the presence of antibodies. People, including lawyers, media personalities, representatives of the establishment and the clergy, talked about the unacceptability of discrimination of those unvaccinated.

Medical intervention, including vaccination, is voluntary according to the Russian laws, and the Kremlin said it opposes mandatory vaccination while at the same time supporting the actions of the regional authorities. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Putin, said that discrimination against the unvaccinated "will inevitably come."

Fear of long-term health consequences, disbelief in the effectiveness of vaccines, the presence of medical contraindications, as well as the presence of antibodies due to a recent illness were among the most common reasons for the willingness to avoid vaccination against coronavirus. Experts emphasized that the need for revaccination and conflicting reports about the vaccine itself, in particular about a decrease in its effectiveness in the case of the Indian strain, negatively affect the willingness of Russians to get vaccinated. The influence of popular conspiracy theories on citizens should also be noted.

Tick bites

Late spring and early summer, as well as late summer and early autumn are the periods of greatest tick activity. Natural foci of tick-borne infections begin to activate when air temperature reaches 10 degrees. Already in April, experts of the All-Russian Research Institute for Civil Defense of the Russian Emergencies Ministry warned that an unfavorable situation with ticks is expected in 2021; as of April 5, 181 cases of tick bites were reported in 24 regions of the Southern, North Caucasian, Volga, Ural and Siberian federal districts. As of June 4, in 83 constituent entities of Russia, 220 948 people with tick bites sought medical assistance; in May, Russians were going to a doctor with tick bites 37-50% more often compared to the same month a year ago. Most of the victims were in Sverdlovsk, Kemerovo, Tyumen, Kirov and Tomsk regions, Perm Territory, Udmurtia. As of June 4, 50 cases of tick-borne viral encephalitis were registered.

Regional Russian Post and Sberbank offices began selling insurance policies against tick bites. In the period from May 17 to 28, the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) held a national "hotline" for the prevention of tick-borne encephalitis.

Recognition of the media as foreign agents

On April 23, the Russian Ministry of Justice listed the Latvian legal entity behind Meduza in the register of foreign media performing the functions of a foreign agent. In mid-May, VTimes, founded by former Vedomosti journalists, was also included in the register.

Formally, inclusion in the register imposes on the media the obligation to incorporate a Russian legal entity, to submit regular reports on its operations and financial activity to the Ministry of Justice, and to indicate the status of a foreign agent in all published articles and posts.

At the same time, in fact, recognition as a foreign agent puts at threat the media’s survival. Meduza almost overnight lost its major advertisers, and VTimes announced that it was closing down on June 12. The media’s staff also faced certain limitations. The management of Radio Liberty and Current Time TV (earlier also recognized as foreign agents) invited some of their Moscow bureau's employees to move to Kiev and Prague. The online media also announced its closing down from May 31 for economic reasons caused by the political situation in Russia.

Some experts regarded the news about the inclusion of the media in the register of foreign agents as attempts to pressure and eliminate the free media and a fight against dissidence. Comparisons with “unwanted” non-profit organizations were used. Representatives of the opposition media, in turn, noted that the wording of the law makes the mechanism for recognizing as a foreign agent opaque and applied selectively.

The full research is available here (in Russian)