Increased nuclear war talk on Russian Telegram propaganda channels: data

There’s increasing talk of nuclear war. Today, the main story is the supposed ‘dirty bomb’ the Russian minister of defence claimed Ukraine was going to use, but more generally one sees propagandists wishing or fearing (maybe) for a nuclear war, and if one follows Ukrainians on Twitter you’ll read that it’s a possibility some are talking very seriously in ways those of us far away can’t imagine.

I was curious whether one could quantify this perceived increase, and so, in line with my last handful of posts, I took a look at Telegram. More specifically, I looked at the Telegram of Vladimir Solovyov, one of the main propagandists, whom you’ll have seen if you watch the clips from Russian TV that get shared on social media. With 1.3 million subscribers, he’s quite a big channel, and so I had this one and simple question: has talk of nuclear war increased on his channel?

(I say ‘on his channel’ intentionally: on Telegram one can share others’ messages, and so the data below include uses of ‘nuclear’ by people other than him.)

Of course, this is a blunt instrument: it doesn’t tell you what is said. It could be that all the posts are pleas for nuclear war not to happen (though: it is not that.)

With that said, this is what I did. I downloaded the Telegram archive in json format which anyone can do on the desktop app; then, using a Python script I searched the text of all the messages for the noun stem “ядерн”, which is to say ‘nuclear’, then did some regex-ninja and moved the info into excel.

(A caveat: using stems like this is a blunt instrument. While there aren’t, as far as I can tell, any homophonous stems in Russian, there’s no guarantee that that any occurrence of the word ‘nuclear’ pertains to nuclear war. But despite there being no guarantee, this is in fact as far as I can tell, the case. Nuclear occurs most frequently with the words for ‘war’, ‘weapon’, and so on.)

Here first is just the numbers:

02/2022 9
03/2022 37
04/2022 25
05/2022 23
06/2022 23
07/2022 19
08/2022 44
09/2022 49
10/2022 58

Which suggests an increase in the last few months (it’s noteworthy that October is already first with fully one quarter of it to go.)

Here’s a graph:

Again, eyeballing, especially with the knowledge October isn’t finished, indicates we’re trending up. Because I know not thing one about data analysis and presentation, I’ll just through a couple of other graphs in in case they happen to be useful. Here’s a seven day moving average:

And here’s weeks starting 24/02:

I’m not sure if anything wildly interesting follows from this. It maybe doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know. But still, it’s good to get more evidence about the things we know, and it does seem as if the seeming that talk of nuclear war has increased is not just a seeming and is, at least for this one channel, reflected in the numbers. And while talk is cheap, and certainly one can’t draw any inferences about the actual real possibility of a nuclear attack based on this, it’s at least not what one would like to see.

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