When Do States Disconnect Their Digital Networks? Regime Responses to the Political Uses of Social Media
17 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 9, 2011
While there have been many studies of the different ways regimes censor the use of social media by their citizens, shutting off social media altogether is something that rarely happens. However, it happens at the most politically sensitive times and has widespread - if not global - consequences for political, economic and cultural life. When do states disconnect their digital networks, and why? To answer this question, we build an event history database of incidents where a regime went beyond mere censorship of particular websites or users. We draw from multiple sources, including major news media, specialized news services, and international experts to construct an event log database of 566 incidents. This rich, original dataset allows for a nuanced analysis of the conditions for state action, and we offer some assessment of the impact of such desperate action. Comparative analysis indicates that both democratic and authoritarian regimes disable social media networks for citing concerns about national security, protecting authority figures, and preserving cultural and religious morals. But, whereas democracies also disable social media with the goal of protecting children, authoritarian regimes also attempt to eliminate what they perceive as propaganda on social media. We cover the period from 1995 to the first quarter of 2011, and build a grounded typology based on regime type, what states actually did to interfere with digital networks, why they did it, and who was affected.
Keywords: Censorship, Surveillance, Repression, Social Movements, Social Media, Information Systems
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