When Do States Disconnect Their Digital Networks? Regime Responses to the Political Uses of Social Media

17 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2011  

Philip N. Howard

University of Washington - Department of Communication; University of Washington - Henry. M. Jackson School of International Studies; University of Washington - The Information School; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Sheetal D. Agarwal

Department of Communication, University of Washington

Muzammil M. Hussain

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Date Written: August 9, 2011

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Howard, Philip N. and Agarwal, Sheetal D. and Hussain, Muzammil M., When Do States Disconnect Their Digital Networks? Regime Responses to the Political Uses of Social Media (August 9, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1907191 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1907191

Philip N. Howard (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Department of Communication ( email )

Seattle, WA 98195
United States
2062216532 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.philhoward.org

University of Washington - Henry. M. Jackson School of International Studies ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

University of Washington - The Information School ( email )

Box 353350
Seattle, WA 98195
United States

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

Sheetal D. Agarwal

Department of Communication, University of Washington ( email )

Seattle, WA 98195
United States

No contact information is available for Muzammil M. Hussain

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