Can You Hear Me Now?: How Communication Technology Affects Protest and Repression

Darin Christensen and Francisco Garfias (2018), "Can You Hear Me Now? How Communication Technology Affects Protest and Repression", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 13: No. 1, pp 89-117. Doi.org/10.1561/100.00016129

35 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2014 Last revised: 27 Mar 2020

See all articles by Darin Christensen

Darin Christensen

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

Francisco Garfias

Stanford University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: January 15, 2018

Abstract

Commentators covering recent social movements, such as the Arab Spring, commonly claim that cell phones enable protests. Yet, existing empirical work does not conclusively support this contention: some studies find that these technologies actually reduce collective action; many others struggle to overcome the selection problems that dog observational research. We propose two mechanisms through which cell phones affect protests: (1) by enabling communication among would-be protesters, cell phones lower coordination costs; and (2) these technologies broadcast information about whether a protest is repressed. Knowing that a larger audience now witnesses and may be angered by repression, governments refrain from squashing demonstrations, further lowering the cost of protesting. We evaluate these mechanisms using high-resolution global data on the expansion of cell phone coverage and incidence of protest from 2007 to 2014. Our difference-in-differences estimates indicate that cell phone coverage increases the probability of protest by over half the mean. Consistent with our second mechanism, we also find that gaining coverage has a larger effect when it connects a locality to a large proportion of other citizens.

Keywords: Protest, Repression, ICT

Suggested Citation

Christensen, Darin and Garfias, Francisco, Can You Hear Me Now?: How Communication Technology Affects Protest and Repression (January 15, 2018). Darin Christensen and Francisco Garfias (2018), "Can You Hear Me Now? How Communication Technology Affects Protest and Repression", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 13: No. 1, pp 89-117. Doi.org/10.1561/100.00016129, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2529769 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2529769

Darin Christensen (Contact Author)

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs ( email )

Box 951656
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1656
United States

HOME PAGE: http://darinchristensen.com

Francisco Garfias

Stanford University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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