Information and Communication Technologies as Drivers of Social Unrest

14 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2015 Last revised: 13 Aug 2015

See all articles by Moinul Zaber

Moinul Zaber

University of Dhaka; LIRNEasia

Martha Garcia-Murillo

Syracuse University - School of Information Studies

Marcio Almeida


Date Written: March 31, 2015


Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are reducing the transaction costs of information gathering and distribution. This can be a powerful tool for citizens to protest against what they may perceive as social injustice. This century has seen the use of ICTs as tangible media,facilitating movements among disgruntled citizens. Examples include the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements.

This paper aims to ascertain the impact of ICTs on political stability. Scholars have long argued that various socio-cultural factors impact the political stability of a country. Our literature review identifies following factors as significant contributors: income per capita (poverty), education, corruption and freedom of expression. We conduct empirical tests based on a uniquely developed dataset to ascertain, ceteris paribus, whether or not ICTs play a role as a facilitator to change the status quo.

The advent of ICTs opened up a new platform for citizens to coordinate their efforts against perceived injustices. These technologies have facilitated access to critical information and enabled greater interaction among the affected. Some recent studies suggest that social media via ICTs have contributed to the Arab Spring (Ghannam, 2011). However, various others have found evidence which shows that these technologies are not sufficient to result in social unrest (Dewey, Kaden, Marks, Matsushima, & Zhu, 2012).

We thus expect that poverty, education, corruption and freedom of expression may lead to greater unrest as people can more easily organize. From an economic perspective this will mean a shift upward in the relationship curves, and thus social unrest, as ICTs are more widely accessible to the population.

Using data from the World Bank and other international organizations we assemble a cross national panel of dataset that tests the impact of ICTs on political stability(denoted by number of various types of protests in a country per year) in presence of the income, education, corruption and freedom of expression variables to see if these technologies have made governments more or less stable. The dataset has 10 years of data on these factors. We conduct a fixed effect logit regression analysis to ascertain the impact of ICT variables on the social unrest of a country.

ICTs may shorten the time and frequency that people need to be organized. Hysteresis, which is the tendency to remain constant in spite of changes in the environment, reflects the delay that is seen in societies before they are willing to get engaged more visibly when faced with a problem. We may find that ICTs reduce hysteresis, meaning this tendency to remain constant, due to the ease with which people learn about problems.

Researchers have found that knowing what others are doing may influence a person’s behavior. Before the growth of information and communications technologies, however, it would have taken much longer for a person to know what another is thinking. The public now has many tools to communicate with people they don’t even know. With a keystroke a person can easily find information on practically any topic they wish. Mobile phones and Facebook, for example, allow people to connect with others. On the Internet they can find blogs and, via a broadband connection, they can access videos.

Based on the results of the empirical analysis we plan to present a comprehensive framework that will help us understand the dynamics between ICTs, these factors and social unrest. We conclude with policy recommendations.

References Abadie, A. (2006). Poverty, Political Freedom, and the Roots of Terrorism. The American Economic Review, 96(2), 50-56. doi: 10.2307/30034613.

Abernethy, D., & Coombe, T. (1965). Education and Politics in Developing Countries. Harvard Educational Review, 35(3), 287-302.

Alesina, A., & Perotti, R. (1996). Income Distribution, Political Instability, and Investment. European Economic Review, 40(6), 1203-1228.

Archer, R. P. (1990). The transition from traditional to broker clientelism in Colombia: political stability and social unrest.

Dewey, T., Kaden, J., Marks, M., Matsushima, S., & Zhu, B. (2012). The impact of social media on social unrest in the Arab Spring. International Policy Program.

Fjelde, H., & Hegre, H. (2014). Political Corruption and Institutional Stability. Studies in Comparative International Development, 49(3), 267-299. doi: 10.1007/s12116-014-9155-1.

Ghannam, J. (2011). Social Media in the Arab World: Leading up to the Uprisings of 2011. Center for International Media Assistance, 3. Isham, J., Kaufmann, D., & Pritchett, L. H. (1997). Civil Liberties, Democracy, and the Performance of Government Projects. The World Bank Economic Review, 11(2), 219-242. doi: 10.1093/wber/11.2.219.

Keywords: ICT, Social Unrest, social impact of telecommunication

Suggested Citation

Zaber, Moinul and Garcia-Murillo, Martha A. and Almeida, Marcio, Information and Communication Technologies as Drivers of Social Unrest (March 31, 2015). TPRC 43: The 43rd Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy Paper. Available at SSRN:

Moinul Zaber (Contact Author)

University of Dhaka ( email )

University of Dhaka
Ramna, Dhaka, 1000

LIRNEasia ( email )

12 Balcombe Place
Colombo, 08
Sri Lanka

Martha A. Garcia-Murillo

Syracuse University - School of Information Studies ( email )

220 Hinds Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
United States
(315) 443-1829 (Phone)
(315) 443-5806 (Fax)

Marcio Almeida

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

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