Information and Communication Technologies as Drivers of Social Unrest
Posted: 29 Feb 2016
Date Written: June 27, 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 of the disgruntled citizens. Examples include, the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements.
This paper endeavors to ascertain the impact of ICT take up on political stability. Scholars have long argued that various socio-cultural factors impact political stability of a country. Our literature review identify following factors as significant contributor: income per capita (poverty), education, corruption and freedom of expression. We conduct empirical tests based on uniquely developed dataset to ascertain ceteris paribus, whether or not ICT plays a role as a facilitator to change the status quo.
Advent of ICT opened up a new platform for the 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 evidences which show that these technologies are not sufficient to lead to social unrest (Dewey, Kaden, Marks, Matsushima, & Zhu, 2012).
Although there is also some evidence that these technologies are not sufficient to lead to social unrest (Dewey, Kaden, Marks, Matsushima, & Zhu, 2012). We thus expect that the relationships of social unrest with 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.
ICTs may shorten the time and frequency that people get 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 and in fact due to the ease at which people get to know about a problem.
Researchers have found that knowing what others are doing may influence a person’s behavior. Before Information and communications technologies however it would have taken much longer for a person to know what other person is thinking. Today the public has many tools to communicate with people they don’t even know. With a keystroke a person can easily information on practically any topic they wish. Mobile phones for example allow people to connect to others through tweens and Facebook posting for example. On the Internet they can find blogs and via a broadband connection they can access videos.
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 long data of these factors. We conduct a fixed effect logit regression analysis to ascertain the impact of ICT variables on social unrest of a country.
Based on the results of the empirical analysis we present a comprehensive framework that will help us understand the dynamics between ICTs, these factors and social unrest. We conclude with policy recommendations.
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