Mass Media and the Diffusion of Collective Action in Authoritarian Regimes: The June 1953 East German Uprising
75 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2016
Date Written: June 28, 2016
A growing literature attributes the rapid diffusion of anti-regime collective action in authoritarian regimes to mass media broadcasts. We examine this relationship in the context of the June 17, 1953 uprising in East Germany, the first national rebellion against communist rule in Eastern Europe. The uprising was characterized by an extraordinarily swift and wide-ranging spread of anti-regime collective action. Observers on both sides of the Iron Curtain attributed the uprising to Western media broadcasts, particularly news broadcasts by the Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) of Berlin. Although historians have strongly endorsed this view it has never been empirically tested. We exploit plausibly exogenous variation in RIAS signal strength across East Germany and an unusually rich set of covariates to investigate the relationship between municipality-level protest events and RIAS broadcasts. We find no evidence to support the hypothesis that RIAS caused the diffusion of protest during the uprising. Instead, our results suggest that social ties played an important role in the swift diffusion of anti-regime collective action.
Keywords: dictatorships, media, natural experiment, collective action, rebellion
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