Theme Panel: Contentious Politics and the Internet


Theme Panel: Contentious Politics and the Internet

Sat, September 3, 12:00 to 1:30pm

The papers in this panel are united by a common interest in how the Internet, in particular access to social media and communication technology, has transformed the dynamics and opportunities of citizen-led protest, anti-government activity, and subsequent government repression. While the Internet has been celebrated as an empowering tool for non-state actors to collectively organize, autocratic governments are increasingly discovering the enormous potential to censor and alter the digital information flow to their benefit. Yet, few studies exist that explicitly investigate how the Internet has altered the organization and structure of contentious politics.

The authors in this panel all present methodologically rigorous and innovative investigations that focus on the interplay of new technology and traditional dynamics of protest and repression. The studies cover a wide range of methodologies, ranging from surveys and survey experiments to innovative measures of government censorship and click-through data from websites, all aimed at improving our understanding of how digital technologies aid and stifle processes of repression and dissent. The theories tested in these papers demonstrate their ‘real-world relevance’ in drawing on in-depth analyses of contemporary cases, including China, Syria, Belarus, and Eastern Ukraine.

The first set of papers investigate how new technology has changed citizens’ perceptions of contention; how technology has changed the data citizens collect, information they will read, and political opinions they form. Zhukov and Baum ask how biases in wartime reporting can influence public support for interventions. By pairing new media-generated event data on the war in Eastern Ukraine with a multi-national survey experiment, they are able to convincingly show how different forms of media bias will lead to variation in support for third-party interventions, depending on who is perceived to be the primary perpetrator of violence. Taking a closer look at wartime reporting on the Internet, Gohdes asks how social media accounts of conflict have changed what is known about political violence. Drawing on Twitter data, crowd-sourced data and information collected by human rights groups, her study shows that despite the high volume of reports, social media reporting varies strongly by both perpetrator and victim characteristics. Nielsen’s paper looks at information used in the collective organization of terrorist groups and asks why some content on jihadi websites is more popular than other writings. Using daily click-through data that was collected over a four-year period from thousands of documents in a jihadi web-library, his study looks at the popularity of certain prominent leaders and topic-specific content, thereby offering new insights into the type of documents that will most likely be circulated among jihadi group members.

View in the 2016 Online Program.

Jason Lyall

Richard Nielsen

Reporting Bias and Information Warfare: Evidence from Eastern Ukraine
Yuri M. Zhukov, University of Michigan
Matthew A. Baum, Harvard University
The New Media Bias: How does the Internet change what we know about violence?
Anita R. Gohdes, Harvard University
Jihadist Clickbait
Richard Nielsen
How Government Censorship Affects the Collective Action Opportunity Structure
William Hobbs, UC San Diego
Margaret E Roberts, University of California, San Diego
Internet Service Provision under Authoritarian Rule: A Field Experiment
Charles David Crabtree, Pennsylvania State University
Nils B. Weidmann, University of Konstanz