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Diffusion of Information and Mass Protests in Authoritarian Contexts

Presenter
Daniel Bochsler
Central European University
Authors
Daniel Bochsler
Central European University
Tina Freyburg
Universität St Gallen

Abstract
See abstract

The proposed paper explores the way in which information can spark mass protests in authoritarian contexts, which might eventually contribute to a regime-type change. Specifically, it views possible political liberalisation as resulting from a game between a (democratic) opposition, whose power is based on mass protests, and the incumbent regime, which relies on repression of (potential) protests through its security apparatus. Drawing on the protest literature, we argue that the size of protests and the degree of repression are inter-dependent. We seek to advance this literature by bringing the fragile balance between protest and repression and the role information plays therein to the core of the analysis: New information about the actual power of the regime or the mobilising power of the opposition will alter the strategic behaviour of the two players. In particular information about protests and regime reactions elsewhere, e.g. in comparable autocratic countries, allows a re-evaluation of the domestic situation. We therefore expect cross-national flows of information to affect this balance in comparable autocratic contexts by either sparking protests or leading to repression, economic concessions and/or liberalisation – the three ways of how an autocratic government can react to perceived threat from the streets.
The paper will present first results of a larger comparative project on the role of information on the development of protests in the Arab World. In this project, we will first trace the transnational spread of information about protests and regime reactions by assessing access to transnational media reporting about protests (Al Jazeera, Social Media), and the degree of freedom of the local press. Second, we will analyse how this information has influenced the repression-protest game by linking it to the size of protests and the regime's reaction. The present paper will (preliminarily) illustrate this research by taking a single country.
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