Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Facebook revolutions

The Arab spring and London riots created a lot of media hype about how the internet and cellphones can create mass movements. I was a bit sceptical, not least because Jacopo Ponticelli and I (in our paper on Austerity and Anarchy) didn't find much when we looked at media penetration and the likelihood of demonstrations, riots, etc. Now, Navid Hassanpour has a new paper on "Media Disruption and Revolutionary Unrest". He looks at what the effect is of cutting off cell phone service. Here is the abstract:

Conventional wisdom suggests that lapses in media connectivity - for example, disruption of Internet and cell phone access - have a negative effect on political mobilization. I argue that on the contrary, sudden interruption of mass communication accelerates revolutionary mobilization and proliferates decentralized contention. Using a dynamic threshold model for participation in network collective action I demonstrate that full connectivity in a social network can hinder revolutionary action. I exploit a decision by Mubarak's regime to disrupt the Internet and mobile communication during the 2011 Egyptian uprising to provide an empirical proof for the hypothesis. A difference-in difference inference strategy reveals the impact of media disruption on the dispersion of the protests. The evidence is corroborated using historical, anecdotal, and statistical accounts.

It's a really nice study - cleanly identified, detailed, and timely. Let's see what the media make of it.

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