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Assessing the effect of ICT on Political Contestation

AZIZAM, ABDUL,AZIZ (2022) Assessing the effect of ICT on Political Contestation. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 17 June 2024.


The rapid development of information communication technologies (ICT) in the 21st century has transformed the social, economic, and political sphere globally. During the same period the number of protests has also increased, raising the question of whether these two factors are causally related or just coincidental. To date this debate is unresolved: on the one hand it is argued that ICT is a liberation technology enabling protest mobilization, on the other hand it is seen as a repression technology reducing protests by increasing governments’ monitoring suppression capabilities. Insufficient theorizing followed by rigorous empirical testing of the hypothesized mobilization mechanism and a lack of fine-grained and high-quality protest data are two of the main reasons why existing research has failed to resolve the liberation-repression technology debate so far. This thesis contributes to this literature both theoretically and empirically. First, I perform a within-country study on the effect of changes in two types of technologies, first, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) (i.e. texting, voice) and second is Third Generation of Wireless Mobile Telecommunications Technology (3G) (i.e. internet) on protest onset in Malaysia using high-quality and fine-grained protest data from police reports. I find that neither an increase in GSM nor 3G coverage has a robust and substantively meaningful effect on protest occurrence. Second, I re-conceptualize and theorize the most commonly invoked mobilization mechanism in the existing literature as a coordination game, arguing that the shared network information contained in a social media post ought to enable coordination. I assess the argument via an experiment embedded in a household network survey in six rural villages in Malaysia, finding limited support for the coordination mobilization mechanism. Finally, I provide an alternative argument on how ICT might affect protest mobilization based on social network theory. Using data from an original two-wave household-level social network survey in rural Malaysia, I find some suggestive evidence that the introduction of the internet tends to change political networks to more connected structures that allow for more rapid mobilization when triggered. This suggests that the impact of ICT on protest is conditional rather than unconditional and that the underlying mobilization mechanism may rely on changes to the political network structure rather than post-specific network information enabling coordination. The thesis points towards social network analysis as a fruitful avenue for future research on ICT and protest and holds important policy implications concerning the consequences of the rapid spread of ICT throughout the developing world.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:protest, information communication technology (ICT), social movement, collective action, coordination.
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Government and International Affairs, School of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:21 Jun 2022 16:01

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