Year of Graduation
The Effect of Social Media on the Efficiency of Repressions
In times of social media, can repressions secure a regime as efficiently as they did before? News about state repressions, both in case of old and new media, evoke two opposite effects: (1) the “outrage factor” that makes people more willing to protest, (2) the “fear factor” that makes people, upon learning about government violence, not to protest. Fearing the first option, authoritarian regimes seek to conceal information about oppressions. But while they typically succeed in silencing the old media, the social media stay relatively free and can watchdog the state. Potentially, they render repressions less effective for authoritarian survival. This work explores the effect of news about repressions transmitted by social media on the number of potential participants of an opposition rally. Such news can be considered as exogenous shocks that happen randomly (before a rally). I use the data from major Russian social network, VK, where I identify public pages and events that criticize the state. I find that their publications about repressions both significantly attract new participants and deter the old ones. The overall change in online participants, however, is not affected, since the positive and negative effects cancel each other out. I also check the same effect of particular news within the opposition agenda, and show that there is a correlation of repression news and the actual number of offline participants. This provides an idea of how efficient repressions become for a dictator when the information is spread widely by the new media, and, consequentially, allows drawing assumptions about repressions efficiency in the mediatized world. My findings also contribute to the cyber optimist – pessimist debate, highlighting the outcomes of the new media expanse in autocracies.