THE CONTRADICTORY ROLE OF THE INTERNET IN AUTOCRACIES Exploring differences between reactive and proactive online repression
Abstract: Ever since the early days of the Internet the “freedom of the Internet” has been a subject for debate. Is it characterized by an anti-authoritarian ideology that fosters public dissent and challenges the authoritarian rule? Or are autocrats using modern technology for their own illiberal purposes? Recent research argues that viewing modern communication technology as inherently liberative or repressive undermines the fact that the Internet functions in a constantly evolving political context. Its intersections with different societal and political phenomena should not be considered universal but rather dependent on the autocrat’s de facto control over the Internet. By building on previous research this thesis elaborates the reasons behind the variation in how the Internet intervenes with mass mobilization in autocracies. The main ambition of this thesis is to move beyond general notions of online repression. By distinguishing between reactive and proactive repression strategies this thesis enhances the understanding about the impact of online repression on mass mobilization in autocracies. By exploring how gradual change in Internet penetration rates affects levels of mass mobilization using cross-country time series analysis the results of this thesis indicate that increased Internet penetration rates do not have a significant positive effect on mass mobilization. Most importantly, the results indicate that autocrats implement a range of online repression strategies to combat the potential liberative power of the Internet and that proactive and reactive online repression strategies do not seem to be equally effective tools in constraining mass mobilization.
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