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Are Digital Technologies Helping Autocrats Stay in Power?

March 07, 2022
Tiberiu Dragu and Yonatan Lupu


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Tiberiu Dragu, Associate Professor of politics at New York University, and Yonatan Lupu, Associate Professor of political science at George Washington University, analyze whether social media, artificial intelligence, and other technologies help or hurt those living under authoritarianism.

In the early days of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Russian government limited its residents’ access to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Part of the likely rationale for this was to limit Russians’ access to outside news and information, but another likely goal was to prevent Russians from coordinating anti-war and anti-regime protests. Social media tools, the same used by activists to mobilize protests during the Arab Spring and elsewhere, are now more difficult for Russians to access and use for similar efforts.

These events renew questions scholars have asked for decades: Do digital technologies—mobile apps, artificial intelligence, etc.—empower groups and individuals living under authoritarianism to challenge the state’s power? Or do these same technologies instead allow the state to tighten its grip on power, crushing organized opposition before it can pose a meaningful challenge to the state? Answering these questions is crucial not only for improving our understanding of the role of technology in state-society relations, but also because this issue has important implications for the survival of authoritarian regimes and the future of human rights.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.

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