Tuesday Seminar – 9 February

Election-related Internet-Shutdowns in Autocracies

Kristin Eichhorn (Chemnitz University of Technology)
Eric Linhart (Chemnitz University of Technology)

Contemporary autocracies face a digital dilemma concerning the provision of access to the internet. General access to free information and instant communication seems to be contradictory to non-democratic governance. Its mobilization potential may destabilize the regime. At the same time, access to the internet may provide informational advantages for the regime and has become an economic necessity. The provision of access to the Internet, therefore, results from a balancing act caused by this digital dilemma. From 2012 onwards, the democracy advantage in the provision of access has vanished. However, especially in times of uncertainty autocracies re-gauge the access to the internet and impose (temporal) restriction. A prime example are elections. During elections in autocracies, digital communication tools may be utilized by the opposition for campaigning, electoral manipulations may be reported in crowd sourced networks, and election-related protests may be intensified by online coordination. However, election-related internet shutdowns remain an exception. Previous research on the conditions of these shutdowns hints to the importance of ownership structures of service providers. Although the ownership structure may provide the capacity to impose a shutdown, it does not explain the incentive to do so. We argue that the incentives are provided rather by the electoral context. If authoritarian leaders fear substantial contestation, they are incentivized to block the access to the internet to tilt the electoral playing field to their advantage.

Contact Semih Çakır if you would like to participate in the seminar.

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This content has been updated on 5 February 2021 at 10 h 40 min.