Towards a Theory of Electronic Communication and Protest

Abstract: 

Abstract: This paper seeks to explore the impact of electronic communication on social protest movements and how individuals petition for redress of grievances against the government. The expectation of this study is that an increase in access to the internet will be associated with an increase in the likelihood of protest. This study will employ a logistic regression model to analyze internet use and protest data for the years 2006-2010 in 24 states. The analysis reveals the existence of a positive and significant relationship between the number of internet users and the likelihood of the onset of protest. The primary implication of this study is that electronic communication has the potential to serve as a facilitating condition of the mobilization of protest. An avenue of future research could be to analyze emerging data on social media use and further explore this relationship.

Table of Contents: 

    Introduction

    Protest movements often aim to influence or reform the policy of governments, corporations, and international governing institutions. Such social protest movements often begin with vague ideals and recommendations to a society or the government of the nation-state in which they emerge. Specific protests throughout history have become noteworthy as they draw attention to a set of causes or issues and attempt to disrupt the status quo. These movements can also develop into factions, political parties, or other forms of institutionalized groups that persist over time. There exists a body of literature on the nature and effects of these social protest movements; however, increasing and widespread advancements in communications technology are fundamentally changing the manner in which people interact. The internet, cell phones, and social media platforms are becoming highly prevalent in society and account for an expanding share of human interaction. These modern advancements in communication are changing the nature and frequency of protest movements. Therefore, technological advancements are having an impact on the political process of many states.

    This research project seeks to explore the change in the nature of human interaction and protest that has occurred due to technological advancements and access to electronic communication such as social media. I seek to elaborate upon how access to electronic communication affects the initiation of social protest movements. Such an undertaking is also timely considering the recent protest movements known as the “The Arab Spring.” The protest movements in these Middle Eastern and North African countries will serve as salient examples that can inform the theory presented in this study. Since the occurrence of these protests, the argument that social media facilitated such events has been advanced and this research will serve as a relevant examination of these claims.

    Literature Review

    Many noteworthy scholars have contributed to the discussion of the relationship between communication and peace or conflict; however, the more recent advent of the revolution in information technology has not been examined as thoroughly. The development of information technology includes the rapid development and expansion of communications technologies such as cell telephones, the Internet, and social media. I will provide a discussion of literature that provides a foundation of how protest movements begin and operate while also discussing how communication plays an important role. The direct connection between electronic communication and protest has not been adequately examined in a quantitative fashion, so I will discuss the scholarly work that speaks to this relationship.

    Mason (1994) considers the urban unrest in China that manifested in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989. Mason presents the rational choice-based argument that mobilization occurs when the negative consequences of protest can be outweighed by potential benefits or incentives. The main barrier to protest movements is often the collective action problem presented by the costs of participating. Olson posits that “unless there is coercion or some other special device to make individuals act in their common interest, rational, self-interested individuals will not act to achieve their common or group interests” (1971, 2). By this logic, there must be incentives or other methods that make collective action feasible and appealing to individuals. One of the determining factors for overcoming this barrier includes a large and concentrated body of individuals that will decrease the likelihood of individuals being punished by violence or arrest. Mason argues that “geographic concentration facilitates communication among potential participants and between them and their leaders” (1994, 408). Potential protestors must make a rational choice between participating in demonstrations or staying at home. However, access to electronic communication helps to overcome the obstacle of relying on a certain concentration of people to mobilize. No longer are house calls, fliers, or door-to-door efforts necessary. A mass text, Facebook event, or Twitter post can bring people together near instantaneously with minimal effort. By increasing the number of participants, the individuals that engage in protest have less reason to expect negative consequences. As such, access to electronic communication helps to lower the cost of participating such as being subjected to arrest or violence. In addition, these elements that lead to more spontaneous and powerful protests can provide more incentives and rewards to the protesters. Under the same rational choice theory, it could be inferred that electronic communication can augment or substitute for geographic concentration by facilitating communication across an entire state or region. In other words, access to electronic communication may help to overcome the barriers that Mason and Olson have identified.

    Wang (2011) argues that advancements in information technology and “their impact on social aspects, especially stability and security, is a more urgent and pressing matter” than its impact on economic development (2). Wang and others also advance the idea that social media has helped to facilitate protests that spawned political revolutions in the Middle East. The author has identified the formation of cybermovement organizations (CMOs) that allow individuals to come together and initiate protest. Traditional organizations or factions can also be bolstered via the use of electronic communication and virtual tools to further their goals. However, threats caused by “the speed and scale of social and information revolutions” could represent a serious drawback to the stability and the health of civilized protest (Wang 2011, 4). The implications would be that electronically facilitated protest actually fails to address the issues that citizens are concerned about while creating contentious conditions for the state and the international community. Zhang et al. (2010) furthers these points and comments on the dearth of research regarding social networking’s effect on modes of social capital such as participation. Zhang also seeks to empirically measure the effects of social networking sites on mobilization and political behavior. The authors assert that the Internet can assist in community and network building activities that promote civic participation. By using a telephone survey, they find a positive correlation between the use of social networking sites and civic engagement, arguing that these websites “have the potential for stimulating community involvement” (Zhang, et al. 2010, 87). A connection between social media and political participation was not found, but the authors point out that the distinction between civic and political participation may not be a necessary endeavor as they are similar phenomena.

    In order to understand the potential for electronic communication to facilitate mobilization, it is fruitful to examine the nature of social protest movements. In his 2004 study, Tilly analyzes social movements across more than two centuries of human history. In context of advancements in communications technology, the author asserts that “organizers of international social movements have widely incorporated digital communications technologies into their performances” (Tilly 2004, 106). The author implies that these technologies have an impact similar to past advancements such as the telephone and television, but does not claim that they are more influential (Tilly 2004). One aspect of electronic communication that may limit its influence is the gap between developed and developing countries in terms of Internet access. The digital divide between nations remains a clear barrier for the developing countries that do not have a substantial digital communications infrastructure. Therefore, the developed and wealthier nations tend to benefit more from these technologies and dominate the virtual arena. Ultimately, the author notes that electronic communication does connect activists, at least selectively (Tilly 2004). Tilly acknowledges the importance of communications technology in his study of social movements, but his analysis also presents some limitations to electronic communication.

    Tarrow (2011) also contributes to the discussion of social movements. He attributes the expansion of transnational social movements to the forces of globalization and internationalization. While the author recognizes the potential that digital communications have for such movements, he also finds that regimes often respond to these protests with repression and the implementation of limits on these new technologies. The author notes that “states have substantial influence on how the media treat protest and control the content of the Internet” (Tarrow 201, 271). There are concerns about such control mechanisms in both authoritarian and democratic regimes. If the flow of information via electronic communication is repressed or controlled, its capability to facilitate protest and participation will be dampened and its potential for benefitting society will be stifled.

    Juris (2005) states that “media activism and digital networking more generally are among the most important features of contemporary anti-corporate globalization movements” (191). Like other scholars, Juris (2005) has created a classification for groups assisted by electronic communication that he calls CSSNs, or computer-supported social movements. His findings support the claims that use of the Internet and modern communication technologies has the potential to significantly transform and enhance the capabilities of protest groups. The author argues that digital networks establish a foundation which social and protest movements can use to communicate and exchange information (Juris 2005). In theory, these advancements would enhance the mobilization process and allow individuals to petition their governments more easily. However, the long term implications for states and individuals remain to be seen. Protest movements can present challenges for stability of the state by pressing for reform or regime change.

    Smith (2009) also observes that the development of electronic communication is fundamentally altering individuals’ relationships with information and each other. Websites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter can serve as “social platforms” that have a worldwide impact (Smith 2009). The new channels of information distribution that exist on the Internet can even impact the traditional media and drive the consumption of news. In this sense, electronic communication is also beginning to have an agenda-setting impact by both directly and indirectly shaping public perceptions. Smith defines the social media as “user-driven technologies such as blogs, social networks, and video sharing platforms” that “have enabled a revolution in user-generated content” (2009, 559). It is clear that these technologies are having an impact on the ability of groups and individuals to communicate and establish information flows.

    Salzman (2011) discusses the manner in which electronic communications plays into political behavior and attitudes in Latin America. Even if most of the growth in Internet usage occurs in developed countries, these patterns will eventually reveal themselves in the developing countries as well. In early research regarding the internet, scholars feared that the internet could have negative effects on democracy by allowing elites to dominate or by promoting entertainment over information. Such reservations eventually faded away as electronic communication became associated with the ideals of a free press and international news. Corrales (2002) contributes to this discussion by illustrating the link between political efficacy and internet use in Brazil. Digital networking also helped contribute to the uprising in Mexican state of Chiapas, and played a significant role in Chilean elections by linking politicians with the public (Albarran and Hutton 2010, Corrales 2002, Salzman 2011). Over time, such research on the impact of the Internet on politics in Latin America has brushed away many concerns expressed in the 1990s. The work of these scholars is important because it illustrates how electronic communication plays a role in the political process. I will attempt to contribute to the research by exploring the relationship between electronic communication and protest.

    Van de Donk (2004) discusses the use of new communications technologies by activists and protestors. He posits that “the internet offers revolutionary potential for social movements to speak directly to the citizens of the world” (van de Donk 2004, i). To this point, activists can easily engage individuals both domestically and abroad via the utilization of electronic communication. Scholars such as Aelst and Walgrave (2004) present the argument that political participation has been facilitated through electronic communication and allows for the creation of individual and citizen-based groups (van de Donk 2004). These authors point to the example of the anti-globalization movement, which serves as an illustration of the transnational protest movements discussed by Tarrow. The internet became a factor in these protests as early as 1999 when “the social groups, armed with internet technology, successfully exploited these political opportunities” to stop the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, or MAI (van de Donk, 2004, 100). The anti-globalization movement thus serves as an early example of electronic communication facilitating transnational social movements and protests. These studies laid the baseline for exploring electronic communication and its potential to facilitate mobilization. Next, I will present my theoretical argument on the relationship between electronic communication and protest.

    Theory

    My theoretical argument is as follows. Electronic communication has the potential to facilitate the organization and mobilization of protest by lowering the costs of participation and providing incentives such as reform or regime change to potential protesters.

    Communication between individuals is necessary to bring potential protesters together, both in terms of goals as well as physical organization. Electronic communication, specifically the use of social media, can facilitate protest by lowering the costs of participation. First, like-minded people band together by finding common ground on issues. Goals such as reform or regime change may be established. In addition, potential protesters must decide when and where action will take place. Social media can facilitate both of these processes with increased ease and efficiency compared to communications technology that existed in the past. Olson (1965) explains, “An increase in the size of the group…may lead to lower costs for those already in the group,” (37). Increasing the number of participants, therefore, lowers the costs of participation, which helps to overcome the collective action barrier that often prevents individuals from pursuing democratic reform. As such, electronic communication can facilitate mobilization efforts aimed at social change and will be particularly prevalent in democratic states. Democratic states will be more likely to experience this phenomenon due to increased access to the internet and greater protections on political expression. Social media also plays a key role in the dissemination of information and news. Protests are fueled by information regarding the changing dynamic between the state and opposition movements. During the 2011 demonstrations in Egypt, protesters continually staged protest after every announcement President Hosni Mubarak made until he finally stepped down.

    Social media’s power to mobilize groups of individuals is clear in everyday life, but the mobilization of protest will only be observed under particular circumstances. While this study argues that social media has a causal relationship with protest, it is important to note that the use of social media does not cause protest in and of itself. Other facilitating conditions must also be met, as a range of factors play important roles. In order for protest to occur, citizens must be motivated to petition the government for redress of grievances. The actions of protesters are often motivated by political issues or grievances. For example, citizens may desire to change the political system to allow for greater inclusion or the expansion of human rights. Economic issues also have the potential to drive protest since pocketbook issues such as inflation and unemployment are highly salient. Ultimately, social media will not cause protest if individuals do not have something to gain. For example, Egyptian citizens in 2011 had concerns about corruption, free and fair elections, food price inflation, low wages, and high unemployment. However, grievance over these factors accumulated over time. It is important to consider the question of what catalyzed the protest movement if economic and political conditions had been deteriorating over time.

    One of the central arguments of this study is that the presence of the Internet and social media created a virtual forum for citizens to start voicing such concerns with less fear of consequences than in traditional forms of mobilization. In that way, electronic communication can facilitate mobilization and serve as a catalyst for action. Individuals also believe that they have a lower cost of participating as more and more people become involved, lowering the risk of being arrested by the police or punished by the state. This logic suggests the following hypothesis: higher levels of social media use lead to a greater likelihood of protest. In addition, certain forms of government will be more or less accommodating to the provision of unobstructed internet access and allowing political expression. I expect that autocratic regimes are generally more likely to implement censors or internet firewalls in order to protect the government from criticism. More democratic regimes should have higher access to the internet due to a higher level of wealth and the principle of freedom of speech. This logic leads to a second hypothesis: higher levels of democracy lead to a greater likelihood of protest.

    One of the core assumptions of this argument is that individuals are rational, self-interested actors. Rational and self-interested individuals will make logical decisions based on a cost-benefit analysis. However, individuals will not always take coordinated action in groups even if they stand to benefit. Olson and other scholars have reasoned that rewards or incentives are necessary in order to encourage group participation. Organizations will commonly encounter the free-rider problem in which individuals do not need to contribute to the group in order to collect the benefits. Thus, a collective action barrier is established in which it is difficult to persuade individuals to act in common interest with others. I argue that social media helps to overcome this barrier by bringing the cost of participating in protest to a lower point than has been possible using traditional means of mobilization. Social media can also bring about powerful and spontaneous protest that can provide legitimate incentives for participating, such as policy reform or regime change. These results are precisely the incentives that are necessary in order to overcome the free-rider and collective action barriers. There are also several other assumptions embedded into the theory. Sufficient access to the internet is vital to the potential for social media to overcome collective action problems and facilitate protest. The digital communications infrastructure that a state has in place and the ability of individuals to purchase unhindered access to these technologies are key components in this process. One last assumption would be that citizens actually use these tools to obtain political information and plan their political behavior accordingly. The ability of citizens to access digital networks and the extent to which a state controls the Internet and its information flows are salient characteristics of states that enable citizens to engage in protest using these technologies.

    Research Design

    Temporal and Spatial Domain

    In order to test my hypothesis that greater social media use leads to the greater likelihood of protest, I will focus on the area of the world that experienced a large number of recent protests. Countries including Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and other states in the Middle East and North Africa have experienced a strong wave of protests that started in 2010. There are 24 states included in the model spanning the years 2006-2010, bringing the total sample size to 120 observations. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to using a sample size of only 120 observations. The ability to make generalized inferences based upon these findings is limited when contrasted with a larger dataset. In addition, I am limited in the number of control variables that I can include due to degrees of freedom constraints. However, there are clear justifications for selecting such a set of observations. The geographic focus of the research design will be on the Middle East and North Africa. The study of the likelihood of protest is much more relevant when considering less stable countries that are potentially ripe for regime change. In other words, studying the effect of social media and protest on industrialized, western democracies such as the United States and Canada would not produce any meaningful conclusions about civil conflict or regime change. The sample of states in this dataset was based upon those included in the Arab Social Media Report (ASMR) created by the Dubai School of Government. The ASMR details social media and Internet usage for 25 Arab countries. The State of Palestine had to be dropped due to a lack of data, so the number of states in the sample dropped to 24. The states included in the sample are Middle Eastern or North African countries that were potential targets for protest during the Arab Spring. The start date of 2006 has been chosen because social media did not become prevalent until this time. For example, the social networking and microblogging service, Twitter, launched in July of 2006 while the social networking site, Facebook, launched in February 2004. Including less temporally proximate data would make it difficult to study the effect of social media, which has blossomed only in the past few years. In addition, it took many years for these sites to become popular and see international usage. Also, the time series could not be extended to 2011 due to a lack of data regarding internet usage in that year.

    The original intent was for this study to include a second model. This was supposed to be a cross-sectional analysis of the relationship between social media and protest in 2011 in order to examine the most recent wave of protest that some claim has been accelerated by social media use. In this cross-sectional model, social media use would be the primary independent variable and protest, the dependent variable. Social media use can be quantified by the number of Twitter posts in a sample of countries. In order to measure this variable, I intended use the third issue of the Arab Social Media Report which detailed the number of Twitter posts for the year 2011. The time series model ultimately lost explanatory power due to the lack of in number of observations and variance in the data. This model can be part of a future iteration of this projection once this data becomes available.

    Dependent Variable

    The dependent variable of this study will be the occurrence of protest. Protest can be defined as actions expressing discontent or disapproval of policy, conditions, or regimes. Protest can be manifest through marches, demonstrations, strikes, and many other forms. For protest data, I will use the Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive produced by the State University of New York (Binghamton). This dataset is commonly referred to as the Banks data set, as it was maintained by Arthur S. Banks from 1968 through 2011. For the years 2006 through 2009, I created a dichotomous dummy variable by recoding the continuous anti-government demonstration variable in the Cross-National Time Series. For the year 2010, I will use judgmental coding to establish whether or not protest have occurred in that state. I used The New York Times to determine if a protest of over 100 individuals occurred for each state in each year. The New York Times will be used in order to match methodologies and maintain compatibility with the earlier Banks data. For the specific definition of what is considered a protest, I also follow the Banks method, which specifically defines protest as an anti-government demonstration of over 100 people. In order to determine if a state would be coded a 0 or a 1, I conduct a keyword search with the format “(state in question) protest” and use the advanced search function to return results for only the year in question. If The New York Timesmentions a protest but did not specify the number of people involved, I use Associated Press reports to substantiate the number of people involved with a given anti-government demonstration.

    Independent Variables

    In the logistic regression model, the primary independent variable will be a proxy variable that represents social media usage. Social media can be defined as Internet platforms and websites which play host to the virtual interaction of users. The proxy variable for social media usage will be the number of internet users per 100 people as determined by the World Bank (World Bank Data Indicators 2011). The measure will represent social media since internet access is a requirement to utilize such services. The more people that have access to the Internet, the greater the number of potential and actual social media users will be. Moreover, social media services are extremely popular among individuals all across the world. Due to the ubiquity of social media, it can be assumed that internet users are also potential social media users. I expect that an increase in the number of internet users per 100 people will have a positive relationship with the likelihood of protest due to the use of social media.

    Control Variables

    There are other variables that must be controlled for in order to establish the relationship between electronic communication and protest. These include economic development, population density, level of education, infant mortality rate, prior conflict, and level of democracy. Economic development will be measured by assessing GDP per capita in each state. Wealth will have an impact on the occurrence of protest since pocketbook issues, such as unemployment and poverty, are highly salient in the political arena. I expect that states with higher GDP per capita will be less likely to protest, so I anticipate observing a negative relationship. Population density will capture the capability of people to quickly mobilize due to geographic proximity, and been an indicator of protest in the past. Population density will be measured by the percent of people who live in the largest city of a state. I expect that the level of urban population will be positively associated with the occurrence of protest. Level of education will be measured by examining the literacy rate of adults aged 15 years or older in each state. Individuals, whom are literate, and therefore educated, will have an easier time communicating and organizing protests. As such, the expectation is that level of education will exhibit a positive relationship with the onset of protest. However, due to a large degree of missing observations about literacy rate variable, this control was not included in the final model. Infant mortality rate will be used as a measure of inequality. Higher infant mortality rates indicate the presence of individuals with less access or proximity to medical care and resources. Inequality within an economy can often create tensions between the lower and upper classes. The expectation here is that inequality will have a positive relationship with protest. The above control measures will be gathered from World Bank data (World Bank Data Indicators 2011). I also control for the presence of prior conflict in the 5 years preceding the observation for a given state. I use the Prio Armed Conflict dataset to code either 0 or 1 for the presence of prior conflict. I anticipate the presence of prior conflict to have a positive relationship with the occurrence of protest. Finally, level of democracy will be an important control that explains the level of political freedom in each state. It will be represented by the Polity2 measure in the PolityIV database. Polity2 values range from -10 to 10, with -10 being most autocratic and 10 being most democratic. Democracies are more likely to have higher access to the internet due to great amounts of wealth and resources and will be more likely to protest due to the presence of fewer penalties. It is reasonable to assume that higher levels of GDP per capita would be associated with higher levels of internet use. In addition, democracies are much less likely to censor the internet or create firewalls that block particular websites. It could also be that individuals feel free to stage anti-government demonstrations in states with higher levels of political freedom. After all, the costs of participating are much lower in states where police brutality is a rarity rather than a common occurrence. Therefore, I expect that protest should be more likely to occur in states with higher levels of democracy.

    Methodology

    The statistical tool that I use will be the logistic regression model. Logit is an ideal candidate for the dataset in this study as the dependent variable is binary and not continuous. Also, the relationship between electronic communication and protest will most likely be curvilinear, not a perfect linear relationship. Using another model such as OLS would be inappropriate because it would be impossible to draw statistical inferences. OLS is intended for the analysis of datasets with a continuous dependent variable, thus it is inappropriate to use OLS with the dichotomous dependent variable of protest-no protest. I am measuring occurrence of protest with a binary dummy variable, so the logit model is the appropriate choice.

    Analysis

    Results

    The study employs a logistic regression model to test the two hypotheses: “higher levels of social media use lead to a greater likelihood of protest” and “higher levels of democracy lead to a greater likelihood of protest”. The results are summarized on Table 1, which uses no controls, and Table 2, which includes all the control variables. In Table 1, the independent variable does not have a significant relationship with the dependent variable. In Table 2, the primary independent variable of internet use has a positive and significant relationship with the occurrence of protest. In addition, level of democracy as measured by the Polity2 score is also positively and significantly associated with protest. Therefore, the primary control variable is also important in determining the level of protest. The independent variable of internet users per 100 is significant at a P value of 0.045 while the control variable of level of democracy is even more significant with a P value of 0.010. It is apparent that that level of democracy is a strong indicator for the likelihood of protest. The results do provide evidence to support both hypothesis one and two. The study also employs predicted probabilities in order to estimate the effect of the independent variable. All of the control variables were held at their means while the independent variable was set to the values of the minimum, mean minus one standard deviation, mean, mean plus one standard deviation, and maximum. Figure 1 shows that an increase of the number of internet users per 100 is associated with an increase of the predicted probability of protest. The findings support the notion that electronic communication has the potential to facilitate mobilization of protest aimed at social change. Overall, it does appear that electronic communication is performing as expected and outlined in the theoretical argument. The internet is capable of bringing like-minded individuals together, increasing the number of potential protesters, and lowering the collective action barrier faced by social protest movements. As such, the evidence from the findings supports both hypotheses in this study.

    GDP per capita is negatively and significantly associated with protest. The negative relationship is intuitive considering many grievances are based on pocketbook issues. Therefore, as GDP per capita decreases, the likelihood of protest increases as individuals have higher levels of economic concerns. While the inclusion of the other control variables was necessary, none of them are found to have statistical significance. Prior conflict, infant mortality rate, urban population all failed to meet statistical significance due to large P values of 0.631, 0.174, and 0.421 respectively. Despite not being statistically significant in the model, the sign of the coefficients are consistent with my expectations from the research design. The presence of prior conflict has a positive coefficient, reflecting the notion that the existence of prior conflict would be positively associated with the occurrence of protest. Urban population behaves similarly, displaying a positive sign and reflecting the notion that higher levels of urban population could lead to the occurrence of protest. Infant mortality rate has a negative coefficient, which indicates that lower levels of infant mortality, and therefore inequality, would lead to a lower likelihood of protest. Overall, the control variables had expected coefficients but failed to meet statistical significance.

    Discussion

    The model does provide evidence to support the hypotheses and the theoretical argument outlined in this study. By using internet users per 100 people as a proxy variable for social media usage, a positive and significant relationship with the onset of protest was found. The level of democracy was also found to have a positive and significant association with likelihood of protest. As such, both of the hypotheses are supported by the evidence in the findings. The results are consistent with my theoretical argument that communication is fundamental to the organization and mobilization of protest. Electronic communication is fundamentally easier than traditional forms of communication. Prior advancements such as the telegraph, telephone, and fax machine all have had a large impact on the manner in which humans communicate. In turn, this affects how individuals interact with each other and their government. In the modern era, the ease and efficiency of electronic communication will bring many like-minded people together and make the organization of protest more feasible than in the past. States will have a more difficult time monitoring the anonymous communications behind anti-government demonstrations and organization will be more easily accomplished. These results certainly have implications for critical regions of the world. Protest movements may ultimately result in policy change or threaten the regimes in power. While the year 2011 was not included in the dataset, the findings seem to grant credibility to the assertions that social media can play a role in facilitating social movements like the Arab Spring and the associated wave of protests. As social media use flourishes in the decades to come, many groups will likely capitalize on the capabilities and opportunities associated with electronic communication. In some cases, states may also decide to respond to the potential of social media to facilitate protest. Therefore, a new struggle between citizens and states over the freedom and ability to access these services may emerge.

    Conclusion

    The goal of this study was to explore the effect of modern communications technologies on the political process by emphasizing its impact on the likelihood of protests. The importance of communication and human interaction was a crucial aspect of the theory and was subjected to empirical analysis. While many data limitations existed as obstacles to studying this relationship, this study did uncover support for the notion that electronic communication can serve as a mobilizing factor in the development of protest. The main limitations to drawing inferences from this study were the limited number of observations as well as the lack of specific social media data; however, this study did contribute to the literature by empirically testing the link between electronic communication and protest. By establishing the potential for electronic communication to facilitate the mobilization process, more specific questions can begin to be asked. Future studies could explore the impact of electronic communication on the expansion or durability of protest rather than just the onset. A continuous dependent variable for protest would aid greatly in this endeavor.

    Going forward, greater attention should be given to the internet as major force in the mobilization of protest. Considering the example of the Arab Spring, the potential for change is particularly strong in non-democracies. The literature has clearly established that communication is a major force for the development of protest, but little empirical research has been done. The primary reason is that the data does not yet exist that tells the full story of social media usage; however, several new methods for sampling Twitter and Facebook have been developed recently. For example, the Arab Social Media Report is beginning to capture Twitter and Facebook data for the 25 states included in this study. Future research should be focused on the production of new data that can specifically address particular avenues of electronic communication such as social media.

    References

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    Table 1: Logistic Regression without Controls

    Protest

    Coefficient

    Standard Error

    P > |z|

    Internet Users per 100

    -.0080

    .0108

    0.458

    Constant

    -.8788

    .3095

    0.005

    N=120                                     Significance: *=.05 **=.01 ***=.001

    Table 2: Logistic Regression with Controls

    Protest

    Coefficient

    Standard Error

    P > |z|

    Internet Users per 100

    .0578

    .0289

    0.045*

    GDP per Capita

    −.0002

    .0001

    0.015*

    Level of Democracy

    .1378

    .0535

    0.010**

    Prior Conflict

    .2999

    .6249

    0.631

    Infant Mortality Rate

    −.0261

    .0191

    0.174

    Urban Population

    .0167

    .0208

    0.421

    Constant

    −1.034

    1.1507

    0.369

    N=120                                     Significance: *=.05 **=.01 ***=.001

    Figure 1: Predicted Probabilities of the Onset of Protest

    Figure 1.  Predicted Probabilities of the Onset of Protest