Media, Protest Diffusion, and Authoritarian Resilience

Author: Huang, Haifeng; Boranbay-Akan, Serra; Huang, Ling

Description: Do authoritarian governments always censor news about protests to prevent unrest from spreading? Existing research on authoritarian politics stresses the danger that information spread within the society poses for a regime. In particular, media and Internet reports of social unrest are deemed to threaten authoritarian rule, as such reports may incite more protests and thus spread instability. We show that such reasoning is incomplete if social protests are targeted at local officials. Allowing media the freedom to report local protests may indeed lead to protest diffusion, but the increased probability of citizen protest also has two potential benefits for the regime: (1) identifying and addressing more social grievances, thus releasing potential revolutionary pressure on the regime; (2) forcing local officials to reduce misbehavior, thus reducing underlying social grievances. For authoritarian governments whose survival is vulnerable to citizen grievances, allowing the media to report social protests aimed at local governments can therefore enhance regime stability and protect its interests under many circumstances. We construct a game-theoretic model to analyze the problem and illustrate the argument with examples from China.

Subject headings: Authoritarianism; Censorship; Media; Internet; Protests; Social unrest; Local government; Regime

Publication year: 2019

Journal or book title: Political Science Research and Methods

Volume: 7

Issue: 1

Pages: 23-42

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Serial number: 3946