Patrick Meier: PhD on Liberation Technology Impact

Advanced Cyber/IO, Autonomous Internet
Patrick Meier

Do “Liberation Technologies” Change the Balance of Power Between Repressive Regimes and Civil Society?

My dissertation is now available for download. Many thanks to my dissertation committee for their support and feedback throughout: Professor Dan Drezner, Professor Larry Diamond, Professor Carolyn Gideon and Clay Shirky. This dissertation is dedicated to Khaled Mohamed Saeed and Mohamed Bouazizi.


Do new information and communication technologies (ICTs) empower repressive regimes at the expense of civil society, or vice versa? For example, does access to the Internet and mobile phones alter the balance of power between repressive regimes and civil society? These questions are especially pertinent today given the role that ICTs played during this year’s uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond. Indeed, as one Egyptian activist stated, “We use Facebook to schedule our protests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world.” But do these new ICTs—so called “liberation technologies”—really threaten repressive rule? The purpose of this dissertation is to use mixed-methods research to answer these questions.

The first half of my doctoral study comprised a large-N econometric analysis to test whether “liberation technologies” are a statistically significant predictor of anti-government protests in countries with repressive regimes. If using the Internet and mobile phones facilitates organization, mobilization and coordina-tion, then one should expect a discernible link between an increase in access to ICTs and the frequency of protests—particularly in repressive states. The results of the quantitative analysis were combined with other selection criteria to identify two country case studies for further qualitative comparative analysis: Egypt and the Sudan.

The second half of the dissertation assesses the impact of “liberation technologies” during the Egyptian Parliamentary Elections and Sudanese Presidential Elections of 2010. The analysis focused specifically on the use of Ushahidi—a platform often referred to as a “liberation technology.” Descriptive analysis, process tracing and semi-structured interviews were carried out for each case study. The results of the quantitative and qualitative analyses were mixed. An increase in mobile phone access was associated with a decrease in protests for four of the five regression models. Only in one model was an increase in Internet access associated with an increase in anti-government protests. As for Ushahidi, the Egyptian and Sudanese dictatorships were indeed threatened by the technology because it challenged the status quo. Evidence suggests that this challenge tipped the balance of power marginally in favor of civil society in Egypt, but not in the Sudan, and overall not significantly.

The main contributions and highlights of my dissertation include:

New dataset on protests, ICTs, political and economic variables over 18 years.
New econometric analysis and contribution to quantitative political science.
New conceptual framework to assess impact of ICTs on social, political change.
* New operational application of conceptual framework to assess impact of ICTs.
New datasets on independent citizen election observation in repressive states.
* New insights into role of ICTs in civil resistance against authoritarian regimes.
New comprehensive literature on impact of ICTs on protests, activism, politics.
New targeted policy recommendations based on data driven empirical analysis.
New lessons learned and best practices in using the Ushahidi platform.

A PDF copy of my dissertation is available here.