The connection between internet accessibility and state violence

In new paper, Anita Gohdes argues that governments strategically manipulate internet control as part of their repressive strategy. 

Social media platforms have the ability to connect large groups of people regardless of their location and even to ignite civilian uprisings, as was the case across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. But Anita Gohdes, Professor of International and Cyber Security at the Hertie School, argues that in addition to the euphoric accounts of the digital revolution, governments worldwide have developed their own tools for surveillance, manipulation and censorship of the digital flow of information and use it as a form of coercion.

“Where governments provide internet access, surveillance of digital information exchange can provide intelligence that enables the use of more targeted forms of repression, in particular in areas not fully controlled by the regime,” she says in an article published by the American Journal of Political Science. “Increasing restrictions on internet accessibility can impede opposition organization, but they limit access to information on precise targets, resulting in an increase in untargeted repression.”

In her case study analysis on the Syrian conflict, Gohdes found that digital media and communication played a crucial role for both the regime and the anti-government groups.

“The Syrian government has a demonstrated history of using telecommunications to spy on its own population, and with the introduction of social media in Syria, expanded its control of networks to this new form of communication,” she says. “Likewise, it has, at different points in time, limited regional accessibility to the Internet across the entire country.”

Her research shows that a higher level of internet access provided by the government is directly linked to a more targeted strategy of regime violence, Gohdes writes. Conversely, when internet access is restricted or blocked, the Syrian Government uses a more indiscriminate campaign of violence.

Gohdes argues that her findings on the link between Internet accessibility and state violence could have an impact on the dynamics of violent conflict.

“The evidence presented here suggests that Internet controls could provide tech‐savvy governments with a new tactical advantage in civil conflicts, whereby they may now be able to access information on zones of conflict that were previously hard to access with more conventional intelligence tools,” she says.

Read the full paper here (currently ungated access).

More about Anita Gohdes

  • Anita Gohdes , Professor of International and Cyber Security