Economics
Research insight
January 4, 2021

Facebook Causes Protests

Internet and social media have been considered crucial determinants of recent political turmoil and protests. To estimate the causal impact of Facebook on collective action for a large set of countries, we use Facebook’s release in a given language as an exogenous source of variation in access to social media where those languages are spoken.

Using country, subnational, and individual-level data we show that Facebook had a significant and sizable positive impact on citizen protests. Complementary findings show that these results are not driven by reverse causality or correlated changes in protest reporting. Also, the response to Facebook access is particularly important in countries with pre-existing underlying conditions that facilitate using the technology (more internet access), grievances (economic downturns), few other opportunities to coordinate action against authorities (no freedom of assembly and repression of the opposition), and factors making the country more conflict-prone (natural resource abundance and denser urban populations). It is also more present in countries with either very strong or very weak accountability. Finally, we find that the effect is present for individuals with very different characteristics and we detect no evidence of displacement in other forms of political participation or news consumption.

This content was originally published in Novafrica.org

NOVAFRICA Knowledge Center

NOVAFRICA is a knowledge center created by the Nova School of Business and Economics of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in 2011. Its mission is to produce expertise with an impact on business and economic development in Africa. A particular focus is on Portuguese-speaking Africa, i.e., Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Sao Tome and Principe.

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