Dial ICT for Conflict? Four Lessons on Conflict and Contention in the Info Age

The past decade has witnessed an explosion of interest among political scientists in the outbreak and dynamics of civil wars. Much of this research has been facilitated by the rise of electronic media, including newspapers but extending to social media (Twitter, Facebook) that permit the collection of fine-grained data on patterns of civil war violence. At the same time, a parallel research program has emerged that centers on the effects of new information and communication technologies (ICTs).

2011 Egyptian protests. Photo: Essam Sharaf – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Yet these two research efforts rarely intersect. It is, however, likely that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are intensifying, if not driving, political conflict in locations as diverse as Egypt, Hong Kong and Syria. What role, for example, does ICT play in shaping conflict and violence within and across countries? Does the introduction of new technologies empower activists and rebels, or only further reinforce the grip of autocratic leaders over their societies? At the end of the day, do cellphones and other platforms cause violence?

Seventeen scholars were invited to explore these and related questions for a newly published special issue of the Journal of Peace Research, guest-edited by Nils B. Weidmann. These 11 articles embrace a variety of different theoretical and methodological approaches and test their claims with multiple types of evidence ranging from cross-national comparisons in Africa to Internet disruptions in Syria and Twitter networks during the 2012-13 Iranian-Israeli confrontation.

Drawing on the special issue’s introduction and conclusion, we highlight four prominent themes that emerged from these studies.

Read more at the Monkey Cage, where the full text was published 23 February.

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