Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Can you hear me now? Good?? The Effect of Mobile Phones on Collective Violent Action in the Libyan Revolution

Absher, Samuel and Grier, Kevin (2019): Can you hear me now? Good?? The Effect of Mobile Phones on Collective Violent Action in the Libyan Revolution.

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Abstract

We explore the effect of mobile phone and internet access on levels of collective violent action within the Libyan Revolution. Eastern Libya experienced a state-implemented blackout shortly after widespread riots and protests began. However, with luck, ingenuity, and foreign aid, Libyan rebels forged an independent mobile phone network. We exploit the exogeneity of the timing of the network’s reactivation and use a variation of difference-in-differences (DID) to measure the effect on the frequency of collective violent action. While the dominant view in the literature is that cell access increases violence by lowering the costs of organizing, we find that the reactivation of the mobile phone network reduced violent collective action by 21%. We find this negative effect for all conflicts and for conflicts that can be identified as initiated by non-state actors. We also study mobile phone’s effect on collective deadly action and fatalities using a different source for conflicts, finding similar negative effects. We propose mechanisms that may explain the aggregate negative effect: (1) substitution of physical protests to digital protests, (3) the reduction of dissatisfaction toward the state, and (3) the use of mobile phones to avoid conflict with state actors.

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