The Dictator's Digital Toolkit: Explaining Variation in Internet Filtering in Authoritarian Regimes


Journal Article

© 2016 Policy Studies Organization Following its global diffusion during the last decade, the Internet was expected to become a liberation technology and a threat for autocratic regimes by facilitating collective action. Recently, however, autocratic regimes took control of the Internet and filter online content. Building on the literature concerning the political economy of repression, this article argues that regime characteristics, economic conditions, and conflict in bordering states account for variation in Internet filtering levels among autocratic regimes. Using OLS-regression, the article analyzes the determinants of Internet filtering as measured by the Open Net Initiative in 34 autocratic regimes. The results show that monarchies, regimes with higher levels of social unrest, regime changes in neighboring countries, and less oppositional competition in the political arena are more likely to filter the Internet. The article calls for a systematic data collection to analyze the causal mechanisms and the temporal dynamics of Internet filtering. Related Articles: Glen, Carol M. 2014. “Internet Governance: Territorializing Cyberspace?” Politics & Policy 42 (5): 635-657. Reynolds, Peter W. 2003. “Media and Communications Systems in the Balkans Conflicts.” Politics & Policy 31 (3): 512-529. Fisher, Bonnie, Michael Margolis, and David Resnick. 1996. “Surveying the Internet: Democratic Theory and Civic Life in Cyberspace.” Southeastern Political Review 24 (3): 399-429. Related Media: Talks at Google. 2009. “Dr. Ronald Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab at Toronto University and the Open Net Initiative Presents a Recently Completed Global Survey of more than 45 countries that Censor Online.” = BWMn7RzdIX0. Websites: Website of the Open Net Initiative including the data used in this paper, country reports and online access to further material.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Hellmeier, S

Published Date

  • December 1, 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 44 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 1158 - 1191

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1747-1346

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1555-5623

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/polp.12189

Citation Source

  • Scopus