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Online Social Media and Political Awareness in Authoritarian Regimes

Abstract

Do online social media undermine authoritarianism? The conditions under which online social networks can increase public awareness of electoral fraud in non-democracies are examined in this article and it is argued that a given online social network will only increase political awareness if it is first politicized by elites. Survey data from the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections show that usage of Twitter and Facebook, which were politicized by opposition elites, significantly increased respondents’ perceptions of electoral fraud, while usage of Russia's domestic social networking platforms, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, which were not politicized by opposition activists, had no effect on perceptions of fraud. This study elucidates the causes of post-election protest by uncovering a mechanism through which knowledge of electoral fraud spreads.

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Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Department of Political Science, Columbia University (email: ojreuter@gmail.com). This article is an output of a research project implemented as part of the Basic Research Program at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE). Additional research support was provided by the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research and the Social Science Research Council Eurasia Program. Replication files and supplementary appendices for this article can be found on the author's website: https://sites.google.com/site/ojreuter/

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