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Corrupting the Cyber-Commons: Social Media as a Tool of Autocratic Stability

Abstract

Non-democratic regimes have increasingly moved beyond merely suppressing online discourse, and are shifting toward proactively subverting and co-opting social media for their own purposes. Namely, social media is increasingly being used to undermine the opposition, to shape the contours of public discussion, and to cheaply gather information about falsified public preferences. Social media is thus becoming not merely an obstacle to autocratic rule but another potential tool of regime durability. I lay out four mechanisms that link social media co-optation to autocratic resilience: 1) counter-mobilization, 2) discourse framing, 3) preference divulgence, and 4) elite coordination. I then detail the recent use of these tactics in mixed and autocratic regimes, with a particular focus on Russia, China, and the Middle East. This rapid evolution of government social media strategies has critical consequences for the future of electoral democracy and state-society relations.

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Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
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