Author Archives: Mobilizing Ideas

The Digital Repression of Social Movements, Protest, and Activism

There is a growing interest in the growth and impact of digital repression on protest and civic engagement globally. Yet this interest has been diffused across Communication, Political Science, Media Studies, Science and Technology Studies, and Sociology creating challenges for generative conversations and building a community of scholars studying the topic. Earl, Maher, and Pan’s recent article “The Digital Repression of Social Movements, Protest, and Activism: a synthetic review” attempts to synthesize these literatures by using a framework that distinguishes between who is responsible, whether it is overt or covert, and whether acts as a carrot (channeling) or a stick (coercion). The essays in this Dialogue are intended to continue this work of building a cross-disciplinary community of scholars interested in questions of digital repression, and to open a conversation about other ways to build this cross-disciplinary community and/or what we still need to build this community. We ask authors to reflect on their own work and their views on community building and/or reflect on what aspects of the framework are helpful, what it misses, and what we still have to learn about how digital repression operates globally.   

We have four outstanding contributors. Many thanks for their contributions on this topic:

We would also like to give special thanks to Thomas V. Maher and Jennifer Earl, who proposed and organized this wonderful dialogue.

Current Editors in Chief,

Rory McVeigh, Chang Liu and Natalie Bourman-Karns

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Strategic Digital Repression and the Consequences for Dissent Activities

BY Emily Hencken Ritter

Earl, Maher, and Pan (2022) present a fascinating synthesis of existing knowledge of digital repression across scholarly disciplines. The typology they apply and extend to frame digital repression highlights who uses digital repression and how it depresses and structures mobilization and dissent actions. In so doing, they center digital repression on existing understandings of how repression attempts to constrain dissent and illuminate what repression studies do not yet know about digital repression and how it functions.

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International Cybersecurity Norms and Dissent

BY Jessica L. Beyer

Earl, Maher, and Pan’s recent article (2022), “The Digital Repression of Social Movements, Protest, and Activism: a synthetic review,” captures digital repression across states and presents invaluable conceptualizations of difficult concepts and clear typologies. The article illuminates many threads that need further development and study. Among them are the role of private industry in digital repression, along with the tie between cybersecurity laws in non-democratic contexts and the struggle over questions of international cybersecurity norms and international internet governance.

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Digital Repression: Transnational Reach, Psychosocial Effects, and Political Consequences

BY Marcus Michaelsen

What is new about digital repression? This is what I have been asked frequently ever since presenting the first findings of my research on digital threats against exiled activists from authoritarian countries. Prompting further reflection on this question, Jennifer Earl, Thomas V. Maher and Jennifer Pan, in their synthetic review, organize the different strands of scholarship on the repressive use of digital tools and connect them to research on more traditional forms of repression.

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Internet Platforms Find Themselves at a Crossroads

BY Steven Feldstein

Global norms are shifting as governments demonstrate an increased willingness to exert control over platforms. This generally represents a troubling development; states are aggressively pressing for content takedowns, pushing platforms to provide access to user data, enacting enhanced surveillance, and filtering content. But there are some auspicious signs as well. In Europe, for example, regulators are nearing passage of the Digital Services Act (DSA) to rein in big internet tech companies and allow for greater user control and privacy. This essay highlights three specific areas of contestation. First, trends of internet fragmentation are expanding quickly – in both authoritarian states and democratic countries – challenging global norms and human rights principles. Second, regulatory action stemming from Europe may offset certain harms, particularly in relation to platforms, but the consequences remain unclear. Third, platforms exist in a complicated landscape. They are facing increased pressure from governments to control how they operate, yet they remain deeply reluctant to reform.

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Routines, Beliefs and Mobilization: Lessons from a Grassroots Movement in Argentina

BY Marcos Emilio Pérez

Over the past few decades, the combination of economic and political liberalization in many areas of the developing world has promoted the emergence of various forms of collective organizing. This dynamic has been particularly pronounced in Latin America, where drastic neoliberal reforms coincided with an unprecedented period of democratic expansion. One of the most visible examples took place in Argentina, where rising unemployment in the 1990s led community leaders to organize laid-off workers in poor neighborhoods across the nation. Despite their diverse origins, these groups rapidly developed similar repertoires that helped them recruit members and gain influence, giving birth to what came to be known as the Unemployed Workers’ Movement, or piqueteros (Spanish for “roadblockers”). Since their emergence, these organizations have functioned as networks of local groups that use demonstrations to demand the distribution of social assistance, usually in the form of foodstuffs and positions in workfare programs. If successful, they allocate part of these resources among participants and use the rest to develop an extensive array of social services in underprivileged areas.

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Video Interview with Naomi Williams

Mobilizing Ideas is introducing an exciting change in the way that we will be providing content. Although we will continue featuring essays written by social movement scholars on various themes, we will be focusing more of our attention on developing and sharing videos featuring a broad range of social movement scholars. This is an ideal way to allow our viewers to get to know scholars in the field and their work. Videos will provide scholars with opportunities to talk about their ongoing work, but also to provide insightful commentary on contemporary issues that are of interest to activists and social movement scholars. 

Check out our second video featuring Naomi R Williams (Rutgers University) interviewed by Jaylexia Clark (Notre Dame). Stay tuned for more exciting videos in the months ahead.

If you are interested in the full version of this interview, please check our youtube account. This is the second video of our interview project, check out the first one from last month.

Current Editors in Chief,

Rory McVeigh, Chang Liu and Natalie Bourman-Karns

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Video Interview with Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

Mobilizing Ideas is introducing an exciting change in the way that we will be providing content. Although we will continue featuring essays written by social movement scholars on various themes, we will be focusing more of our attention on developing and sharing videos featuring a broad range of social movement scholars. This is an ideal way to allow our viewers to get to know scholars in the field and their work. Videos will provide scholars with opportunities to talk about their ongoing work, but also to provide insightful commentary on contemporary issues that are of interest to activists and social movement scholars. 

Check out our first video featuring Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick (University of San Diego) interviewed by Emmanuel Cannady (Notre Dame).  Stay tuned for more exciting videos in the months ahead.

Current Editors in Chief,

Rory McVeigh, Chang Liu and Natalie Bourman-Karns

Interview Timeline:

00:50 – Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick’s research agenda 
05:30 – Advice for younger scholars
09:15 – Unique role at University of San Diego

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Social Movements Without Protests: The Politics of Alignment in Social Movements

BY Apoorva Ghosh

Do social movements have to be carried out through protests or other contentious means? When protests wane, does the social movement activity also die out? If no, can the non-disruptive, and the less “visible” nature of challenging target entities be explained through possibilities other than abeyance structures which are still deficient in explaining how outcomes are achieved during periods of non-protest? In other words, should social movement activity be theorized exclusively through the cycles of protests? While several studies—theoretical as well as empirical—do suggest the possibility of carrying out social movements through non-disruptive means, a more robust understanding of social movements carried out entirely without obstructive means was lacking. In other words, we lacked a theoretical alternative to the grand contentious politics model to understand the carrying out of social movements. This theoretical monopoly has received a challenge with the recent publication of the article “The Politics of Alignment and the ‘Quiet Transgender Revolution’ in Fortune 500 Corporations, 2008 to 2017” in Socio-Economic Review. This paper has been recognized through the 2021 CBSM Mayer N. Zald Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Student Paper Award.

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Violence, Social Media, and Market Authenticity: A Review of Ballad of the Bullet: Gangs, Drill Music, and the Power of Online Infamy by Forrest Stuart

By Ana Velitchkova

One of the books from my pandemic reading list that has stayed* with me is Ballad of the Bullet: Gangs, Drill Music, and the Power of Online Infamy by Forrest Stuart. I binge listened to it while exploring my local trails and remember the unease and awe it provoked despite my scenic surroundings. The book opened my eyes to a phenomenon I had no idea existed: a violent social media spectacle that spills into real life. We have known for some time that violence sells in movies and in video games. Forrest Stuart’s Ballad of the Bullet shows that violence sells on social media too. What is fascinating to me, as someone who did not grow up with social media, is that the product sold in the social media marketplace is the image of an “authentic” self. (Young) people nowadays can attempt to make a living by turning themselves into products to sell. Consumers, in turn, can choose which selves to celebrate, i.e. to buy.

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