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Does Technology Foster Democracy?

Thu, August 31, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hilton Union Square, Plaza A


Do advances in communications and information technology deliver more democracy? Media figures, public intellectuals, and scholars have debated this relationship for decades, with some arguing that technology leads to democratization and others maintaining that it allows authoritarian regimes to strengthen their grip on power. Many agree that technology can have two conflicting effects. On the one hand, technology facilitates the exchange of information, thus reducing the challenges opposition groups face in coordinating dissent. Yet technology also provides benefits to governments, including improving their ability to monitor opposition groups and, in some cases, control the flow of information. We present the first game-theoretic model that accounts for the dual effects of technology. In a contest between an authoritarian regime and an opposition group, we model technology as reducing both the costs of repression and dissent. The key result of our model is that, at lower levels of technology, innovation increases the probability of regime change, while, at higher levels of technology, further innovation strengthens the ability of authoritarian regimes to stay in power. We conclude by offering a preliminary discussion of the implications of this result for our understanding of the effects of individual technologies.