Manipulating Access To Communication Technology: Government Repression or Counterterrorism?

This report offers a preliminary analysis of the effectiveness of network disruptions in achieving one specific outcome: tackling terrorist violence. It analyses the relationship between network disruptions and deaths and injuries from terrorist attacks to determine whether there is support for the commonly made argument that network disruptions are an important counterterrorism tactic. Using a panel dataset of daily incidents of national-level network disruptions and terrorist attacks globally between 2016 and 2019, a fixed effects regression model shows that national-level network disruptions are not correlated with the number of people killed or injured in terrorist attacks. In addition, there is no correlation between a ban on social media platforms – specifically Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp – and deaths or injuries from terrorist violence. This analysis has some limitations that make it difficult to make a causal claim, such as the non-random assignment of the treatment (that is, network disruptions) and the absence of a control variable to capture increased security around network disruptions. In general, these findings offer another perspective on the debate on network shutdowns, which often centres on the implications of shutdowns for human rights and democratic engagement and does not typically delve into empirical evidence on what network shutdowns can or cannot accomplish.

Tags: Counterterrorism, Facebook, human rights, network disruptions, shutdowns, Social Media, Twitter, WhatsApp