Do “Liberation Technologies” Change the Balance of Power Between Repressive StateS

Dissertation Committee:
Dan Drezner, Larry DiamondClay ShirkyCarolyn Gideon

Do new information and communication technologies (ICTs) empower repressive regimes at the expense of civil society, or vice versa? For example, does access to the Internet and mobile phones alter the balance of power between repressive regimes and civil society? These questions are especially pertinent today given the role that ICTs played during the recent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond. Indeed, as one Egyptian activist stated, “We use Facebook to schedule our protests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world.” But do these new ICTs—so called “liberation technologies”—really threaten repressive rule? The purpose of this dissertation is to use mixed-methods research to answer these questions.


The first half of this doctoral study comprises a large-N econometric analysis to test whether “liberation technologies” are a statistically significant predictor of anti-government protests in countries with repressive regimes. If using the Internet and mobile phones facilitates organization, mobilization and coordination, then one should expect a discernible link between an increase in access to ICTs and the frequency of protests—particularly in repressive states. The results of the quantitative analysis were combined with other selection criteria to identify two country case studies for further qualitative comparative analysis: Egypt and the Sudan.


The second half of the dissertation assesses the impact of “liberation technologies” during the Egyptian Parliamentary Elections and Sudanese Presidential Elections of 2010. The analysis focused specifically on the use of Ushahidi—a platform often referred to as a “liberation technology.” Descriptive analysis, process tracing and semi-structured interviews were carried out for each case study.

My dissertation is available for download here in PDF.

Main Contributions and Highlights:

New dataset on protests, ICTs, political and economic variables over 18 years.
* New econometric analysis and contribution to quantitative political science.
* New conceptual framework to assess impact of ICTs on social, political change.
* New operational application of conceptual framework to assess impact of ICTs.
* New datasets on independent citizen election observation in repressive states.
* New insights into role of ICTs in civil resistance against authoritarian regimes.
* New comprehensive literature on impact of ICTs on protests, activism, politics.
* New targeted policy recommendations based on data driven empirical analysis.
* New lessons learned and best practices in using the Ushahidi platform.

Here are my latest blog posts on my dissertation findings:

* Theorizing Ushahidi: An Academic Treatise
How Egyptian Activists Kept Their Ushahidi Project Alive Under Mubarak
 Analyzing Election Monitoring Reports from Egypt Using U-Shahid
*  ICTs, Democracy, Activism & Dictatorship: Comprehensive Literature Review
*  Impact of ICT on Democracy & Activism: Findings from Statistical Studies

98 responses to “PhD

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  4. Intriguing topic, Mr. Meier. Just curious: have you looked at Foucault’s notion of the Panopticon to negotiate this relationship between authoritarianism and social resistance? In terms of monitoring information flow, recent national security trends in several countries come close to a kind of Panopticon, an ultimate “I” if you will.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Pete, much appreciated!

    Yes indeed, Foucault’s Panopticon was an important contributing factor in my decision to pursue this research topic. I made a reference to it in this blog entry:

    Thanks again for your comments!

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  12. You may be interested in Paul Sturges’ (2004, 2005) liberation struggle information model. Robert Hayes (1993) article on Measurement of information may be invaluable, especially in delineating fact, data, information, understanding, knowledge and decisions. I used these sources to examine the use of sanctioned and clandestine radio broadcasting in pre- and post-independent Zimbabwe

  13. My name is Mira Nabulsi, I am a Palestinian researcher & I would like to write my PhD thesis on social media and socio-political change in the Arab world, I think your research is really interesting ..

    As I am still in the process of preparing my research proposal, I wonder if you can provide me with the list of literature brought up in this summery, or any that you think can be useful .. I still did not decide what my exact focus will be (I might write specifically on Palestine) yet I think finding literature is not an easy task :S

    I hope you don’t mind assisting !

  14. Patrick –
    great topic, very much looking forward to reading this work. One suggestion: you phrased the research question in an objectivist mode. consider approaching this from a design science perspective.
    The objectivist framing pretends you don’t care who wins this war. But you do, we know you do, and you can’t avoid that. So put it upfront.
    It also assumes there is a clear-cut answer irrespective of the asker. Which we also know is wrong.
    In a way, the only honest answer to your question is “it depends”. It depends on what you call winning and how you go about measuring it.

    Rephrasing this as a design science questions would be more like: “How can the right side win?” to answer this, you will have to start from answering the first question, in a modest way, and then move on to clarify who you think should win and why, what actions could help, and experiment with these propositions.

    email me if you want to discuss this further. yishaym at gmail

    p.s. please tell Mira Nablusi I would also be happy to help her, I have personal vested interests in her research.

    • Many thanks for your comments, Yishaym.

      On objectivity, I got very different guidance from my dissertation committee. They actually suggested I pitch the question the other way, ie, are repressive regimes empowered at the expense of resistance movement. In other words, they will definitely not except my asking “How can the right side win.” Instead they want me to make a case for why the regimes are likely to gain as opposed to the other way around. And of course, “it depends” will always factor in, there’d be no raison d’etre for academia otherwise 😉

      • Patrick, interesting project. I, however, share Yishaym’s concerns.

        “Does the information revolution empower the coercive control of repressive regimes at the expense of social resistance movements, or vice versa? ” Not sure it’s an easy yes-no answer (and depending on how empowerment is defined and what contexts we are talking about). Plenty of literature suggests (I’m more familiar with China) that the interaction between the resistance movement and repressive regimes is not a zero-sum game. Both are getting smarter and more sophisticated as we speak. I’d be really interested in learning how empowerment is operationalized, measured, and how the pluses and minuses are calculated in your project (So I will definitely read your work 🙂

  15. ummm. On your right, a dissertation committee. On your left, some bloke from the left. Who do you choose?
    Someone once told me the most important thing to remember about your phd is to get it done. Whatever doesn’t fit, leave it for later. If it itches too bad, well, you always have your blog.
    Btw, I never said who the right side is, but it seems you, me, your dissertation committee – we all know who the goodies and the baddies are. Personally, I think its more scientific to acknowledge our values and biases, since they will taint our research whether we like it or not. but I’m not necessarily mainstream.

  16. I should have said – good luck! I’m sure you’ll do a good job.

  17. Hi Meier:
    Please contribute a paper for this workshop.

  18. Hello. Great work on all fronts. I am the lead for the pursuit of a City TLD for Ottawa, Canada, i.e. http://www.protests.ottawa.

    I am interested in the role/situation of developing regional portals being developed in the public interest and the negotiations that must take place to ensure common access.

    I am curious what you think about Ushahidi and other points in your dissertation and City TLDs.


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  25. Patrick, a friend just pointed me to:
    They maintain a directory of dissident bloggers in the middle east, including those currently imprisoned.

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  27. Pingback: Interview: Patrick Meier über die freie Crisis-Mapping-Software Ushahidi :

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  35. Hello,
    I am shiva, Iranian reaeascher.
    I am so interested about your topic. would you please help me to find some references?

  36. Would you mind supplying further details for the above citation – ‘Walker 2007’? I’m keen to reference/further explore this but have been unable to locate any further bibliographic info on the website. Thanks

  37. Sebastian Hughes


    I am currently conducting an MA dissertation on a similar topic. Would I be able to have access to your datasets?

    Sebastian Hughes

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  42. I did some econometric analysis on Iran’s Green Movement and Facebook. SAIS Review published a portion of my thesis in its most recent edition (

    I compiled the data myself, using media reports and Facebook data. I believe I found a statistically significant causal relationship between Facebook activity and political protest activity in the streets.

    If you’d like access to the data, or want to discuss my research, please contact me.

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  45. Dear Patrick

    Hi, I’m Studying Interaction design and I have somehow similar topic for my master Final Thesis. I’m studying on the “Interaction between Social Movements and New Media” using Green Movement as case study regarding the personal experiences when I was in Iran 2 yrs ago. My approach is more focus on Design side of story to come up with a platform for creating protocols of communication with social movement members( or better to say participants).
    I found this video and thought you might like it to :
    I was wondering if you could help me with more detail on your approach to the problem?


  46. Dear Patrick,

    I’m a student in similar position others who have posted here, I hope you don’t mind helping. I am preparing an undergrad dissertation proposal to study the impact of new media and smartphone technology on street protests in the UK context of the demonstrations against rising tuition fees and Government cutbacks.

    Like others, I was wondering if you could send me your bibliography for this summary as it refers to some useful-looking papers. In particular I’d be interested in knowing where I can find Martin (2001).

    Any help you can offer would be much appreciated,

    Best Wishes,

    Tim Martin
    (Undergraduate Geography Student, University of Edinburgh)

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  49. well done , am ready to help you in regard any information about Sudan

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  51. Alexander Lanvin


    What is the theory and hypotheses you are testing in this dissertation?

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  56. Dear Patrick,

    thank you for sharing your ideas and findings (your website is really inspiring).
    My name is Madalena Sampaio, I am a Portuguese journalist living and studying in Germany. I plan to write my master thesis on the power of new media in Mozambique – an analysis of the 2008 and 2010 riots. So far no one has written about the topic and it is not very easy to find literature… Would you mind sharing some of your sources/literature with me? Thank you very much!

    Best regards,

    Madalena Sampaio

    • Dear Madalena, thanks for writing. I don’t have anything on the riots in Mozambique unfortunately, sorry!

      • I can’t remember where I came across the first three chapters of your dissertation, but I’m glad to hear that you’ll hopefully soon be able to publish it in its entirety. I hope to be able to someday be a part of your volunteer network.

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  59. Congratulations, Dr. Meier on your successful defense. I found your dissertation while researching for my literature review about 6 months ago, and it quickly became central to my Master’s thesis: the relationship between 2.0 technologies and social transformation in Belarus: Can strong links be built and sufficient social capital accrued? I look forward to your current and future endeavors. Best,
    Thomas Brophy

  60. Hi Patrick,

    Very much looking forward to reading your dissertation. When will it become publicly available?

  61. Congratulations on your dissertation, Dr Meier. I just referenced it in an article I’ve just submitted on fragile states and the political impact of the internet – most interested in the longtitudinal/temporal aspect.As much as I find the whole fragile states paradigm problematic, I wanted to find a way to talk about long-term political change across a number of sectors in a policy relevant/shorthand manner. That was it, unfortunately. It was a bit tricky to work out how to reference it given my reference is to both the thesis and the multiple post discussions on your blog – looking forward to the book for that and many other reasons! Thanks again for a fantastic blog,

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  67. Hello Patrick,
    I’ve read your dissertation, I think it’s very good.
    I am writing master thesis about changes that Internet and social media made in political sphere, so your work is very useful to me.
    Best regards,

    Ana Djumic
    Faculty of Political Sciences,
    Belgrade, Serbia

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  72. Dr. Meier,
    Fantastic work here, it is incredibly intriguing to me. Your dissertation has helped quite a bit in conceptualizing part of an argument for a paper I am writing on a similar topic. I was wondering if you had any particular recommendations for literature that speaks to ICT use in conflict prevention between illiberal regimes and liberal regimes? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Keep up the great work!

    Dan B.

    • Thanks Dan, and good question. Not familiar with literature on ICT use for prevention of conflict between illiberal and liberal regimes. But would be interested to know if you do come across and suggested titles. Thanks again!

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  80. I am also a researcher, looking for some research references, would you please help me? its urgent.

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