A Comparative Study of Online Disinformation and Offline Protests

by   Jukka Ruohonen, et al.

In early 2021 the United States Capitol in Washington was stormed during a riot and violent attack. Although the storming was merely an instance in a long sequence of events, it provided a testimony for many observers who had claimed that online actions, including the propagation of disinformation, have offline consequences. Soon after, a number of papers have been published about the relation between online disinformation and offline violence, among other related relations. Hitherto, the effects upon political protests have been unexplored. This paper thus evaluates such effects with a time series cross-sectional sample of 125 countries in a period between 2000 and 2019. The results are mixed. Based on Bayesian multi-level regression modeling, (i) there indeed is an effect between online disinformation and offline protests, but the effect is partially meditated by political polarization. The results are clearer in a sample of countries belonging to the European Economic Area. With this sample, (ii) offline protest counts increase from online disinformation disseminated by domestic governments, political parties, and politicians as well as by foreign governments. Furthermore, (iii) Internet shutdowns and governmental monitoring of social media tend to decrease the counts. With these results, the paper contributes to the blossoming disinformation research by modeling the impact of disinformation upon offline phenomenon. The contribution is important due to the various policy measures planned or already enacted.



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