Working Papers

Tak-Huen Chau, Mai Hassan, and Andrew Little. “Communication and Coordination in the Shadow of Repression”

Communication technology helps protesters coordinate, but also allows the government to monitor and repress their actions. We study this tradeoff in a model where protesters want to "tactically coordinate" their protesting activity, but also want to avoid government forces. If leaders of a movement can send messages observed only by other protesters, they can successfully coordinate on a variety of sites and force the government to spread resources thin, lowering levels of repression and helping the success of the movement. If the government always observes the messages too, protesters can do no better than always going to a "focal site" knowing the government will send their all of their resources there as well. Intermediate cases where messages are partially observed leads to dynamics where new technologies and media that are relatively known to other protesters and not the government are used until the government can reliably infiltrate them and the protesters move on to a new medium. When some protesters are more informed than others, the model can explain protest tactics observed in recent prominent cases like having smaller "parallel" protests at the same time but different location of the main gathering. (link)