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To Repress or to Co‐opt? Authoritarian Control in the Age of Digital Surveillance

To Repress or to Co‐opt? Authoritarian Control in the Age of Digital Surveillance This article studies the consequences of digital surveillance in dictatorships. I first develop an informational theory of repression and co‐optation. I argue that digital surveillance resolves dictators' information problem of not knowing individual citizens' true anti‐regime sentiments. By identifying radical opponents, digital surveillance enables dictators to substitute targeted repression for nonexclusive co‐optation to forestall coordinated uprisings. My theory implies that as digital surveillance technologies advance, we should observe a rise in targeted repression and a decline in universal redistribution. Using a difference‐in‐differences design that exploits temporal variation in digital surveillance systems among Chinese counties, I find that surveillance increases local governments' public security expenditure and arrests of political activists but decreases public goods provision. My theory and evidence suggest that improvements in governments' information make citizens worse off in dictatorships. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png American Journal of Political Science Wiley

To Repress or to Co‐opt? Authoritarian Control in the Age of Digital Surveillance

American Journal of Political Science , Volume 65 (2) – Apr 1, 2021

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Publisher
Wiley
Copyright
© 2021 by the Midwest Political Science Association
ISSN
0092-5853
eISSN
1540-5907
DOI
10.1111/ajps.12514
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

This article studies the consequences of digital surveillance in dictatorships. I first develop an informational theory of repression and co‐optation. I argue that digital surveillance resolves dictators' information problem of not knowing individual citizens' true anti‐regime sentiments. By identifying radical opponents, digital surveillance enables dictators to substitute targeted repression for nonexclusive co‐optation to forestall coordinated uprisings. My theory implies that as digital surveillance technologies advance, we should observe a rise in targeted repression and a decline in universal redistribution. Using a difference‐in‐differences design that exploits temporal variation in digital surveillance systems among Chinese counties, I find that surveillance increases local governments' public security expenditure and arrests of political activists but decreases public goods provision. My theory and evidence suggest that improvements in governments' information make citizens worse off in dictatorships.

Journal

American Journal of Political ScienceWiley

Published: Apr 1, 2021

References