Academic Articles / Publications

When Do States Disconnect Their Digital Networks?

Although there have been many studies of the different ways regimes censor the use of social media by their citizens, shutting off social media altogether is something that rarely happens. However, it happens at the most politically sensitive times and has widespread—if not global—consequences for political, economic and cultural life. When do states disconnect their digital networks, and why? To answer this question, the authors build an event history database of incidents in which a regime went beyond mere censorship of particular websites or users. The authors draw from multiple sources, including major news media, specialized news services, and international experts, to construct an event log database of 566 incidents. This rich, original dataset allows for a nuanced analysis of the conditions for state action, and the authors offer some assessment of the effect of such desperate action. Comparative analysis indicates that both democratic and authoritarian regimes disable social media networks for citing concerns about national security, protecting authority figures, and preserving cultural and religious morals. Whereas democracies disable social media with the goal of protecting children, authoritarian regimes also attempt to eliminate what they perceive as propaganda on social media. The authors cover the period 1995–2011 and build a grounded typology on the basis of regime type, what states actually did to interfere with digital networks, why they did it, and who was affected.


Howard, Philip N., Muzammil Hussain, and Sheetal Agarwal. “When Do States Disconnect Their Digital Networks?The Communication Review 14, no. 2 (2011):  216-232.

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