Social Media and Press Freedom: A Global Games Approach

A comparison of CNN International and CNN Turk as protests erupted in Taksim Square, a few blocks from CNN Turk HQ.

Abstract

The use of social media as a tool for spreading political information is accentuated when traditional media outlets are under pressure from governments. One such case was the 2013 protests in Turkey; largely ignored by mass media, protesters took to Twitter to get their voice heard, despite threats and attempts at suppression. We analyze this interaction on social media in a global game setting. Our results show that an increase in connectedness of a country serves to bring in line the information revealed by the mainstream and the alternative media. An increase in connectedness may free the mainstream media by making their capture more costly for the incumbent, thus allowing all media outlets to share relevant information with the public. Conversely, it may also lead the government to capture the alternative media outlets as well as the mainstream media, thus preventing dissemination of information in the country completely. The relationship between press freedom (as well as voter welfare) and social media usage rates depends on the incentives faced by the incumbent, who may either increase or decrease pressure on traditional media in response. Finally, we examine a cross-country dataset to test the predictions of our model. We show that our theoretical hypotheses are corroborated by data, and are robust to various specifications and empirical methods.

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