Online Social Media and Political Awareness in Competitive Authoritarian Regimes
What is the effect of online social networking on political awareness? This question has recently gained additional significance for the study of authoritarian regimes, as press accounts draw a link the usage of social networking sites by opposition activists and anti-regime protests in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Russia. We argue that a given online social network will only have an effect on political awareness if it is first politicized by elite activists. We test this argument using original survey data from the 2011 election cycle in Russia. We show that users of Twitter and Facebook, which were politicized by opposition elites, were much more likely to believe that significant electoral fraud had taken place than users of domestic social networking platforms, such as Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, which were not politicized by opposition elites. Our findings highlight the conditional effect of new media on political awareness.