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Working paper

Online Social Media and Political Awareness in Autoritarian Regimes

Szakonyi D., Reuter O. J.
Does online social media undermine authoritarianism? We examine the conditions under which online social networks can increase public awareness of electoral fraud in non-democracies. Weargue that a given online social network will only increase political awareness if it is first politicized by elites. Using survey data from the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections, we show that usage of Twitter and Facebook, which were politicized by opposition elites, significantly increased respondents' perceptions of electoral fraud, while usage of Russia's domestic social networking platforms, Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, which were not politicized by opposition activists, had no effect on perceptions of fraud. Our study elucidates the causes of post-election protest by uncovering a mechanism through which knowledge of electoral fraud can become widespread.