Violence, Cleavages, and Protest Dynamics

Friday, June 7, 2019, 11:00 am - 12:00 pm PDTiCal
1016 Conference Room (East Side)
This event is open to the public.
AI Seminar
Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, UCLA
Video Recording:

A key determinant of whether social movements achieve their policy goal is how many people protest. How many people protest is in turn partially determined by violence, from protesters and state agents, as well as mobilization of individuals within and across cleavages.  Previous work finds mixed results for violence and has not analyzed the role of cleavages on intraprotest dynamics.  This paper reconciles the mixed results for violence by distinguishing between the timing of repression and its severity: low levels of state repression increase protest size while high levels decrease it, conditional on preventative repression failing.   Information signaling and critical mass theories about the role of cleavages generate conflicting predictions.  This paper evaluates the role of violence and cleavages by applying deep learning techniques to geolocated images shared on social media.  Across more than 4,300 observations of twenty-four cities from five countries, we find that protester violence is always associated with subsequently smaller protests, while low (high) levels of state violence correlate with increased (decreased) protest size.  The role of cleavages is weaker and conditional on the type of cleavage.  The paper ends with a discussion of ethical concerns and improving data collection in order to apply the analysis to poorer or less populous countries.

Zachary C. Steinert-Threlkeld is an assistant professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Luskin School of Public Affairs.  He uses computational methods to study protest dynamics, with a particular interest in how social networks affect individuals’ decision to protest.  Text analysis has studied mobilization during the Arab Spring; information warfare in Ukraine; and activists’ online strategies.  Work with images measures how violence, social cleavages, and free riding affect protest dynamics.  Other work includes simulations of protest diffusion and studying how governments attempt to influence individuals’ online behavior.


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