Does Cellphone Coverage Make Violence More Likely in Africa?

Jan Pierskalla and Florian Hollenbach argue that it does in a new article in the American Political Science Review.

Overall, our quantitative models demonstrate a clear positive association between cell phone coverage and the occurrence of violent organized collective action. This effect persists when controlling for a series of standard explanations of violence, as well as unobserved, time-invariant factors at the country and even grid level. Plainly, our results suggest that local cell phone coverage facilitates violent collective action on the African continent.

This article should set off some interesting debates. I’ll leave it to those more statistically adept to assess their analysis (although I wonder whether the authors will get some pushback for their claim that regulatory efficiency is a good instrumental variable for cellphone coverage and is causally unconnected to levels of violence). Nonetheless, this piece does draw some interesting and potentially important connections between the diffusion of communication technology and ‘real world’ outcomes. As the authors note, we have seen a number of pieces over the last couple of years asserting that new communication technologies have helped e.g. foster the spread of the Arab Spring revolutions. However, we’ve seen precious little work that really tries to demonstrate systematic linkages rather than assert them. Pierskalla and Hollenbach’s piece begins to think about how we might want to investigate these linkages.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

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Henry Farrell

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.