Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
In the last decade, governments have begun more frequently cutting internet and mobile services as a response to real or potential threats. Both democratic and autocratic regimes use internet shutdowns to maintain security and suppress dissent. Why do governments intentionally shut down the internet? This paper focuses on complete blackouts of online communications, known as “kill-switch” shutdowns, and examines the factors that contribute to a regime’s choice to enact such extreme measures. Using a mixed-methods analysis, this paper evaluates multiple potential causes of internet shutdowns. Results from both cross-national, quantitative analysis and qualitative process tracing present several findings. First, government internet shutdowns follow a strong path dependency: once a government enacts a shutdown, the chances they will do so again are high. Second, there is surprisingly no apparent link between violent protest and internet shutdowns. This thesis finds strong support, on the other hand, for violent conflict and competitive elections as factors that lead governments to shut down internet services. Finally, this paper finds a negative relationship between U.S. foreign assistance and internet shutdowns in the data, suggesting that greater linkages with the West may be a way to curb government-mandated internet shutdowns in the future.
Sutterlin, Elizabeth, "Flipping the Kill-Switch: Why Governments Shut Down the Internet" (2020). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 1493.
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