Electronic communication technologies have often appeared to play an instrumental role in politically destabilizing events, empowering formally subordinate groups to challenge and overcome previously entrenched political and military authority. Examples include the deployment of cassette tape sermons by the Ayatollah Khomeini to foment revolution in Iran in 1979, the use of cell phones, video cameras and fax machines by students and workers to turn back an attempted coup in Thailand in 1992, and the use of Short Messaging Service in the People Power II revolt against President Estrada of the Philippines in January 2001.
It is problematic and in fact dangerous, however, to assume that the outcome of ICT social instability is always positive or even decisive. While there may be some truth to the notion that ICT open up new social spaces, rendering obsolete earlier information control strategies of authoritarian regimes (Pool, 1983), ICT may have also played an instrumental role in more negatively valenced outcomes of destabilization -- war or genocide, for example (Price, 2002). Other events, despite flirtations with chaos and instability, are regulated, dampened, by actors in the social system. The state may intervene, for example, through, law, negotiation, or force, to counter a destabilizing force.
Although it has certainly been popular to frame ICT as "technologies of freedom" (Pool, 1983) to date there has been a lack of formal, systematic examination of role ICT's play in destabilizing political events. A number of structured data sets have been developed for the use of social analysts to understand and make predictions about contemporary real world situations; none of them, however, appear to address the role of electronic information technologies in any coherent or structured way.
We propose a preliminary structural model (Krippendorff, 1986) for the study of "ICT destabilization events", incorporating and extending event models developed by McClelland (1970), Heise (1989), Schrodt (2001), and Bond, Bond, Oh, Jenkins, and Taylor (2003) , so that the role of ICT is more thoroughly parameterized, both as figure and ground (McLuhan). By figure, we mean the specific role as the instrument in a given event. For example, in People Power II, the middle and upper class used cell phones and Short Messaging Services are their instrument of resistance to President Estrada in the Philippines. By ground, we mean the broader ICT context of the state at the time of the event, such as the penetration of cell phones, fixed lines, internet users, bandwidth, international connectivity, etc.
Our structural model builds on the basic event data schema identified by Schrodt (2001) - date, source, target, and event -- and expands the model to include two key concepts articulated by Heise (1989) in ESA: 1) The instrument as a tool, or medium of actors involved in an event; and 2) the positioning of events within a broader "implicational structure" of associated events.
In Heise's ESA model, the instrument is defined as "[A]n entity used by the agent to causally advance the happening while not being significantly changed by the happening." People and verbalizations can be instruments, as well as physical objects like guns, or an electronic communication device such as a cell phone, or cell phone network. We are clearly interested in understanding ICT technologies as instruments in event.
To model the implicational structure, our model defines events at two levels of abstraction: the Event and the event. The Event, is based on Conkin and Stromberg's (1989) definition of an event as "a distinguishable happening, one with some pattern or theme that sets it off from others, and one that involves changes taking place within a delimited amount of time." (p. 173). events, on the other hand, can be considered the more discrete elements of the larger Event. events generally local in time and space , and can be defined much more explicitly, as an independent clause:
"... an interaction, associated with a specific point in time, that can be described in a natural language sentence that has as its subject and object an element of a set of actors and as its verb an element of a set of actions, the contents of which are transitive verbs." (Gerner, Schrodt, Francisco, and Weddle 1994, 95).
An Event, then, comprises multiple events that occur in specific space-time locals and interrelate in a broader implicational structure. Events are a string of events which flow from past to future. The individual events of an Event may follow each other serially in a specific geophysical location or they may be distributed across multiple locations and occur simultaneously. Some events are contingent upon other events. Certain instruments may be necessary conditions for specific events to occur.
Using this model, we can more formally examine the potential criticality and specific role of certain communication technologies in politically destabilizing events. For example, in terms of the model, we define a prototypical ICT destabilization Event as one in which ICT acts as an instrument in at least one event upon which the outcome of the Event - the fall of a regime, for example - is contingent. Further, we argue that the agent of this critical event could not have activated the event without the availability of the particular ICT instrument. If student activists did not have cell phones in Thailand in May 1992, for example, they could not have rallied their own numbers to show massive public resistance and force the military to surrender. We then might reference the history of coup attempts in Thailand to help validate this proposition.
Related Databases, Different Frames
For perspective, it is useful to consider the broader range of socio-political database projects over the past several decades and how they have approached similar problems. Although the focus on events in quite common, there are other possible frames for data gathering, such as the state or polity. Regardless of their specific frame, all of these database projects face similar methodological issues, such as the choice of a data frame, data sources, and coding procedures.
The following general data frames have been noted in the literature. Please note that these frames are not mutually exclusive. (Click on the frame type for a list of database projects that have collected or are collecting data within that frame.)
Mainstream news media is a common source. Some use a single source exclusively while others use a range of sources. Most event frame databases do not appear to rely on more detailed academic sources, perhaps because they are designed to record data about events as they occur. Many of these projects, which use the databases for statistical analyses, must deal with reliability and validity issues (see literature in references section.) The technology frame databases below are less formally structured and use a broader range of source material.
Numerous code schemes have been developed to code states, politics, and social events. Among the most notable schemes is the Integrated Data for Events Analysis (IDEA), developed at Harvard. A growing trend in these database projects is the use of AI for automatic coding of texts rather than trained human coders. For example, the KEDS project at the University of Kansas uses automated coding of English-language news reports to generate political event data focusing on the Middle East, Balkans, and West Africa.
Databases by frame
State and Polity Frames
Event Frames: International
Event Frames: Domestic