Online Repression and Tactical Evasion: Evidence from the 2020 Day of Anger Protests in Egypt

Neil Ketchley (Oxford University)

Following the 2011 Arab Spring, autocrats have sought to limit citizens’ ability to publicize offline protests over social media. In this paper, we explore how users can adapt to these restrictions. To do so, we analyze 33 million tweets sent from Egypt during the “Day of Anger” protests in September 2020. We find evidence of learning and online tactical evasion in a highly repressive context. To avoid detection, opponents are more likely to issue calls for offline protests using new or dedicated accounts that contain no personal information. Users are also more likely to delete tweets calling for mobilization ex-post in a bid to conceal their activism. We find weaker evidence suggesting that anti-regime users try to evade laws targeting critical accounts with over 5,000 followers. The paper illustrates how users in autocracies continue to use social media to mobilize street-level contention while attempting to mitigate the risk of repression.