Censoring social media fans flames of social unrest

Social media censorship in times of political unrest – a social simulation experiment with the uk riots

From BMS: Bulletin of Sociological Methodology/Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique

Is social media censorship a means to quell a modern uprising? Some politicians and law enforcers during the political turbulence of 2011 thought so, but this recent research suggests that uncensored citizens experience less violence and longer periods of peace between outbursts than communities subject to censorship.

The authors used sophisticated computer modeling to find out if the assumptions that actors’ use of media – such as Twitter – fueled mob action through greater awareness were true. The researchers found that all possible scenarios led to initial outbursts of violence but how the situation evolved was significantly influenced by government social media censorship.


Following the 2011 wave of political unrest, extending from the Arab Spring to the UK riots, the formation of a large consensus around Internet censorship is underway. The present paper adopts a social simulation approach to show that the decision to “regulate”, filter or censor social media in situations of unrest changes the pattern of civil protest and ultimately results in higher levels of violence. Building on Epstein’s (2002) agent-based model, several alternative scenarios are generated. The systemic optimum, represented by complete absence of censorship, not only corresponds to lower levels of violence over time, but allows for significant periods of social peace after each outburst.

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Article details
Antonio A. Casilli, & Paola Tubaro (2012). cial Media Censorship in Times of Political Unrest – A Social Simulation Experiment with the UK Riots BMS: Bulletin of Sociological Methodology/Bulletin de M thodologie Sociologique, 115 (1 5-20) : 10.1177/0759106312445697

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