Ten Miles Square


May 22, 2013 10:49 AM Does Cellphone Coverage Make Violence More Likely in Africa?

By Henry Farrell

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]

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


  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on May 22, 2013 1:38 PM:

    Surely you must write the headlines for your blog entries, and surely you must be aware that correlation doesn't imply causality.

  • alcatraz on May 22, 2013 6:19 PM:

    I agree with the previous post. The better question would be: how do people deploy cell phones to organize and foment conflict? If cell phones were the cause, there would be lots of conflict everywhere. Sadly, in some African countries, "conflict entrepreneurs" organize groups of young men to terrorize others as a way of gaining access to political office, resources or other forms of wealth. Now that there are cellphones everywhere, this is easier to instigate and organize. But cellphones can also be used to stop violence if the will is there, by alerting people, police, troops, or "peace entrepreneurs."