Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked or digital authoritarianism. This extract, about Sudan's struggles with digital authoritarianism, is from the series of reports to come out of the research under the Unfreedom Monitor. The full report to come.
Digital authoritarianism is a growing global trend, yet there is little comparative data on how the phenomenon is playing out in different countries around the world. The Unfreedom Monitor is an initiative by Global Voices Advox to understand, map, and make comparisons on the phenomenon in different contexts, including Sudan. This paper explores the challenges that Sudanese people face in the digital space by studying the motives, methods, and tools of authoritarians and the responses of the people as they attempt to bypass digital authoritarianism.
The study combined the Global Voices’ Civic Media Observatory method with qualitative analysis of the contextual issues around digital authoritarianism to define the main contours of digital authoritarianism in Sudan. The paper finds that fear of accountability, fear of losing power, protection of private and family interests, protection of existing alliances, and other ideological reasons drive Sudanese autocrats to copy the techniques of authoritarians in other contexts
Many of the tools and methods deployed in Sudan are deployed to extinguish online activities. The methods are not limited to censorship, and disinformation, but also include coordinated inauthentic behaviour (CIB), revoking access, and enacting loose laws. The government also uses laws to enable digital authoritarianism and give its tactics the cover of legality. The government has access to all telecommunication infrastructure (data centers and offices), which threatens cyberspace safety and users’ privacy. Yet there is resistance. This research found that the citizens inside and outside Sudan used various methods to circumvent digital repression and defend themselves from the violence of the state, physically and in cyberspace.
The full report to come.