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How Media Changes Shape Elites Conflict in Autocracies

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Distribution of cassette tapes by preacher’s ideology

My book project centers on a key question: In autocracies, where media access is already uneven, how has a significant change in media technology like the Internet affected key political players? I argue that media changes shift the balance of power among political elites differently depending on their existing degree and type of media control. My research reveals that innovative media changes can profoundly impact intra-elites’ contestation in autocratic contexts that previously had state monopoly of the media. 


I demonstrate these claims in an in-depth study of Saudi Arabia, one of the most digitally connected societies globally in which the role of media in its domestic and foreign politics is pronounced yet remains largely unexplored and understudied. I find that while the Internet supplied historically marginalized liberal and reformist elites unprecedented media access, it disadvantaged conservative elites by displacing the cassette tape: their most potent media for over three decades. This redistributed media access over time affected these elites potential to influence policymaking in select ideologically salient issue areas, as shown through distinctive reforms enacted before and after the Internet. I substantiate these findings with a mixed-method research design that draws on a large corpus of digital and traditional data, including public petitions, millions of tweets, and thousands of government documents. 

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