Will cell phones help insurgents? Or the regimes they oppose?

Insurgents cannot decide what to make of cellphones. While some insurgent groups target cellphone towers and demand companies turn towers off at night, others complain when providers are slow to fix network problems and threaten them for poor coverage. This variation reflects the fact that cellphones can hurt insurgents by allowing civilians to more safely share information on rebel activity with the government, but they also help insurgents by facilitating violent collective action, just as they help us all manage our daily lives.

Which effect will dominate is often unclear a priori. We provide an analysis in our forthcoming paper, which is part of a new special issue of the Journal of Peace Research. In some cases it is beneficial for governments engaging in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism to facilitate the spread of cellular communications. In others, the government should focus on limiting access to cell phones. To know when governments should do each, we need to know why insurgent groups vary in how they view cell phones.

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