Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Youth Media Consumption and Perceptions of Electoral Integrity in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Youth Media Consumption and Perceptions of Electoral Integrity in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Article excerpt

Abstract: A large number of citizens in Central Asian societies have recently gained access to the Internet, which provides an excellent opportunity for examining political consequences of the spread of digital technology in non-democracies. This article analyzes the relationship between youth media consumption and confidence in the electoral process in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This study finds that exposure to web-based news produces a significant negative impact on youth's confidence in electoral institutions in Kazakhstan, while online news consumption is weakly associated with young people's confidence in the integrity of the electoral process in Kyrgyzstan. These findings suggest that the impact of online media might be stronger in political regimes with lower levels of press freedom.

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Central Asian societies have recently experienced spectacular growth in Internet use. (1) The share of Internet users soared from 1 percent in 2001 to 50.6 percent in 2011 in Kazakhstan. (2) The proportion of Internet users also grew, albeit at a slower pace, in Kyrgyzstan, increasing from 3 percent in 2001 to 20 percent in 2011. A related phenomenon was a surge in secure Internet servers, defined as servers using encryption technology in Netcraft. The number of secure Internet servers climbed from 8 (2001) to 105 (2011) in Kazakhstan and from 1 (2001) to 14 (2011) in Kyrgyzstan. (3) By the same token, there occurred a dramatic growth in online content. According to the Internet Domain Survey semi-annually conducted by the Internet Systems Consortium, the number of Internet hosts with the country domain name kz skyrocketed from 4,404 in January 2001 to 61,205 in July 2011. (4) Likewise, the number of Internet hosts with the country domain name kg exponentially increased from 1,873 in January 2001 to 111,930 in July 2011. Yet, it is unclear whether this rapid spread of digital technology poses a formidable threat to political stability in the non-democratic regimes that have been installed in the former Soviet republics since the collapse of communism.

Scholars disagree over the political implications of rapidly increasing Internet use in non-democracies. Internet optimists argue that the Internet has the potential to instantly connect a large number of citizens, swiftly disseminate information, and eventually facilitate mass mobilization against the incumbent government. (5) Larry Diamond, for example, uses the term "liberation technology" to denote "any form of information and communication technology (ICT) that can expand political, social, and economic freedom." (6) Emphasizing the power of social media, some journalists and analysts described post-election protests held in Moldova in spring 2009 as the Twitter Revolution, (7) while a popular uprising that brought down the long-serving president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak was nicknamed the Facebook Revolution. (8) Other observers of world politics, however, question the crucial role of web-based communication in sustaining mass protests. In particular, internet pessimists contend that the Internet might undercut citizens' drive for democratic change because it can create an illusion of vibrant civil society in the absence of viable offline social networks. (9) Furthermore, autocrats might devise a wide arsenal of repressive methods to harness the power of digital technology. Recent empirical research, for example, shows how the Russian government seeks to subvert the use of the Internet for regime-threatening political action. (10) The dramatic spread of digital technology in Central Asia provides an excellent opportunity for further analysis of the political consequences of Internet growth in non-democracies.

This article examines the linkage between young people's media consumption and confidence in the electoral process in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Specifically, the analysis compares the effects of television and the Internet on young people's perceptions of electoral integrity. …

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