30 Sep

Talk on 10/10: Maintaining scholarly distance, developing trust, and protecting sources online and offline in an authoritarian context

Pearce, K. E. (2013, October). Maintaining scholarly distance, developing trust, and protecting sources online and offline in an authoritarian context. Digital methods, ethical challenges: A symposium hosted by the Annenberg School Center for Global Communication Studies and the Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication, Philadelphia, PA.

Doing research in authoritarian states is not easy. While all research has challenges of access and credibility, with authoritarian states the hurdle height is raised. Yet academics tend to not talk about it (Goode, 2010) out of fear of losing access and credibility and because of the desire to do the research (Romano, 2006). Given that the “culture of fear” (Mitchell, 2002) in authoritarian states permeates every possible research method that is considered acceptable in traditional social science journals, researchers are left with few options.

With the development of increased information and communication technology, some scholars excitedly viewed the Internet as a way to access subjects in authoritarian states in a way that was not possible before the Internet. However, a whole additional host of challenges emerge when one uses the Internet to conduct research and when studying phenomena in authoritarian contexts, there are additional security and ethics concerns that are exacerbated by conducting research online. Yet the Internet does afford some benefits for research in this sort of environment, although researchers face new ethical questions that need to be addressed.

This presentation will detail some of the challenges and benefits of using the Internet for research in authoritarian states and what understanding ethical strategies in an environment where the wrong move can have grave impact can bring to the broader research community.

It is open to the public and a video will be available eventually.

17 Sep

Transnational Families in Armenia and Information Communication Technology Use

New study out today.

Considerable evidence has shown that migrants use ICT to maintain connections to their families and home. Unlike most previous researchers of migrant ICT use, we study those left behind. Using a nationally representative sample in which two thirds of respondent households have a migrant, we determine the effect of this on ICT use. Multivariate analyses including relevant demographic factors that influence both migration and ICT use reveal that transnational (migrant) family status influences frequency of Internet use, Internet ownership, and Skype use, but not other activities. Given the positive social effects of maintaining family connections, ICT use may lessen the negative effects of migration on families and society.

This study uses the 2011 Alternative Resources in Media dataset done by CRRC.

16 Sep

The Internet Cafe is dead – most Armenians get online at home

More from the new Alternative Media USAID-CRRC dataset.

Most Armenians are getting online (primarily) from home. (I wish that it had had some sort of ranking or estimate of hours, but it is what it is.)



And how do people get online at home? Cable, 3G flash card, and still dial up (I can do a breakdown by urban/rural if people are interested.)



I’ll do another post about mobile Internet in the future.


15 Sep

What are Armenians doing online in 2013?

Here’s an update to this 2012 post.


Green is of Internet users and blue is for all Armenian adult citizens.

In the near future I’ll do a break down of these activities by region, sex, etc.

In this recent publication of mine, we show that rural, less educated, and poorer Armenians weren’t engaging in capital-enhancing activities like news reading or blogging. Will this still be true in 2013?

15 Sep

Media trust in Armenia – a methodological mess

A few years ago I wrote a report summarizing a USAID-funded CRRC-conducted study of the Armenian media environment. They re-did this study this summer (no report seems to be available yet), but the data is up so I will be slowly but surely posting some findings.

Let’s start with media trust.

This graphic makes it appear that Armenians trust online media more than any other source of media. Wow! Go Internet!


But when you look at the frequencies, you see that Armenians were pretty ambivalent about answering questions on media trust. More than a third said that they didn’t know for every type except interpersonal (neighbors, friends, and relatives), local TV, and national TV. And many had “not applicable” (which I take to mean that they don’t consume that type of media). For what it’s worth, if don’t knows are higher than 10%, generally the question is considered “questionable.”


This is why even though I LOVE online data analysis tools, I get a little nervous about people just jumping in and making conclusions without understanding how surveys and statistics work.

More posts on this data to come!

10 Sep

Honor and Death: Is the Internet Exacerbating Suicide in Azerbaijan?

girl at computer

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention day.

The most recent data on suicide in Azerbaijan is from 2007. However, according to this (iffy) website, suicide is the 20th most common cause of death in Azerbaijan, with over 400 each year.

In an informal analysis of Azerbaijani news stories, I came up with 6 young female suicides or attempts in 2013 and 4 in 2012. Obviously, this is not an official count. [Link to reports]

Why so many suicides and attempted suicides of teenage and young women?

In Kazakhstan there has been a lot of teenage suicides as well. Recently there were suggestions that information overload and the current media environment is causing the suicides in Kazakhstan.

But what of Azerbaijan? In a piece that I’m working on right now about Internet gender inequality in Azerbaijan, I speculate that these extreme measures – i.e. suicide attempts – are because of Azerbaijan’s honor culture.

An honor culture is is one that uses specific behavior codes to which members of the culture must obey. Upholding and defending the reputation of one’s self and family is paramount. This honor serves as a structure of social power and discipline. If someone else violates someone’s honor, a response or retaliation is required. In honor cultures, women are modest, have a norm of shame, and avoid behaviors that may embarrass their family. A failure to maintain honor harms their and their family’s reputation. Men, on the other hand, have to constantly prove their manhood as social status. Research shows that individuals in honor cultures are more vulnerable to suicide because of social isolation and feelings of being a burden to the family. For women especially, suicide may be the only way to restore family honor and remove shame.

In this paper, I argue that the Internet may be making female honor more complicated in Azerbaijan. Blackmailing women with honor-related overtones is something that happens for both public figures (like Khadija Ismayilova, a frequent target of honor-related shaming), as well as regular Azerbaijani women who become victims of blackmail attempts.

Recently I was made aware of one of these situations. A young woman was filmed doing a (somewhat) erotic dance. At BEST she looked extremely uncomfortable. At worst she appeared to have been drugged. It was painful to watch. I can imagine exactly what happened. Her boyfriend said, “Hey, can I film you with my phone so I can watch later? (While in the army? At home?)” She didn’t want to. Maybe she told him she didn’t want to, maybe she didn’t. But he suspected her reluctance and said, “Don’t you trust me?” What is a young Azerbaijani girl supposed to answer to that? “No, I don’t trust you. Do not film me.” — That would be impossible. So she let him film her.
Weeks or months later, for whatever reason, they broke up. Maybe he threatened her with making the video public. Maybe he just put it online. Regardless, it make it online.
Soon after, she attempted suicide.

While it is impossible to blame these suicides and attempts on “the Internet,” given Azerbaijan’s honor culture, the Internet and social media’s attributes that are usually highlighted as assets (ease of low-cost creation and distribution, for example), are also the same attributes that make bullying possible as well.

I wish that I had a way to help these young women — not let themselves be filmed or photographed in the first place, perhaps? But helping young women play defense is not going to resolve this issue. What is a realistic approach to reduce suicides? How can Azerbaijani women be encouraged to go online when the possibility of this sort of personal blackmail exists?

I’ll be thinking about these questions, in light of World Suicide Prevention Day, and I hope you will as well.

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