A Model of Protests, Revolution, and Information

Abstract

A collective action or revolt succeeds only if sufficiently many people participate. We study how potential revolutionaries ability to coordinate is affected by what they learn from different sources. We first examine how people learn about the likelihood of a revolution's success by talking to those around themselves, which can either work in favor or against the success of an uprising, depending on the prior beliefs of the agents, the homogeneity of preferences in the population, and the number of contacts. We extend the analysis by examining the effects of homophily on learning: people are more likely to meet others who have similar preferences, undercutting learning. We introduce variants of our model to discuss other ways of learning about the support for a revolution. We discuss why holding mass demonstrations before a revolt provides more informative signals of peoples willingness to actively participate than other less costly forms of communication (e.g., via social media). We also show how outcomes of revolutions in one region can inform citizens of another region and thus trigger (or discourage) neighboring revolutions. We also discuss the role of governments in avoiding revolutions and learning about their citizens' concerns; in particular, by observing the strength of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations.