#rp24 speaker Anita Gohdes: Why Internet Shutdowns Fuel Political Violence

15.05.2024 - Large-scale Internet blackouts are everywhere. Governments claim they reduce violence, when the opposite is true. What can we do about it?
Anita Gohdes trägt eine schwarze Jacke, schulterlange Haare und eine Goldkette.
Photo Credit
Hertie School

Shadow-banning, down-ranking, limiting account functionalities: As content moderation tools on social media are becoming ever more sophisticated, and their use is increasingly requested by governments across the world, we might be under the impression that censorship is becoming more nuanced. But brute-force censorship never went out of style: from Iran to Ethiopia, to the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have seen the employment of large-scale Internet blackouts during violent political episodes. While some governments purport that shutdowns help curtail violence, the opposite is the case: they are used to crush opposition, hide atrocities, sow fear, and they massively impact accountability efforts. In her talk at re:publica 24, Anita R. Gohdes will investigate how shutdowns fuel violence, and what we can do about it.

Anita is Professor of International and Cyber Security at the Hertie School in Berlin. She works at the intersection of international security and technology, and is the author of the recently published book “Repression in the Digital Age: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Dynamics of State Violence”. Since 2009, she has worked for the California-based non-profit organisation Human Rights Data Analysis Group. 

At #rp24, we look forward to Anita’s insights on how digital technology supports violent state repression – and what we can do about it.


#WhoCares: An interview with Anita Gohdes.

The Motto of re:publica 24 is „Who cares?“. Whom or what are you currently caring about?

I'm currently looking after my students. I'm teaching a lot about political violence, technology and wars. These are difficult topics, especially now when the world seems to be on fire.

What do we care about too little as a society?

We continue to listen to people affected by discrimination far too little and, above all, far too inaccurately. And when we do listen, we often don't believe them. The consequences are fatal - for everyone. In my field of research, this recurring pattern is constantly evident: people affected by racism, queer people, sex workers or people without a clear residence status have been warning us for decades about the possibilities of digital repression, shadowbanning, digital surveillance, digital smear campaigns and doxxing. Many of the problems we have with social media platforms, digital infrastructure and state surveillance are problems that marginalised groups have been pointing out to us for many years. Without the involvement of these people, solutions are either impossible or doomed to failure.

What would you like to talk about at re:publica?

In my research, I have been dealing with the same question for a long time: How is digital technology being used to repress civil society? At re:publica, I want to talk about digital repression. In particular, I would like to explore the role that so-called ‘internet shutdowns’ play in states' strategies of violence and what consequences they have for society.

Brute Force Censorship Never Went Out Of Style: Why Internet Shutdowns Fuel Political Violence, And What To Do About It

Anita Gohdes

Brute-force censorship persists globally—from Iran and Ethiopia to the invasion of Ukraine — large-scale Internet blackouts are everywhere. Governments claim they reduce violence, when the opposite is true. This talk will investigate how shutdowns fuel violence and what we can do about it.
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