A new study, conducted by Sudipta Sarangi of the Virginia Tech Department of Economics, indicates that social media in general – and Facebook in particular – can act as a safeguard against government corruption, especially in countries with limited freedom of the press.
Using data from more than 150 countries, Sarangi has identified a significant correlation between the popularity of Facebook and the frequency of protest against illegitimate or otherwise reprehensible acts implemented by government structures.
According to Sarangi, while some studies in the past had already investigated the relationship between social media and corruption, quantitative research is still lacking – mostly due to the difficulty of obtaining country-specific data on the use of social media.
To make sure the findings are reliable, Sarangi and colleague Chandan Kumar Jha, an assistant professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York had also carried out a falsification test and controlled for a number of different variables, such as economic and cultural development, and the possibility of tampering with social media by the government.
Open-ended communication, whereby individuals can create and share information with a complex network of friends and family, was found to be the key factor in preventing the government from interfering with social interaction online.
“Indeed, the role of social media and the Internet in providing unbiased and independent news in several countries, such as China, Russia, and Malaysia has widely been recognized by scholars,” said Sarangi.
Social media is not only quick and free to use, but can also accelerate the spread of information due to a personal connection – receiving news from loved ones can increase perceived credibility and facilitate further sharing.
“As social media evolves to be an increasingly important part of our daily lives, it is important for continued research to help us understand how these tools are impacting our lives,” said Brandi Watkins, an associate professor in the Department of Communication, part of the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, who was not involved in the research.
Study findings were published in the journal Information Economics and Policy.