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Predicting a revolution based on internet penetration

Is there a tipping point of internet penetration which provides a critical mass for social revolution in a country with a non-democratic or repressive government?

It’s a thought that’s been bugging me ever since I read about the Wikileaks Factor in the Tunisian revolution which ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. For this to be a factor plenty of Tunisians would have had to access the Wikileaks documents which details the scandelous affairs of this crooked president.

Social networks have also been given plenty of credit for the revolution unfolding in Egypt.

So I went and had a look at the numbers over on www.internetworldstats.com to see what they could tell us about these two scenarios. Well, fascinatingly, both Egypt and Tunisia have seen a massive growth in internet users and internet penetration over the last 10 years.
Both have now got internet penetration of over 20% and in Tunisia’s case it was as high as 34%.

While it is clearly simplistic to over-state this factor and there must be many more drivers contributing to such a rapid political uprising, it is obviously a factor as evidenced by the Egyptian regime pulling the plug on the country’s internet access to try and block the rising tide of revolt.

My back-of-napkin theory is this: that a rapid increase in internet pentration in a repressive regime does play an important role as it provides an unfettered channel of communication allowing disaffected citizens to share views – and more importantly – to rapidly organise and mobilise.

If Egypt and Tunisia are valid case studies, it looks like internet penetration of around 20% is the mark.

This is clearly a threat acknoweledged by China where rapid internet access has also co-incided in strict censorship of internet content and technologies – especially social networking sites like twitter and facebook which have played such a major role in Egypt.

So, based on my own back-of-napkin theory, I would calculate that the chances of a similar social revolt occuring in Jordan where internet penetration has risen to 27,2% over the last 10 years are VERY HIGH.

Using the same theory, I would predict that Yemen’s chances of revolution are VERY LOW with internet penetration at less than 1.8%

Iran might be more worried though. With internet penetration at 43% they had better be sure they keep the peeps happy.

Have a look at my map and table (data source: internetworldstats.com) below and tell me who you think may be ripe for revolution in African based on this assumption? I know what I’m thinking but would be interested in your thoughts.


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