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Crisis Communication in Authoritarian Systems and Digital Innovation: How Do Autocracies Resolve the Dictator’s Dilemma in Crisis Situations?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Handbook of Crisis Communication
EditorsW. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay
Place of PublicationHoboken, NJ, USA
PublisherJohn Wiley and Sons Ltd Wiley-Blackwell
Edition2nd edition
ISBN (Print)9781119678922
Accepted/In press15 Aug 2022
Published1 Nov 2022


  • 1119678927-1 (1)

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    Uploaded date:16 Nov 2022

King's Authors


Asmolov offers a conceptual framework that contributes to an understanding of crisis communication in an authoritarian environment with a significant scale of proliferation of digital technologies. It builds on the literature that explores how authoritarian regimes adopt social media and digital platforms in order to protect and maintain political stability and has implication for political crisis communication. The chapter suggests that our understanding of the role of digital platforms in crisis communication in authoritarian environments can be enriched by applying a concept of digitally mediated activity systems. Approaching activity systems as a unit of analysis allows an exploration of the triangle of relationships between crisis, institutional actors, and users of digital platforms in authoritarian states. Asmolov offers a case of political crisis communication in Russia to illustrate how this model can be used to track the adaptation of autocracies to crisis response. Asmolov argues the Russian case allows us to connect two different types of crises – the Russian wildfires and COVID-19, highlighting how the investigation of crisis communication in an authoritarian environment should not focus only on specific crises, since, from a socio-political perspective, different crises have common properties.
The chapter's theoretical framework allows us to distinguish between crisis communication in democratic and in autocratic environments through focusing on the balance between the need to address the crisis and the need to take the population under control in a crisis context. While one may argue that crisis situations create political risks in any political environment, the priority of crisis communication in autocracies is to mitigate political risks through taking control of the role of digital platforms that mediate relationships between people and crisis, as well between people and the state system. The chapter analysis highlights how the symbolic construction of a crisis and the structure of crisis-related activity systems are deeply interrelated. Addressing simultaneously the construction of a crisis and the development of state-sponsored systems for citizen engagement can be considered as a novel solution to the dictator's dilemma in crisis situations.

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