Over the next five years an unprecedented number of initiatives will coalesce, contributing to an extension of the reach of the Internet to the world’s most remote regions. These efforts largely build on a conception of the Internet and social media as ‘liberation technologies’ that can help people realize human rights, improve access to services or reduce corruption. However, there has been far less discussion about the impact of extending Internet access to conflict-affected regions where the state is weak or has limited reach.

The ConflictNET team will have the unique opportunity to follow, in real-time, ambitious efforts to extend the Internet to some of the world’s most challenging areas and ask difficult questions that are often overlooked. The central research question therefore asks: How does increased access to social media affect the balance between peace-building efforts and attempts to perpetuate violence in conflict-affected communities?

Please visit the ConflictNET website to find out more about the project.

‘Big Data and Human Development’ Incubator Launched

The Big Data and Human Development Incubator  co-directed by Mark Graham (OII) Iginio Gagliardone (PCMLP), Proochista Ariana (QEH) investigates the potential uses of ‘big data’ for advancing human development and addressing equity gaps.

The ultimate goal will be to stimulate policy-oriented research that seeks to understand: 

  1. what presences and absences of data tell us about issues of participation and exclusion;
  2. what data tells us about gaps in human development: facilitating better decision making and accountability in previously data-sparse environments;
  3. what tools have emerged globally that can maximise citizen ownership of big data.

The incubator will build a digital observatory to assess potentials of different data sources; aim to empirically illustrate some of the promises and perils of using big data to inform human development; and bring together research and policy to ensure methodological knowledge about big data is appropriately mapped.

This inclusive initiative will include practitioners, scholars and interested parties from around the world with the aim of ensuring that workshops and resources produced are shaped by the people to whom they matter most.

More information is available on the project website:






The International Politics of the Internet: China in Africa

PCMLP is currently engaged in research examining and analyzing the fragmentation of the internet, a process that gives greater power to states to regulate and monitor it and develop national internets. Our approach is to focus on Africa as a space where competing tendencies are encouraging this fragmentation, including the securitisation of development proomoted by the US and the rising role of China in the media and telecommunications sector.

The first phase of the project started in January 2010, initially with funding from the ESRC.  It has subsequently been supported by the British Academy, the Internet Policy Observatory at Annenberg’s Centre for Global Communication Studies, and most recently, the Leverhulme Trust. The project will continue until January 2018.

In addition to academic outputs, it also aims to promote public debate on the increasing role China is playing on the media in Africa and globally and to create a terrain where different conceptions of the media can be shared, beyond ideological divides. As part this effort, several international conferences have been organised including on New Trends in African Media: The Growing Role of China which offered an unprecedented opportunity for Chinese, African and Western media actors operating on the continent, such as CCTV, Xinhua, and the BBC, to confront views on the role and functions of the media and of media assistance in Africa.  This followed on the ESRC workshop that brought together academics from China, Africa and Europe to reflect on China’s increasing influence on the media in Africa and on the implications this has for traditional approaches to media assistance and media development on the continent and beyond.  See the Workshop Programme.  The report from the workshop, China in Africa: A New Approach to Media Development, has been published.

This research has received extensive media coverage on popular platforms such as The Huffington Post, CNN, and Al Jazeera English.

Media, Conflict and Peacebuilding

We are part of the European Union FP7 project on Media, Conflict and Democratisation, which explores the role of media around a range of events and issues including: transitional justice, elections, and marginalized communities. We are coordinating the research team in Kenya (additional country case studies include South Africa, Egypt and Serbia) and in 2016 we will also be leading the research stream on government communication. Further information about MeCoDEM can be found on the project website.

As part of a Carnegie Corporation-funded project on ICTs, Peacebuilding and Statebuilding PCMLP has been working with researchers in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. As part of this project, several workshops have been convened in Kenya and Oxford, bringing together researchers from the region. An edited collection of researchers involved in the network is forthcoming in a special edition of Stability: The Journal of International Development and Security.

PCMLP, particularly though the continued work of Nicole Stremlau, remains engaged with research in the Somali territories. We have an ongoing research project looking at the growth and regulation of new communications technologies; the role of call-in radio programmes in governance; and the politics and process of making media and communications legislation. Our research has been funded by a number of organizations including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the United Nations/African Union Information Support Team.

Internet Law and Policy

PCMLP researchers explore cutting-edge issues in internet law and policy around the world. We have a strong interest in understanding internet law in states in transition- or in regions where the government is weak but where societies are experiencing tremendous innovations.  Our research in this area has led us to explore alternative dispute resolution around mobile money in Eastern Africa and the role of customary law and shari’a law in regulating investments in media and new technologies.

We are also engaged in larger international comparative initiatives, including current trends in media law in Europe.  One mechanism for looking at contemporary issues is through the Price Media Law Moot Court competition.  Every year students around the world debate an issue of freedom of expression- from blasphemy to privacy online- and are judged by some of the leading media and human rights lawyers from around the world.  Our partnerships with universities in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East that have been built on the foundations of the Price Moot Court have also flowered into opportunities for comparative research, such as a recent British Council project on media law curriculum development with the National Law University-Delhi.

PCMLP has also joined Stanford and Peking Universities in a partnership to convene an annual symposium on comparative perspectives on Internet Law and Policy, supported by Tencent.  The most recent symposium was hosted by Peking University and brought together leading academics from the universities and partner institutions to explore a range of emerging and contemporary issues from intermediary liability to the right to be forgotten.

Hate Speech Online

Hate speech online is situated at the intersection of multiple tensions: it is the expression of conflicts between different groups within and across societies; it is a vivid example of how new technologies bring with them both opportunities and challenges; and it implies complex balancing between fundamental rights and principles, including freedom of expression and the defense of human dignity. Most alarmingly, hate speech has been linked to discrimination, ethnic and religious violence, and terrorist recruitment across the world. At PCMLP we have sought to promote new ways to understand this new and growing phenomenon, both at the conceptual and at the practical level. In collaboration with UNESCO, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and as part of our Moot Court competition, we have challenged some of the recurrent assumptions around hate speech online, calling for greater understanding of both offenders and targets. The UNESCO study, Countering Online Hate Speech, provides a global overview of the dynamics characterizing the dissemination of hateful messages online and some of the measures that have been adopted to counteract and mitigate it, highlighting good practices that have emerged at the local and global levels. This research offers a comprehensive analysis of the international, regional and national normative frameworks developed to address hate speech online, and their repercussions for freedom of expression. It also places particular emphasis on social and non-regulatory mechanisms that can help to counter the production, dissemination and impact of hateful messages online.

The Mechachal (“Tolerance” in Amharic) project offers a more focused and empirically grounded understanding not online of hate speech, but of a variety of debates online that emerge around elections. It is one of the most comprehensive attempts to map online debates in social media in Africa and aims at offering new methodological and conceptual tools that can be adapted to other scenarios in Africa and beyond to analyse both extremist messages and opportunities for engagement online. Report 1 and Report 2 are now available.