Authoritarian regimes frequently attempt to justify repression by accusing their opponents of violent behavior. Are such claims successful at persuading the public to accept state-sponsored violence, and can these claims be contested effectively by human rights organizations seeking to publicize evidence contradicting the regime’s narrative? To evaluate these questions, we conducted a survey experiment in Egypt using Facebook advertisements to recruit respondents safely. The experiment evaluates the persuasiveness of competing information provided by a human rights organization and the Egyptian security forces in shaping attitudes toward an incident of state-sponsored violence in which security forces killed several leaders of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood. We find evidence for the ability of Egyptian security forces to increase support for this repression when they control the narrative about why violence was used. However, we also find that the effects of this propaganda disappear when paired with information from Human Rights Watch that counters the security forces’ justifications. These findings provide experimental evidence that propaganda can help authoritarian regimes to increase public support for repression, but they also indicate that human rights organizations can play some role in mitigating this support when they succeed at disseminating countervalent information in these contexts.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.