Annotated Bibliography: Transnational Digital Repression

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Workshop: Annotated Bibliography: Transnational Digital Repression

Who: Noura Al-Jizawi, Siena Anstis, Sharly Chan

Date: Wednesday, November 18th

The Annotated Bibliography compiles and summarizes relevant literature on “transnational digital repression” (i.e., where states seek to exert pressure—using digital tools—on citizens living abroad in order to constrain, limit, or eliminate political or social action that threatens regime stability or social and cultural norms within the country). While transnational repression itself is not a new phenomenon, there has been limited research on how such repression is enabled and expanded by digital tools.

In this session we are going to paint a picture of how transnational digital repression works, which regimes engage in such activities and using what digital tools, and how these efforts impact diaspora communities.

Noura AlJizawi is a Research Assistant at the Citizen Lab at Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto. She focuses her research on the intersection of information and communication technology, human rights, and global security; with a specific focus on the MENA region.

Siena Anstis is Senior Legal Advisor at the Citizen Lab. Previously, she worked as a litigation associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP in New York City and clerked at the Court of Appeal for Ontario and the Supreme Court of Canada. She has also worked as a refugee lawyer in Toronto, Canada, which has motivated her interests in technology and migration issues.

Sharly Chan is a Research Assistant at the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto. She situates her research at the intersection of technology, human rights, and global security; with a focus on targeted digital threats against civil society.

// We will be hosting a 25 minute post-workshop networking exercise to allow folks to meet others who share their interest, and strengthen collaborations across various lines. Make sure to schedule in 25 minutes extra on your calendar, if you are interested in joining //

>> Check out notes from other sessions here


Powerpoint Presentation

  • Transnational digital repression: an authoritarian state’s use of technology to harass, persecute, silence or intimidate citizens living outside its borders
  • Focus has generally been on technology being used, versus impact on the target. With more information, can craft policy and legislative recommendations
  • Targeted individuals usually feel guilty, unsafe, insecure, traumatic, worried about safety of others, surprised, scared, uncertain, altered behavior.
  • Responses to Transnational Digital Repression - No single magic solution. Are criminal mechanisms appropriate in this context? Community coalitions sharing and offering resources. Digital security trainings through orgs that provide refugee services.


Reminder for the QA: Chatham House Rule: Under the Chatham House Rule, anyone who comes to a meeting is free to use information from the discussion, but is not allowed to reveal who made any comment.

Q1: Are you thinking of expanding this research? (including other country cases)

  • We are interested in expanding the research to more countries. The countries we selected on were just based on the research we found. We will do a 6-month update of this annotated bibliography. We are happy to receive any suggestions of resources to add.

Q2: One avenue I am not seeing here is negotiating with the social media companies —something I believe we did at OpenITP back in the day. What are your thoughts on that route to stopping harassment of journalists and activists?

  • (OpenITP was the original base of the IFF and they found themselves approach by journalists with problems with social media as Facebook taking down their posts. OpenITP talked with Facebook so they wouldn't censor this content)
  • It would be great to do this. One approach is facilitating in these specific cases, individually. The other one is content moderation revision in a larger scale.

Q3: Do you think it would be relevant to add observations of complex cases, like social media harassment / hostile environment made not by government-supported trolls necessarily, but social media users as well?

  • We know authoritarian regimes have a lot of supporters, it's super interesting with my other colleagues at Citizenlab that trolls are not all the time state-backed. There are also other people who harass dissidents. If you found any related resources to our research, please share it with us. About this issue we can talk later because we are interested in the political debate manipulation by other parties that are not state-backed.
  • At citizen Lab we published a paper about the impact of disinformaiton and one of our findings that it's not just trolls that affecting the online sphere. we understand that there's online repression from online citizen towards us based on their political views especially in countries that going through political transition.

Q4: Can we rate the regime based on the Transnational Digital Repression in the diasphora?

  • We have examples of countries that are very active with this repression, like Siria or China, but it is complicated to have methods that rate the regimes on this activity, with the resources that we have right now.

Q5: As someone who's been the subject of gov sponsored attacks and intimidation tactics, what would be the best way to help you with your research?

  • It would be great to connect with individuals targeted so the team can do interviews and amplify their research from this perspective. 

Q6: Do you plan to be involved in litigation?

  • The research team doesn't plan to, but there is a tendency now in Europe of taking actions with these litigations.

Q7: As researchers and activists, how do you balance working on the Impact on Targeted Individuals? 

  • We are humans and we can't disconnect from this heartbreaking stories that we report from activists of the community. And it is even harder because some of us have been targeted before. On the other hand, this motivates us more for improving our work to tackle these issues and raise the voices of these activists that are seriously violenty targeted.