Censorship and Two Types of Self-Censorship

25 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2010 Last revised: 27 Mar 2012

See all articles by Philip Cook

Philip Cook

University of Edinburgh

Conrad Heilmann

Erasmus University Rotterdam

Date Written: March 20, 2010


We propose and defend a distinction between two types of self-censorship: public and private. In public self-censorship, individuals restrain their expressive attitudes in response to public censors. In private self-censorship, individuals do so in the absence of public censorship. We argue for this distinction by introducing a general model which allows us to identify, describe, and compare a wide range of censorship regimes. We demonstrate the efficacy of our model by applying it to the case of the publication of cartoons of Mohammed by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Analysis of this case through our model reveals the presence of both public and private self-censorship. We consider private self-censorship in detail and argue that private self-censorship may occur when an agent acts on behalf of a public agent (private self-censorship by proxy), or when individuals constitute their own censorship regime absent a public agent (private self-censorship by self-constraint). Whilst our paper concentrates on clarifying self-censorship, we end the paper by considering its repercussions for normative analysis. We show that principles of free speech can only be invoked in cases of public self-censorship because coercion is absent in private self-censorship.

Keywords: censorship, self-censorship, free speech, Danish Mohammed cartoons

Suggested Citation

Cook, Philip and Heilmann, Conrad, Censorship and Two Types of Self-Censorship (March 20, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1575662 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1575662

Philip Cook (Contact Author)

University of Edinburgh ( email )

Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 9JY
United Kingdom

Conrad Heilmann

Erasmus University Rotterdam ( email )


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