How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism But Silences Collective Expression
37 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2012 Last revised: 13 Jul 2014
Date Written: 2012
We offer the first large scale, multiple source analysis of the outcome of what may be the most extensive effort to selectively censor human expression ever implemented. To do this, we have devised a system to locate, download, and analyze the content of millions of social media posts originating from nearly 1,400 different social media services all over China before the Chinese government is able to find, evaluate, and censor (i.e., remove from the Internet) the large subset they deem objectionable. Using modern computer-assisted text analytic methods that we adapt and validate in the Chinese language, we compare the substantive content of posts censored to those not censored over time in each of 95 issue areas. Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collection action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content. Censorship is oriented toward attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may occur in the future --- and, as such, seem to clearly expose government intent, such as examples we offer where sharp increases in censorship presage government action outside the Internet.
Keywords: China, censorship, collective action, social media
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?
Tragedy of the Nomenklatura: Career Incentives and Political Radicalism during China's Great Leap Famine
By Shuo Chen and James Kai-sing Kung
Assessing Censorship on Microblogs in China: Discriminatory Keyword Analysis and Impact Evaluation of the 'Real Name Registration' Policy
By King-wa Fu, Chung-hong Chan, ...
Mobile Activism and Contentious Politics in Contemporary China
By Jun Liu