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Truth Replaced by Silence: A Field Experiment on Private Censorship in Russia

50 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2015  

Charles Crabtree

University of Michigan - Political Science, Students

Christopher J. Fariss

Pennsylvania State University

Holger L. Kern

Florida State University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: December 25, 2015

Abstract

Through highly visible acts of repression, authoritarian regimes can send informative signals to private actors about what types of speech are off-limits and might draw the punitive attention of the state. These acts not only encourage private actors to censor themselves but also to censor other private actors, a behavior we refer to as regime-induced private censorship. Our paper is the first to provide systematic empirical evidence on the extent and targets of such censorship behavior. We use a field experiment conducted throughout the Russian Federation in September 2014 to investigate the private censorship behavior of private media firms. The results suggest that private actors censor the messages of other private actors when those messages include anti-regime language, calls for collective action, or both. These results are partially consistent with previous empirical findings in that they show that private actors censor content with a collective action appeal even when the message itself is non-political. Our results, however, build upon previous work by showing that anti-regime messages that do not contain a call for collective action are still censored under some authoritarian regimes. Our results highlight the importance of forms of censorship other than state censorship when discussing repression, dissent, and public opinion formation in authoritarian regimes.

Keywords: censorship, dictatorship, repression, free speech, Russia

Suggested Citation

Crabtree, Charles and Fariss, Christopher J. and Kern, Holger L., Truth Replaced by Silence: A Field Experiment on Private Censorship in Russia (December 25, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2708274 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2708274

Charles Crabtree

University of Michigan - Political Science, Students ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Christopher J. Fariss

Pennsylvania State University ( email )

University Park
State College, PA 16802
United States

Holger L. Kern (Contact Author)

Florida State University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Tallahassee, FL 30306
United States

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