Truth Replaced by Silence: A Field Experiment on Private Censorship in Russia
50 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2015
Date Written: December 25, 2015
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: Suggested Citation