Blurring the Lines: Rethinking Censorship Under Autocracy

41 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2017

See all articles by Dimitar D. Gueorguiev

Dimitar D. Gueorguiev

Syracuse University - Department of Political Science

Li Shao

School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University

Charles Crabtree

University of Michigan - Political Science, Students

Date Written: November 21, 2017

Abstract

Self-censorship is subtle and difficult to observe, but its effects are potent and pernicious. We argue that policies encouraging self-censorship not only make it easier to stifle critical viewpoints, they also disadvantage those on the periphery of politics and power. Our guiding intuition is that actors without a connection to the regime have an informational disadvantage about what is on and off limits, which causes them to self-censor to a greater extent than those with more proximate links to the regime. We explore this hypothesis through the case of China, one of the world's most restrictive information environments and a sanctum of self-censorship. Leveraging evidence from virtual field experiments and online surveys, we show that self-censorship practiced by censors, journalists, and even average netizens is closely related to their relative proximity to the regime. Specifically, members of the private media and politically unconnected individuals self-censor to a greater extent than their public sector and state-affiliated peers. This surprising finding helps explain how China's rulers have been able to successfully contain and control a mushrooming information sector with only moderate use of overt censorship. It also helps explain how and why China's state-backed media, despite a reputation for pro-regime bias, remain surprisingly competitive in the domestic market.

Keywords: China, Autocracy, Censorship, Information, Media

Suggested Citation

Gueorguiev, Dimitar D. and Shao, Li and Crabtree, Charles, Blurring the Lines: Rethinking Censorship Under Autocracy (November 21, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3075481 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3075481

Dimitar D. Gueorguiev (Contact Author)

Syracuse University - Department of Political Science ( email )

100 Eggers Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
United States
3154430309 (Phone)

Li Shao

School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University ( email )

668 Yuhangtang rd
Zhejiang University Zijingang Campus
Hangzhou, Zhejiang 310058
China

Charles Crabtree

University of Michigan - Political Science, Students ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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