Censorship, Propaganda, and Political Popularity: Evidence from Russia
45 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2018 Last revised: 1 Mar 2019
Date Written: February 8, 2019
This paper examines the effects of censorship and propaganda on media consumption and government support in Russia. To measure censorship, I compare the number of mentions of the USDRUB exchange rate during weeks when the ruble went up and down, finding that Russian media outlets were more likely to discuss the ruble when it did well. To measure propaganda, I consider publications about the topic with a high level of bias: the war in Ukraine. Using the frequency with which media outlets use specific keywords related to these topics and the cross-regional differences in outlets’ audience share, I construct high-frequency (weekly) measures of the distortions. I find that the popularity of the government increases in regions exposed to more censorship and propaganda, but no effect in regions with high internet penetration. Effects are temporary and dissipate after 2-3 weeks. In turn, the audience of the government-owned television channels temporarily decreases in periods when they broadcast more propaganda than their competitors. The results suggest that, while censorship and propaganda in government-controlled media can affect political attitudes, the impact is mitigated by the availability of less biased sources of information.
Keywords: Media bias, Media economics, Censorship, Propaganda, Political economy, Russia
JEL Classification: D7, L82, P26
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation