Authoritarianism and the Internet

Law & Social Inquiry, Vol. 43, No. 4, 2018

The Chinese University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2019-10

49 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2019 Last revised: 7 Oct 2019

See all articles by Bryan H. Druzin

Bryan H. Druzin

Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Faculty of Law

Gregory S. Gordon

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - Faculty of Law

Date Written: November 13, 2018

Abstract

This article argues that Internet censorship is more fragile than is generally supposed and is, in fact, vulnerable to abrupt collapse. The volume and rapidity of online communication renders perfect policing of the Internet technologically impossible. Authoritarian governments are thus forced to rely on Internet users to police themselves in the form of self-censorship. This strategy has proven largely successful — legal ambiguity regarding what constitutes impermissible speech fosters norms of self-censorship. This reliance on self-censorship, however, renders these censorial systems susceptible to shocks. We set out a model that explains sudden breakdowns in Internet censorship that we term “cyberspeech cascades.” A cyberspeech cascade occurs when small expressions of online dissent produce large shifts in public perception regarding the acceptable limits of online expression that are, in fact, inaccurate. Online bandwagons of progressively more brazen speech proliferate into large-scale torrents of uncensored expression, triggering the temporary collapse of self-censorship norms online.

Keywords: authoritarianism, cyberspeech cascades, freedom of speech, Internet, social media, censorship, cascade theory, social networks, online bandwagons

JEL Classification: K10, K30, K39, K42

Suggested Citation

Druzin, Bryan H. and Gordon, Gregory S., Authoritarianism and the Internet (November 13, 2018). Law & Social Inquiry, Vol. 43, No. 4, 2018 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3387445

Bryan H. Druzin (Contact Author)

Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Faculty of Law ( email )

Shatin, NT
Hong Kong
+852 3943 1044 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.cuhk.edu.hk/people/druzin-bryan.php

Gregory S. Gordon

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - Faculty of Law ( email )

6/F, Lee Shau Kee Building
Shatin, New Territories
Kowloon, Sha Tin
Hong Kong

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.cuhk.edu.hk/people/gordon-gregory.php

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