Crisis is a Gateway to Censored Information: The Case of Coronavirus in China

31 Pages Posted: 29 Dec 2020 Last revised: 7 Jan 2021

See all articles by Keng-Chi Chang

Keng-Chi Chang

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

William R. Hobbs

Cornell University

Margaret Roberts

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - 21st Century China Center

Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Date Written: October 2, 2020

Abstract

Crisis and anxiety motivate people to track news closely. We examine the consequences of this increased motivation in authoritarian regimes that normally exert significant control over access to media. Using the case of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, we show that crisis spurs censorship circumvention to access international news and political content on websites blocked in China. Once individuals have circumvented censorship, they not only receive more information about the crisis itself, but the crisis becomes a gateway to unrelated information that the regime has long censored. Through this mechanism, crisis both increases attention to information relevant to individuals’ current circumstances and incidentally increases access to information that the regime considers sensitive.

Keywords: China, Media, Censorship, Coronavirus

Suggested Citation

Chang, Keng-Chi and Hobbs, William R. and Roberts, Margaret and Steinert-Threlkeld, Zachary, Crisis is a Gateway to Censored Information: The Case of Coronavirus in China (October 2, 2020). 21st Century China Center Research Paper Series, Paper No. 2021-01, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3756577 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3756577

Keng-Chi Chang

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0502
La Jolla, CA 92093-0112
United States

William R. Hobbs

Cornell University

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Margaret Roberts

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - 21st Century China Center ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive #0519
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) ( email )

405 Hilgard Avenue
Box 951361
Los Angeles, CA 90095
United States

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