Scaling Authoritarian Information Control: How China Adjusts the Level of Online Censorship

Political Research Quarterly

97 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2021

See all articles by Rongbin Han

Rongbin Han

University of Georgia

Li Shao

School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University

Date Written: January 13, 2021

Abstract

Autocracies can conduct “strategic censorship" online by selectively targeting different types of content, and by adjusting the level of information control. While studies have confirmed the state’s selective targeting behaviour in censorship, few have empirically examined how the autocracies may adjust the control level. Using data with a 6-year span, this paper tests whether the Chinese state scales up control over citizenry complaints in reaction to a series of socio-political events. The results show that instead of responding to mass protests and major disasters as previous studies have suggested, the state tend to adjust the control level because of political ceremonies, policy shifts, or leadership changes. The findings help refine the strategic censorship theory and offer a granular understanding of the motives and tactics of authoritarian information control.

Keywords: Authoritarian information control, strategic censorship, Internet, China

Suggested Citation

Han, Rongbin and Shao, Li, Scaling Authoritarian Information Control: How China Adjusts the Level of Online Censorship (January 13, 2021). Political Research Quarterly , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3765228

Rongbin Han

University of Georgia ( email )

322 Candler Hall
Athens, GA Georgia 30602-6254
United States

Li Shao (Contact Author)

School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University ( email )

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

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