Normalization of Censorship: Evidence from China
36 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2022 Last revised: 12 Feb 2024
Date Written: November 2, 2021
Authoritarian censorship is traditionally understood as a repressive tool and will cause public backlash against the regime. However, surveys worldwide consistently find that citizens in authoritarian regimes are apathetic toward or even supportive of government censorship. To explain this puzzle, I theorize that citizens are subject to a normalization process. Specifically, individuals become desensitized to censorship activities when the range of censored content expands beyond politically threatening topics, like government criticism and collective action, to other less political issues. Using 28 million censored articles and two original survey experiments in China, I show that (1) a majority of censored articles are indeed unrelated to politically threatening topics, and (2) respondents exposed to the censorship of both political and non-political content report higher support for censorship and the regime than those exposed only to political censorship. These findings highlight how normalizing repressive apparatuses like censorship contributes to authoritarian control and survival.
Keywords: Censorship, China, Normalization, Public Opinion, Authoritarian Control
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