Participatory Censorship in Authoritarian Regimes

33 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2022

See all articles by Tony Zirui Yang

Tony Zirui Yang

Washington University in Saint Louis

Date Written: August 8, 2022


Contrary to the conventional top-down view of government censorship, ordinary citizens in authoritarian regimes frequently participate in censorship by reporting online content. This study theorizes a bottom-up perspective of censorship in authoritarian regimes and analyzes its prevalence and consequences on public opinion toward censorship in the case of China. I argue that public participation increases support for censorship by diminishing the government's responsibility and strengthening citizens' perceived empowerment. Using an original survey in China, I show that more than half of the respondents have flagged content online and such participation is positively correlated with support for government censorship. I further conduct an experiment embedded in custom-engineered, simulated social media pages. Consistent with my theory, respondents that are encouraged to report simulated posts display significantly higher support for government censorship. My study highlights the role of ordinary citizens in facilitating authoritarian control and the normalization of repressive policies such as censorship.

Keywords: Censorship, Authoritarian Regime, China, Public Participation, Public Opinion

Suggested Citation

Yang, Tony, Participatory Censorship in Authoritarian Regimes (August 8, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Tony Yang (Contact Author)

Washington University in Saint Louis ( email )

One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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