Participatory Censorship in Authoritarian Regimes

31 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2022 Last revised: 13 Aug 2023

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, this study argues that ordinary citizens in authoritarian regimes frequently participate in censorship by reporting online content. I hypothesize that such participation in censorship partially explains the high level of public support for censorship found in existing surveys. Using an original survey in China, I demonstrate that participation in censorship is indeed prevalent, with over half of the respondents self-report having previously flagged online content, and that such participation is positively correlated with support for the censorship apparatus. To causally test the hypothesis, I conduct a pre-registered experiment using custom-engineered, simulated social media pages to manipulate reporting behavior. The results show that respondents encouraged to report simulated posts display significantly higher support for the censorship apparatus. This study highlights the role of ordinary citizens in facilitating authoritarian control and explains why repressive apparatus like censorship can be popular with the population.

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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