How Censorship in China Allows GovernmentCriticism but Silences Collective Expression
.June 14, 2012
We offer the ﬁrst large scale, multiple source analysis of the outcome of what may bethe most extensive effort to selectively censor human expression ever implemented.To do this, we have devised a system to locate, download, and analyze the contentof millions of social media posts originating from nearly 1,400 different social me-dia services all over China before the Chinese government is able to ﬁnd, evaluate,and censor (i.e., remove from the Internet) the large subset they deem objectionable.Using modern computer-assisted text analytic methods that we adapt to and validatein the Chinese language, we compare the substantive content of posts censored tothose not censored over time in each of 85 issue areas. Contrary to previous under-standings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and itspolicies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship pro-gram is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent,reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content. Censorship is orientedtoward attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may oc-cur in the future — and, as such, seem to clearly expose government intent, such asexamples we offer where sharp increases in censorship presage government actionoutside the Internet.
Our thanks to Peter Bol, John Carey, Justin Grimmer, Iain Johnston, Bill Kirby, Jean Oi, Liz Perry, BobPutnam, Noah Smith, Andy Walder, and Barry Weingast for helpful comments and suggestions; the incred-ible teams at Crimson Hexagon, and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, forhelp with data and many technical issues; and our indefatigable undergraduate research associates, WanxinCheng, Jennifer Sun, Hannah Waight, Yifan Wu, and Min Yu.
Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor, Institute for Quantitative Social Science, 1737 Cam-bridge Street, Harvard University, Cambridge MA 02138; http://GKing.harvard.edu, email@example.com,(617) 500-7570.
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Government, 1737 Cambridge Street, Harvard University, CambridgeMA 02138; http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/
jjpan/, (917) 740-5726.
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Government, 1737 Cambridge Street, Harvard University, CambridgeMA 02138; http://scholar.harvard.edu/mroberts/home