How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism But Silences Collective Expression

Gary King, Jennifer Pan, Margaret Roberts



Contrary to previous understandings, Chinese Internet posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored than posts without this content. Instead, this study shows that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content.

This study uses modern computer-assisted text analytic methods that the researchers adapted and validated in the Chinese language to compare the substantive content of Internet posts censored by the Chinese government to those not censored over time in each of 95 issue areas. The study's authors located, downloaded, and analyzed the content of millions of social media posts originating from nearly 1,400 different social media services throughout China.