What the Chinese Government Worries About

by Henry Farrell on June 14, 2012 · 4 comments

in IT and politics

A new paper by Gary King, Jennifer Pan and Margaret Roberts.

The size and sophistication of the Chinese government’s program to selectively censor the expressed views of the Chinese people is unprecedented in recorded world history. … In this paper, we show that this program, designed to limit freedom of speech of Chinese citizens, paradoxically also exposes an extraordinarily rich source of information about the Chinese government’s interests, intentions, and goals — a subject of longstanding interest to the scholarly and policy communities. … Our central theoretical finding is that, contrary to much research and commentary, the purpose of the censorship program is not to supress criticism of the state or the Party. Indeed, despite widespread censorship of social media, we find that when the Chinese people write scathing criticisms of their government and its leaders, the probability that their post will be censored does not increase. Instead, we find that the purpose of the censorship program is to reduce the probability of collective action by clipping social ties whenever any localized social movements are in evidence or expected. We demonstrate these points and then discuss their far-reaching implications for the state, civil society, political control, and the economy.

{ 4 comments }

kerokan June 14, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Wow. This is why Gary King is a university professor at Harvard.

Rik99 June 15, 2012 at 12:32 am

An amazing paper! One conclusion (p. 28) really stands out:
“As a result, government policies sometimes look as bad, and leaders can be as embarrassed, as is often the case with elected politicians in democratic countries, but, as they seem to recognize, looking bad does not threaten their hold on power so long as they manage to eliminate discussions with collective action potential — where a locus of power and control, other than the government, influences the behaviors of masses of Chinese citizens. With respect to speech, the Chinese people are individually free but collectively in chains.”
Clearly, the analysis techniques described could be applied to western social media as exemplified by the comments section in news media? While there is no organized, direct censorship in the democracies, there does seem to be a loosely organized response of “talking points” by partisans to the seeming purpose of diluting potential collective action when the possibility of localized social movements in the media might occur.

Mike June 15, 2012 at 12:20 pm

I wish I had something more productive to contribute than “wow”, but, I mean, wow!

G.Akhil October 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm

This is one Epic paper, worth a read for sure.

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