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Potential for Collective Action is China Censors’ Top Target – Harvard Study

September 6, 2013
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What do closed, autocratic regimes fear most? As the world gets better connected through the internet, and the media’s role in publicising corruption and abuse of power becomes more widespread, it might be beneficial to look at what governments which restrict the freedom of expression actually fear. Is it criticism of abuse of power by their leaders, or of institutions that are expected to be independent such as the judiciary? Or is it criminal behaviour by the military and law enforcement arms of the government?
China clamps down on any independence of the formal media. Its absence was inevitably filled by the internet and social media. But Beijing cracked down on the social media too by imposing harsh punishments on critics who targeted government policy, the CCP, or the abuses by military and police against pro-democracy activists.
In this context, three Harvard scholars have tried to shed light on what aspect of political life in China gets most censored in the social media through a randomised experimental study.
“Our results offer unambiguous support for, and clarification of, the emerging view that criticism of the state, its leaders, and their policies are routinely published whereas posts with collective action potential are much more likely to be censored,” they say, adding, “We are also able to clarify the internal mechanisms of the Chinese censorship apparatus and show that local social media sites have far more flexibility than was previously understood in how (but not what) they censor.”
‘A Randomised Experimental Study of Censorship in China’ was presented at the American Political Science Association meeting on August 31 in Chicago by Gary King, Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor, Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard, and two postgraduate students at the university’s Department of Government – Jennifer Pan and Margret E. Roberts.  
You can read their paper here
Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.