PI: Tony Zirui Yang, Ph.D. Candidate, Washington University in St. Louis
Grant Amount and Grant Fund: $2,500, James Bryce Fund for Political Science
Project Abstract: Traditional understandings of government censorship in authoritarian regimes regard it as a tool of the government to suppress political opposition. In light of such an understanding, scholars have found that authoritarian governments extensively censor online criticism of the regime, and ordinary citizens try to circumvent and resist government censorship. Yet, contrary to the conventional view, surveys consistently find that citizens in authoritarian regimes express high levels of support for government censorship. Why are citizens in authoritarian regimes supportive of government censorship? To explain this puzzle, I argue that citizens support government censorship because they no longer view censorship as suppression of political opposition. Rather, they view censorship as a normal government policy. I call such changes in perception “normalization of censorship.” Specifically, I explore two ways the normalization of censorship happens. First, the government expands the targets of censorship beyond criticism of the regime to other seemingly harmless non-political content such as entertainment and advertisement. As a result, citizens are more likely to believe that censorship is a normal policy that regulates both political and non-political content. Second, the government encourages citizens to participate in censorship by flagging content they do not like. Such participation diminishes the government’s responsibility for censorship. Thus, citizens are less likely to believe that censorship is a tool for political repression. I use various sources of data from China to support my arguments. Taken together, my research highlights how the normalization of censorship contributes to authoritarian governments’ control of society while maintaining popular support.