A new paper from Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret Roberts analyzes “millions of social media posts originating from nearly 1,400 different social media 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.” Here’s what they found:
Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content. Censorship is oriented toward attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may occur in the future — and, as such, seem to clearly expose government intent, such as examples we offer where sharp increases in censorship presage government action outside the Internet.
The authors also address the economic consequences of censorship:
The Chinese economy has obviously grown very fast over the past two decades. But how fast would it have grown if Chinese citizens had the opportunity to learn about each other through collective expression and action? As China’s economy modernizes, and generalized trust becomes more essential, it is reasonable to expect that the difference between what is and what could be China’s economic growth will widen much further.
(HT: FP Passport)