How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression



Gary King, Department of Government, Harvard University

Date and Time

June 6, 2012 4:30 PM - 5:45 PM



Open to the public.

RSVP required by 5PM June 05.


Philippines Conference Room

We offer the first large scale, multiple source analysis of the outcome of what may be the most extensive effort to selectively censor human expression ever implemented. To do this, we have devised a system to locate, download, and analyze the content of 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. Using modern computer-assisted text analytic methods that we adapt and validate in the Chinese language, we compare the substantive content of posts censored to those not censored over time in each of 95 issue areas. 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. This is joint work with Jennifer Pan and Molly Roberts.

Gary King is the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University -- one of 24 with the title of University Professor, Harvard's most distinguished faculty position. He is based in the Department of Government (in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and serves as director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. King develops and applies empirical methods in many areas of social science research, focusing on innovations that span the range from statistical theory to practical application.

King received a B.A. from SUNY New Paltz (1980) and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984). His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the National Institute of Aging, the Global Forum for Health Research, and centers, corporations, foundations, and other federal agencies.