Civics: Normalization of Censorship: Evidence from China

Tony Zirui Yang:

Previous research claims that public awareness of censorship will lead to backlash against the regime. However, surveys consistently find that Chinese citizens are apathetic toward or even supportive of government censorship. To explain this puzzle, I argue that citizens are subject to a process of normalization. Specifically, individuals become desensitized to censorship when the range of censored content expands beyond politically threatening topics like government criticism and collective action to other seemingly harmless non-political issues. Using a dataset of 15,872 censored articles on WeChat and two original survey experiments in China, I show that (1) a majority of censored articles are unrelated to politically threatening topics, and (2) respondents exposed to the censorship of non-political content display less backlash toward the regime and its censorship apparatus. My findings highlight how normalization of repressive policies contributes to authoritarian control.