Political Self-Censorship in Authoritarian States: The Spatial-Temporal Dimension of Trouble

Journal Article (Journal Article)

We theorize and measure a situational self-censorship that varies across spatial-temporal political contexts. Schelling’s insight that distinctive times and places function as focal points has generated a literature explaining how activists coordinate for protest in authoritarian states. Our population of interest is not activists but ordinary citizens, who, we assume, are risk-averse and prefer to avoid trouble. Focal points rally activists for political expression. By contrast, we theorize, ordinary citizens exercise greater than usual political self-censorship at focal points, to avoid punishment as troublemakers. We test our theory by leveraging geotagged smartphone posts of Beijing netizens on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, to estimate precisely if, when, where, and how citizens engage in political talk. We use a difference-in-differences strategy that compares smartphone political talk at and away from focal places before and after focal times. We find netizens self-censor political talk significantly more at potentially troublesome spatial-temporal focal points.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Chang, C; Manion, M

Published Date

  • July 1, 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 54 / 8

Start / End Page

  • 1362 - 1392

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1552-3829

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0010-4140

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/0010414021989762

Citation Source

  • Scopus