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Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall
November 27, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Margaret Roberts (UC San Diego)
As authoritarian governments around the world develop sophisticated technologies for controlling information, many observers have predicted that these controls would be ineffective because they are easily thwarted and evaded by savvy Internet users. In Censored, Margaret Roberts demonstrates that even censorship that is easy to circumvent can still be enormously effective. Taking advantage of digital data harvested from the Chinese Internet and leaks from China’s Propaganda Department, this book sheds light on how and when censorship influences the Chinese public.
Roberts finds that much of censorship in China works not by making information impossible to access but by requiring those seeking information to spend extra time and money for access. By inconveniencing users, censorship diverts the attention of citizens and powerfully shapes the spread of information. When Internet users notice blatant censorship, they are willing to compensate for better access. But subtler censorship, such as burying search results or introducing distracting information on the web, is more effective because users are less aware of it. Roberts challenges the conventional wisdom that online censorship is undermined when it is incomplete and shows instead how censorship’s porous nature is used strategically to divide the public.
Drawing parallels between censorship in China and the way information is manipulated in the United States and other democracies, Roberts reveals how Internet users are susceptible to control even in the most open societies. Demonstrating how censorship travels across countries and technologies, Censored gives an unprecedented view of how governments encroach on the media consumption of citizens.
About the Speaker:
Margaret Roberts is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. Roberts research focuses on better measuring and understanding the political information strategies of authoritarian governments, with a specific focus on studying censorship and propaganda in China. She has also developed widely used methods for automated content analysis in the social sciences. Roberts received her PhD in Government from Harvard University in 2014, an M.S. in Statistics and B.A. in International Relations and Economics from Stanford in 2009. Her work has appeared in venues such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Political Analysis, Journal of the American Statistical Association and Science.