Margaret Roberts

  Viernes, 9 de Diciembre de 2016

  09:00 - 10:00

   Santiago CESS, Concha y Toro 32C, Santiago

   How Sudden Censorship Can Increase Access to Information

ABSTRACT

(with William Hobbs)
Conventional wisdom assumes that increased censorship will strictly decrease access to information. We delineate circumstances when increases in censorship will instead expand access to information. When governments suddenly impose censorship on previously uncensored information, citizens who are accustomed to acquiring this information will be incentivized to learn methods of censorship evasion. Tools of censorship evasion not only provide continued access to the newly blocked information, but also extend users’ ability to collect information that they did not previously have access to. We illustrate this phenomenon using millions of individual-level, real-time actions of social media users in China before and after the block of the popular social networking website Instagram. The Instagram block decreased access to Instagram itself, but most Chinese users continued to access the site by acquiring virtual private networks (VPNs). These new VPN users then joined websites like Twitter and Facebook, which have long been blocked in China, but are more politicized than social media in mainland China or Instagram. We show that despite initially being apolitical, these new users began browsing blocked political pages on Wikipedia, following foreign news outlets and Chinese political activists on Twitter, and, after about one day on Twitter, discussing highly politicized topics such as opposition protests in Hong Kong. These results suggest a pathway through which increased censorship can counterintuitively popularize anti-government information and broaden political activism.

Link to the paper