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Does the Great Fire Wall cause self-censorship? The effects of perceived internet regulation and the justification of regulation

Zhi-Jin Zhong (School of Communication and Design, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China)
Tongchen Wang (School of Communication and Design, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China)
Minting Huang (School of Communication and Design, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China)

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Article publication date: 7 August 2017

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of internet censorship, which is represented by the Great Fire Wall, on Chinese internet users’ self-censorship.

Design/methodology/approach

A 3×2 factorial experiment (n=315) is designed. Different patterns of censorship (soft censorship, compared censorship, and hard censorship) and the justification of internet regulation are involved in the experiment as two factors. The dependent variable is self-censorship which is measured through the willingness to speak about sensitive issues and the behavior of refusing to sign petitions with true names.

Findings

The results show that perceived internet censorship significantly decreases the willingness to talk about sensitive issues and the likelihood of signing petitions with true names. The justification of censorship significantly decreases self-censorship on the behaviors of petition signing. Although there are different patterns of internet censorship that Chinese netizens may encounter, they do not differ from each other in causing different levels of self-censorship.

Research limitations/implications

The subjects are college students who were born in the early 1990s, and the characteristics of this generation may influence the results of the experiment. The measurement of self-censorship could be refined.

Originality/value

The study contributes to the body of literature about internet regulation because it identifies a causal relationship between the government’s internet censorship system and ordinary people’s reaction to the regulation in an authoritarian regime. Unpacking different patterns of censorship and different dimensions of self-censorship depicts the complexity of censoring and being censored.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the Big Data and Communication Social Science Research Base in Guangzhou city.

Citation

Zhong, Z.-J., Wang, T. and Huang, M. (2017), "Does the Great Fire Wall cause self-censorship? The effects of perceived internet regulation and the justification of regulation", Internet Research, Vol. 27 No. 4, pp. 974-990. https://doi.org/10.1108/IntR-07-2016-0204

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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