Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
China Initiative

Margaret Roberts — Censorship's Effect on Incidental Exposure to Information: Evidence from Wikipedia

Thursday, April 15, 2021

4:00pm – 5:30pm

Register here to join the webinar.

The fast-growing body of research on internet censorship has examined the effects of censoring selective pieces of political information and the unintended consequences of censorship of entertainment. However, we know very little about the broader consequences of coarse censorship or censorship that affects a large array of information such as an entire website or search engine. In this study, we use China’s complete block of Chinese language Wikipedia (zh.wikipedia.org) on May 19, 2015, to disaggregate the effects of coarse censorship on proactive consumption of information—information users seek out—and on incidental consumption of information—information users are not actively seeking but consume when they happen to come across it. We quantify the effects of censorship of Wikipedia not only on proactive information consumption but also on opportunities for exploration and incidental consumption of information. We find that users from mainland China were much more likely to consume information on Wikipedia about politics and history incidentally rather than proactively, suggesting that the effects of censorship on incidental information access may be politically significant.

This work was done in partnership with Jennifer Pan, Assistant Professor of Communication at Stanford University.

Margaret (Molly) Roberts's research interests lie in the intersection of political methodology and the politics of information, with a specific focus on methods of automated content analysis and the politics of censorship in China. She received a PhD from Harvard in Government (2014), MS in Statistics from Stanford (2009) and BA in International Relations and Economics (2009). Currently, she is working on a variety of projects that span censorship, propaganda, topic models, and other methods of text analysis. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, Political Analysis, and Science.