Censorship Diffusion: How the International Neighborhood Influences Domestic Digital Policing

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Recent decades have witnessed increasing levels of internet censorship as part of the global diffusion of digital authoritarianism, yet the causes and patterns of the diffusion remain uncertain. This article argues that the international environment constitutes a vital factor related to the cross-national diffusion of censorship through influencing the norm and expertise to censor. I develop and test three hypotheses to examine the two proposed paths: (1) states employ higher levels of censorship in response to the increased norm to censor within their “neighborhood”; (2) states receive more technological expertise on censorship from their “neighbors”, which leads to (3) the availability of censorship expertise increases states’ employment of censorship. Using social network analysis, I construct three types of international neighborhood based on linkages of geography, trade, and military alliance. Using panel data on the internet censorship level of 96 countries over a period of eleven years (2009-2020), I test the hypotheses on all three types of neighborhoods through fixed-effects regression with spatially weighted techniques. The analysis shows that the military alliance neighborhood has the most salient impact on the diffusion of censorship through both norm and technological availability, while the trade neighborhood also shows homogeneity in the perceived norm to censor. I interpret the result as evidence that censorship is encouraged among authoritarian alliance states by those already possessing sophisticated censorship systems like China. The study contributes to the growing literature on democratic backsliding by introducing the international dimension into digital authoritarianism.





Li, Yueyi (2022). Censorship Diffusion: How the International Neighborhood Influences Domestic Digital Policing. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/25319.


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