Comparative Politics

Crisis is a Gateway to Censored Information: The Case of Coronavirus in China

Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld University of California, Los Angeles
William Hobbs Cornell University
Keng-chi Chang University of California, San Diego
Margaret Roberts University of California, San Diego


Crisis and anxiety motivate people to track news closely. We examine the consequences of this increased motivation in authoritarian regimes that normally exert significant control over access to media. Using the case of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, we show that crisis spurs censorship circumvention to access international news and political content on websites blocked in China. Once individuals have circumvented censorship, they not only receive more information about the crisis itself, but the crisis becomes a gateway to unrelated information that the regime has long censored. Through this mechanism, crisis both increases attention to information relevant to individuals’ cur- rent circumstances and incidentally increases access to information that the regime considers sensitive.


Thumbnail image of 10012020_COVID_China_Paper.pdf


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