Self-Censorship Under Law: A Case Study of the Hong Kong National Security Law

Authors: Mona Wang (Princeton University), Jonathan Mayer (Princeton University)

Year: 2023
Issue: 1
Pages: 46–55

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Abstract: We study how legislation that restricts speech can induce online self-censorship and alter online discourse, using the recent Hong Kong national security law as a case study. We collect a dataset of 7 million historical Tweets from Hong Kong users, supplemented with historical snapshots of Tweet streams collected by other researchers. We compare online activity before and after enactment of the national security law, and we find that Hong Kong users demonstrate two types of self- censorship. First, Hong Kong users are more likely than a control group, sampled randomly from historical snapshots of Tweet streams, to remove past online activity. Specifically, Hong Kong users are over a third more likely than the control group to delete or restrict their account and over twice as likely to delete past posts. Second, we find that Hong Kong users post less often about politically sensitive topics that have been censored on social media in mainland China. This trend continues to increase.

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