What is the impact of coarse censorship on the broad contours of information consumption? Existing literature has mostly focused on the impacts of selective censorship of political information or the unintended consequences of censorship of entertainment on information consumption. In this study, we use China's complete block of Chinese language Wikipedia (zh.wikipedia.org) on May 19, 2015 to understand the ways in which internet users in a tightly controlled information environment were using a platform that facilitated access to very diverse types of information. We find that Wikipedia was used by mainland Chinese users in large part for exploration and browsing, such that the effects of censorship in limiting opportunities for exploration of political, scientific, and historical knowledge are as significant or greater than its effects in limiting access to demand for specific information about politics or entertainment. Our results reveal how censorship can endogenously decrease demand for political information by removing opportunities for exploration and by chance encounters with information.
Margaret (Molly) Roberts is an Associate Professor in Political Science at the UC San Diego Department of Political Science. Her research interests lie in the intersection of political methodology and the politics of information, specifically focused on automated text analysis and the politics of information control. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, Political Analysis, and Science. Her recent book Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China's Great Firewall was published by Princeton University Press in 2018.