Freedom of expression in the Digital Age: Internet Censorship

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  • Md Nurul Momen 4  

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Freedom of expression includes freedom to hold opinions and ideas and to receive and impart information without restrictions by state authorities.


Internet is regarded as an important issue that shapes free expression in today’s volatile nature of human rights world (Momen 2020 ). In the digital age, authoritarian governments in the world always attempt to undermine political and social movement through the complete shutdown of the Internet or providing partial access to it. It is also found that the restrictions on freedom of expression on the Internet are through surveillance and monitoring the online activities. In response to any kind of political and social movement, authoritarian governments across the border occasionally shut down many websites, along with the arrest of several anti-government bloggers and political activists. However, under the international legal instruments, for instance, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), denial of the...

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Department of Public Administration, University of Rajshahi, Rajshahi, Bangladesh

Md Nurul Momen

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University of Alberta, Alberta, AB, Canada

Scott Romaniuk

University for Peace, San Jose, Costa Rica

Manish Thapa

Nemzetkozi Tanulmanyok Intezet, Rm 503, Corvinus Univ, Inst of Intl Studies, Budapest, Hungary

Péter Marton

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Momen, M.N. (2019). Freedom of expression in the Digital Age: Internet Censorship. In: Romaniuk, S., Thapa, M., Marton, P. (eds) The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Global Security Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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Internet censorship: making the hidden visible

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writing a research paper on censorship and internet

Despite being founded on ideals of freedom and openness, censorship on the internet is rampant, with more than 60 countries engaging in some form of state-sponsored censorship. A research project at the University of Cambridge is aiming to uncover the scale of this censorship, and to understand how it affects users and publishers of information

Censorship over the internet can potentially achieve unprecedented scale Sheharbano Khattak

For all the controversy it caused, Fitna is not a great film. The 17-minute short, by the Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, was a way for him to express his opinion that Islam is an inherently violent religion. Understandably, the rest of the world did not see things the same way. In advance of its release in 2008, the film received widespread condemnation, especially within the Muslim community.

When a trailer for Fitna was released on YouTube, authorities in Pakistan demanded that it be removed from the site. YouTube offered to block the video in Pakistan, but would not agree to remove it entirely. When YouTube relayed this decision back to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), the decision was made to block YouTube.

Although Pakistan has been intermittently blocking content since 2006, a more persistent blocking policy was implemented in 2011, when porn content was censored in response to a media report that highlighted Pakistan as the top country in terms of searches for porn. Then, in 2012, YouTube was blocked for three years when a video, deemed blasphemous, appeared on the website. Only in January this year was the ban lifted, when Google, which owns YouTube, launched a Pakistan-specific version, and introduced a process by which governments can request the blocking of access to offending material.

All of this raises the thorny issue of censorship. Those censoring might raise objections to material on the basis of offensiveness or incitement to violence (more than a dozen people died in Pakistan following widespread protests over the video uploaded to YouTube in 2012). But when users aren’t able to access a particular site, they often don’t know whether it’s because the site is down, or if some force is preventing them from accessing it. How can users know what is being censored and why?

“The goal of a censor is to disrupt the flow of information,” says Sheharbano Khattak, a PhD student in Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, who studies internet censorship and its effects. “internet censorship threatens free and open access to information. There’s no code of conduct when it comes to censorship: those doing the censoring – usually governments – aren’t in the habit of revealing what they’re blocking access to.” The goal of her research is to make the hidden visible.

She explains that we haven’t got a clear understanding of the consequences of censorship: how it affects different stakeholders, the steps those stakeholders take in response to censorship, how effective an act of censorship is, and what kind of collateral damage it causes.

Because censorship operates in an inherently adversarial environment, gathering relevant datasets is difficult. Much of the key information, such as what was censored and how, is missing. In her research, Khattak has developed methodologies that enable her to monitor censorship by characterising what normal data looks like and flagging anomalies within the data that are indicative of censorship.

She designs experiments to measure various aspects of censorship, to detect censorship in actively and passively collected data, and to measure how censorship affects various players.

The primary reasons for government-mandated censorship are political, religious or cultural. A censor might take a range of steps to stop the publication of information, to prevent access to that information by disrupting the link between the user and the publisher, or to directly prevent users from accessing that information. But the key point is to stop that information from being disseminated.

Internet censorship takes two main forms: user-side and publisher-side. In user-side censorship, the censor disrupts the link between the user and the publisher. The interruption can be made at various points in the process between a user typing an address into their browser and being served a site on their screen. Users may see a variety of different error messages, depending on what the censor wants them to know. 

“The thing is, even in countries like Saudi Arabia, where the government tells people that certain content is censored, how can we be sure of everything they’re stopping their citizens from being able to access?” asks Khattak. “When a government has the power to block access to large parts of the internet, how can we be sure that they’re not blocking more than they’re letting on?”

What Khattak does is characterise the demand for blocked content and try to work out where it goes. In the case of the blocking of YouTube in 2012 in Pakistan, a lot of the demand went to rival video sites like Daily Motion. But in the case of pornographic material, which is also heavily censored in Pakistan, the government censors didn’t have a comprehensive list of sites that were blacklisted, so plenty of pornographic content slipped through the censors’ nets. 

Despite any government’s best efforts, there will always be individuals and publishers who can get around censors, and access or publish blocked content through the use of censorship resistance systems. A desirable property, of any censorship resistance system is to ensure that users are not traceable, but usually users have to combine them with anonymity services such as Tor.

“It’s like an arms race, because the technology which is used to retrieve and disseminate information is constantly evolving,” says Khattak. “We now have social media sites which have loads of user-generated content, so it’s very difficult for a censor to retain control of this information because there’s so much of it. And because this content is hosted by sites like Google or Twitter that integrate a plethora of services, wholesale blocking of these websites is not an option most censors might be willing to consider.”

In addition to traditional censorship, Khattak also highlights a new kind of censorship – publisher-side censorship – where websites refuse to offer services to a certain class of users. Specifically, she looks at the differential treatments of Tor users by some parts of the web. The issue with services like Tor is that visitors to a website are anonymised, so the owner of the website doesn’t know where their visitors are coming from. There is increasing use of publisher-side censorship from site owners who want to block users of Tor or other anonymising systems.

“Censorship is not a new thing,” says Khattak. “Those in power have used censorship to suppress speech or writings deemed objectionable for as long as human discourse has existed. However, censorship over the internet can potentially achieve unprecedented scale, while possibly remaining discrete so that users are not even aware that they are being subjected to censored information.”

Professor Jon Crowcroft, who Khattak works with, agrees: “It’s often said that, online, we live in an echo chamber, where we hear only things we agree with. This is a side of the filter bubble that has its flaws, but is our own choosing. The darker side is when someone else gets to determine what we see, despite our interests. This is why internet censorship is so concerning.”

“While the cat and mouse game between the censors and their opponents will probably always exist,” says Khattak. “I hope that studies such as mine will illuminate and bring more transparency to this opaque and complex subject, and inform policy around the legality and ethics of such practices.”

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Online Censorship Is Unavoidable—So How Can We Improve It?


By Ben Horton*

A few weeks ago, Professors Jack Goldsmith and Andrew Keane Woods ignited controversy by suggesting in the Atlantic that China was right and America was wrong about internet censorship and surveillance. This seemingly contrarian stance rubbed people the wrong way , especially given reports that China’s online censorship delayed their response to COVID-19 and that Chinese agents have actively disseminated disinformation about the virus—and then attempted to suppress reports revealing their disinformation campaign .

Except the professors’ critics seem to have missed the point of their essay. Goldsmith and Woods said China was right that the internet inevitably would be censored and surveilled, not that China’s methods were normatively appealing.

Even discounting existing state surveillance and censorship on the internet in the United States, private surveillance and censorship is ubiquitous. And, notwithstanding our intuitions, most people want an internet that is subject to ubiquitous censorship—that is, “content moderation.”

Putting aside illegal content (child pornography, snuff films, etc.), most consumers do not want to be inundated with what Sarah Jeong has dubbed “ the internet of garbage .” They do not want to be harassed, bullied, threatened, or spammed on the internet. And in the midst of a global pandemic, they want to ensure disinformation is kept to a minimum. They want to limit harmful speech.

Part of our problem is we still think of speech burdens in a binary, on-off way. But especially online, the question is not whether you can find content, it is how hard it will be to be find and how much it will be amplified .

The question is not if there will be censorship and surveillance, [1] the question is who gets to do it, and how it is done. Right now a relatively small group of private actors make not only the substantive decisions about content on the internet, they decide the process that drives those decisions and how information flows through their networks. They wield enormous power , and are almost completely unaccountable to the public.

So, what are our options?

Option 1: Stay the Course

First, the United States could continue to shield tech companies from most tort-based liability for content posted on their platforms via Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act , maintain an expansive view of the First Amendment, and not substantively regulate tech companies.

Supporters of the current system largely admit that ubiquitous content moderation is good, so long as it is private. They hold that a system of private speech regulation provides a market incentive for platforms to reach a Goldilocks-zone of content moderation : Enough harmful speech is blocked that it is possible to maintain deliberative communication amid the noise, but not so much that deliberative communication is also blocked. Consumers have a choice, and services that fail to moderate will either fail or be consigned to the dark corners of the internet .

But how real is that choice? Alphabet owns the two most popular websites in the world. Facebook (through its eponymous service and Instagram), Twitter, and Reddit collectively dominate U.S. social media . Over the past twenty years who has rivaled them? MySpace? Snapchat? Yahoo!? Tumblr? Even including these rivals, American consumers have had two significant options for their search engines and four or five social media sites. And, at least in part, that lack of choice is due to the inaction by antitrust enforcers at the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice when Google bought YouTube and when Facebook acquired Instagram . In a monopolistic environment consumers can try to campaign for changes to private companies’ policies, but their effectiveness might rely on some of the substantive regulations discussed below.

As Evelyn Douek has argued, these platforms are increasingly cooperative in their moderation decision-making , making consumer choice even more illusory. YouTube’s policies on terrorism-related content are not significantly different than Facebook’s or Twitter’s because they all belong to the same private group that develops those standards. Facebook’s new Oversight Board is probably a step in the right direction, but what happens if it becomes the de facto decision-maker for social media standards generally?

Finally, the market theory is contingent on the assumption that people choose their networks based on the ability of the network to curate information. But the profit incentive of social media companies is to increase our engagement—which might mean pushing harmful content on users , or at least enabling that sort of thing ( until they’re caught ). The negative effects of this content might be exaggerated , but without greater transparency we just don’t know.

Aside from the harms of disinformation, staying the course has the additional drawback of eliminating the United States from the global conversation about internet governance. As Microsoft President Brad Smith mentioned in a recent interview , in the future, tech companies may simply adapt their products to the regulations of the European Union and other Western democracies that lack stringent First Amendment or Section 230 protections against government involvement in online speech. We already see this to some extent with the NetzDG law in Germany, which, if nothing else, is offering us some useful transparency on content moderation.

Or tech companies themselves might simply decide how public health crises are managed .

Either way, the United States government, for better or worse, will simply not have much of a say in what the internet looks like.

Option 2: Content-Based Regulations

For constitutional reasons, the approach of regulating speech based on its content is closed off to the United States. There is a lively academic debate about the status of lies and hate speech under the First Amendment. But absent a political revolution, it will remain an academic debate. The Supreme Court has said, in an 8-1 opinion , it will not open up new “uncovered” zones of speech. Content-based regulations of harmful speech will continue to be subject to strict scrutiny, and they will continue to be struck down.

In the U.S. context, at least for the foreseeable future, content-based censorship will continue to be ubiquitous and limited to private actors. That does not mean we need to leave the speech moderating apparatus entirely to the private sector.

Option 3: Torts, Competition, Process, and Friction

Contrary to cyber-libertarians, the options available are not limited to “censorship” or no regulation at all. We have other tools at our disposal. The key is to focus on content-neutral regulations, especially those that govern the flow of information rather than regulations that criminalize certain content.

As a threshold matter, these policies do not have to—and likely will not—take the form of flat bans and mandates. They might be conditions attached to liability immunities or tax incentives, and they can—and should—distinguish between different types of online services. Of course, companies have been lobbied, and should be lobbied, to make these changes on their own; I am arguing that there is some role for direct government regulation in these realms.

First, we could reform Section 230. While supporters maintain that Section 230 is necessary to ensure that platforms can engage in decent moderation without fear of liability , detractors argue that a well-crafted alternative could still shield sites that engage in good-faith moderation without shielding sites that are designed to facilitate human trafficking , for instance. And regardless of where you stand on the 230 debate, given bipartisan support for both SESTA – FOSTA and the delayed “ EARN IT Act ,” 230 as we know it is unlikely to survive. If we want sensible intermediary liability protection, and not a patchwork of exceptions that probably make the internet less safe, the 230-or-nothing stance is increasingly politically untenable.

Second, we can advocate for regulations that promote competition, creating a market where consumers have real choices and their choices make a difference. This need not be the traditional “breaking up” of companies given the beneficial network effects consumers find in centralized services and the possible aggravation of harm that a balkanized internet could bring . Pro-competition policy could start with blocking the sale of startups to Facebook and Google . It could include the imposition of substantive requirements, like an information fiduciary responsibility or interoperability requirement on organizations with a certain share of the market. Any regulations, however, need to be sensitive to the needs of non-profits with large user bases and low revenues .

Third, and more controversially, we can require more transparent processes in content moderation. A number of organizations have released and advocated for the “ Santa Clara Principles .” These include, at a minimum, publishing the number of posts and accounts taken down organized by the category of violation, providing notice to users whose accounts or posts are taken down, and instituting some kind of appeal process. If content-based moderation decisions are largely going to be done by private actors, their legitimacy relies on being transparent and understandable to the public. Even if changes are brought about by private pressure, we cannot collectively criticize and improve on secret processes .

Finally, and most controversially, maybe we can impose content-neutral, friction-creating regulations that force consumers to be more deliberate in sharing and consuming information. For instance, WhatsApp recently limited its forwarding function so that any messages that come from a chain of more than five people must be forwarded one chat at a time. This type of rule is not content-based; it applies to speech based on its virality, not the “topic, idea or message” communicated. Disclosure requirements—revealing, for example, whether or not a human is speaking —might also increase friction and deliberation. And some regulations of social media’s “frictionless” design might be allowable under the First Amendment.

These regulations avoid the hard epistemological questions and constitutional hurdles of defining harmful speech. They regulate the flow of information regardless of its content instead of worrying about speech concerning a particular topic. Furthermore, they ban no speech—deliberate communication is unaffected.

There are pros and cons to every policy mentioned, with administrability challenges and constitutional issues . But to reach a substantive discussion of the realistic possibilities for regulation in the U.S. context, the conversation needs to move beyond the false binary of “censorship versus free speech.”

* Ben Horton is a rising 3L at Harvard Law School and an Online Editor for HLPR.

[1] I am not talking about the problems of surveillance presented by innovations like the Ring doorbell , or facial recognition . I am referring to the level of surveillance necessary to ensure that speech is successfully moderated on platforms—being able to tie punishments to certain accounts, for example. That overlaps with the problems of online behavioral manipulation and surveillance capitalism, which I am not addressing in this post.

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Censoring political opposition online: Who does it and why

Ashwini ashokkumar.

a Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, 108 E. Dean Keeton, Austin, TX 78712-0187, United States

Sanaz Talaifar

William t. fraser, rodrigo landabur.

b Department of Psychology, Universidad de Chile, Ignacio Carrera Pinto 1045, Nuñoa, Región Metropolitana, Chile

Michael Buhrmester

c Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, 51-53 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PE, UK

Ángel Gómez

d Department of Social and Organizational Psychology, Facultad de Psicología (UNED), C/Juan del Rosal, 10, 28040 Madrid, Spain

Borja Paredes

e Department of Communication Theories and Analysis, Facultad de Ciencias de la Información (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), Avenida Complutense, 3, 28040 Madrid, Spain

William B. Swann, Jr

Associated data.

As ordinary citizens increasingly moderate online forums, blogs, and their own social media feeds, a new type of censoring has emerged wherein people selectively remove opposing political viewpoints from online contexts. In three studies of behavior on putative online forums, supporters of a political cause (e.g., abortion or gun rights) preferentially censored comments that opposed their cause. The tendency to selectively censor cause-incongruent online content was amplified among people whose cause-related beliefs were deeply rooted in or “fused with” their identities. Moreover, six additional identity-related measures also amplified the selective censoring effect. Finally, selective censoring emerged even when opposing comments were inoffensive and courteous. We suggest that because online censorship enacted by moderators can skew online content consumed by millions of users, it can systematically disrupt democratic dialogue and subvert social harmony.

  • • We use a novel experimental paradigm to study censorship in online environments.
  • • People selectively censor online content that challenges their political beliefs.
  • • People block online authors of posts they disagree with.
  • • When beliefs are rooted in identity, selective censoring is amplified.
  • • Selective censoring occurred even for comments without offensive language.

1. Introduction

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, the moderators of a large online community of Trump supporters deleted the accounts of over 2000 Trump critics. The moderators even threatened to “throw anyone over our walls who fails to behave themselves” ( Conditt, 2016 ). This phenomenon of silencing challenging voices on social media is not limited to the hundreds of thousands of designated moderators of online communities and forums; even ordinary citizens can delete comments on their own posts and report or block political opponents ( Linder, 2016 ). To study this new form of censorship, we developed a novel experimental paradigm that assessed the tendency for moderators to selectively censor (a) content that is incongruent with their political cause (a political position or principle that people strongly advocate) and (b) the authors of such incongruent content. The studies also tested whether identity-related processes amplified the selective censorship of cause-incongruent content. Further, we tested whether the identity-driven selective censoring of political opponents' posts occurs even when opponents express their views in a courteous and inoffensive manner. To set the stage for this research, we begin with a discussion of past literature on biased exposure to online content.

1.1. Biased exposure to online content: selective information-seeking and avoidance

Behavioral scientists have long noted that people create social environments that support their values and beliefs ( McPherson et al., 2001 ). People gravitate to regions, neighborhoods or occupations in which they are surrounded by individuals with similar personalities ( Rentfrow et al., 2008 ) or political ideologies ( Motyl et al., 2014 ). Once in these congruent environments, people are systematically exposed to information that aligns with their own views ( Hart et al., 2009 ; Sears and Freedman, 1967 ). In addition, people actively display biases in behavior (e.g. choice of relationship partners) and cognition (e.g. attention, recall, and interpretation of feedback) that encourage them to see more support for their beliefs than is justified by objective reality ( Garrett, 2008 ).

Parallel phenomena can occur in virtual worlds. People often find themselves in online bubbles of individuals who share political beliefs and information with each other but not with outsiders ( Adamic and Glance, 2005 ; Barberá et al., 2015 ). They also actively seek websites or online communities that support their pre-existing opinions ( Garimella and Weber, 2017 ; Iyengar and Hahn, 2009 ), and follow or connect with individuals whose opinions they endorse ( Bakshy et al., 2015 ; Brady et al., 2017 ). And when they process information that they encounter, they display confirmation biases that warp their visions of reality ( Hart et al., 2009 ; Van Bavel and Pereira, 2018 ). Some evidence also suggests that in addition to actively seeking attitude-consistent online content, people also avoid attitude-inconsistent content ( Garrett, 2009a ). Importantly, biases in information seeking are strongest for content related to political and moral issues ( Stroud, 2017 ) and are most prevalent among those who have strong views or ideologies ( Boutyline and Willer, 2017 ; Hart et al., 2009 ; Lawrence et al., 2010 ).

Although researchers have investigated biases in how people seek , consume , or avoid information in online contexts, to the best of our knowledge they have yet to examine how people might influence the content to which they and others are exposed through censorship. It is increasingly possible for individuals to censor others in online contexts by deleting others' comments on their own posts and pages ( John and Dvir-Gvirsman, 2015 ; Sibona, 2014 ). For moderators of popular social media pages and large forums, the scope of their ability to censor is multiplied as they often exercise control over content that millions view ( Matias, 2016a ; Wright, 2006 ).

Censorship is more extreme than biased information seeking because, in addition to biasing one's own online environment, censorship delimits the online content that other people are exposed to. Also, by silencing dissenters, censorship prevents them from voicing their views. And although the psychological processes underlying censorship may overlap with some of the defensive motivations producing selective information seeking ( Hart et al., 2009 ), censorship may in addition entail a hostile motivation to nullify opponents of the cause.

1.2. Censorship in offline and online environments

The majority of past studies on censorship have examined the association between political orientation and attitudes toward censorship. Whereas some studies have suggested that conservatives support censorship ( Fisher et al., 1999 ; Hense and Wright, 1992 ; Lindner and Nosek, 2009 ), others have reported evidence of censorship by people on both sides of the political spectrum ( Crawford and Pilanski, 2014 ; Suedfeld et al., 1994 ). One limitation of this work is that researchers have typically explored people's attitudes toward censorship rather than their censoring behaviors . Further, to our knowledge, no studies have systematically examined censoring behaviors in online settings.

As public pages and forums are increasingly moderated by everyday citizens ( Matias, 2016a ), the power to censor others is now widely available. For example, on the popular social media platform Reddit, almost 100,000 community moderators have the power to delete comments or entirely ban accounts associated with millions of users ( ). Even internet users who have no particular stature within online communities are able to moderate other people's comments on their own posts and blogs. People can “report” social media posts they find disagreeable ( John and Dvir-Gvirsman, 2015 ; Sibona, 2014 ) or simply delete or hide cause-incongruent comments on their own posts or blogs. Given that censoring in online contexts is easier (e.g., requires a single click) and may have fewer personal repercussions relative to offline contexts (e.g., more anonymity), it seems likely that online censoring will become increasingly prevalent. Here, we examine people's tendency to selectively censor content that is incongruent with a political cause they support.

1.3. Identity as a censorship amplifier

Not everyone will be equally motivated to selectively censor cause-incongruent content. For example, motivation to censor content will be particularly high when it challenges a political cause with which people's identities are strongly “fused” ( Swann Jr et al., 2012 ). For people who are strongly fused with a cause, threats to the cause will feel like threats to the self. This will induce strongly fused people to be particularly reactive to threatening content ( Gómez et al., 2011 ; Swann Jr et al., 2009 ). They may, for instance, go to great lengths to protect their group ( Swann Jr et al., 2014 ) and are even attempt to inflict serious harm on threatening outgroups ( Fredman et al., 2017 ). Therefore, we expect that strongly fused individuals would be especially apt to selectively censor incongruent content to preserve their cause against challenges. 1

Although we focused primarily on identity fusion as a potential amplifier of censorship, we also investigated several other identity-related measures that have been associated with intolerance of political opposition. The literature on self and identity broadly suggests that people's social identities relating to political groups and causes are potent predictors of action intended to advance one's group or cause (e.g., Ashokkumar et al., 2019 ; Swann Jr et al., 2012 ; Tajfel and Turner, 1979 ) and counter opponents ( Brewer, 2001 ; Fredman et al., 2017 ). In line with this reasoning, we investigated the effects of various other identity-related measures: indices of attitude strength, moral conviction, and identification with other supporters of the cause. Attitude strength and moral conviction are part of people's identities because their preferences and moral values are important parts of their self-related mental representations ( McAdams, 1995 ). Past research on attitude strength has revealed that people who hold extreme views about a cause or whose views are associated with feelings of certainty and personal significance are intolerant of others with dissimilar attitudes (e.g., Singh and Ho, 2000 ; Singh and Teoh, 1999 ). Similarly, moral convictions reflect people's deeply held beliefs regarding the morality of a cause ( Skitka and Mullen, 2002 ) and is known to predict an aversion to attitudinally dissimilar others ( Skitka et al., 2005 ). Finally, we assessed participants' identification with cause supporters, since identification has been found to be a potent predictor of pro-cause action ( Thomas et al., 2016 ). Although the foregoing variables have all been associated with intolerance of outgroups and are important components of people's identities (i.e. their mental self-representations), the causal, structural, and temporal relationships between these variables have not been clearly established. For example, it is unclear whether strong moral convictions cause greater group identification or the reverse ( Van Zomeren et al., 2012 ; Zaal et al., 2017 ). Similarly, the temporal relationship between fusion with cause and group identification is not clear ( Gómez et al., 2019 ). Prior work has shown that identity fusion is associated with moralized attitudes ( Talaifar and Swann Jr, 2019 ) but the causal relationship between these variables is unclear. Nevertheless, given that these variables have been found to predict a suite of behaviors related to intolerance of political opposition, we included them as potential predictors of selective censoring.

1.4. Overview of studies

The current research had two primary goals. First, we asked whether people assigned to moderate online content would selectively censor opposition to their political causes by deleting opposing comments and banning opponents from a forum. Second, we examined whether people whose cause-related beliefs were rooted in their identities would be especially likely to selectively censor incongruent content. In all studies, we recruited participants from the United States (US). Based on past reports that biases in information consumption are stronger for political and moral issues ( Stroud, 2017 ), we focused on political causes that are deemed to have a moral component. Specifically, we chose abortion rights (Studies 1–2) and gun rights (Study 3) as the focal issues. We also selected these issues because they are highly controversial in the US to raise the likelihood that most people would have relevant opinions. In fact, many believe that over the last half century these issues determined the outcome of multiple elections in the U.S. ( Leber, c., 2016 ; Riffkin, 2015 ).

All studies used a longitudinal design in which we measured all predictors at Time 1 (T1) and censoring at Time 2 (T2). At T1, we measured participants' position on an issue (e.g., abortion rights) and their identity fusion with the corresponding cause (e.g., pro-life or pro-choice cause). In Studies 2 and 3, we also measured other prominent identity-related measures, including strength of attitudes, moral conviction, and identification with cause supporters. As part of a seemingly unrelated study administered two weeks later (Time 2 or “T2”), we measured participants' censoring behavior using a novel simulation of an online forum. We sought participants' assistance in moderating the content of a putative online forum. Participants read comments and decided whether the comments needed to be retained or removed from the forum. Comments they chose to remove were considered “censored.” Each comment was systematically manipulated to be either congruent or incongruent with the participant's cause and either offensive or inoffensive. In Studies 2 and 3, we also asked participants whether the authors of the congruent and incongruent comments they read should be banned from the forum.

We operationalized selective censorship as either a preference for cause-congruent content or an intolerance of cause-incongruent content. We expected that cause supporters would selectively censor comments incongruent with their cause (Studies 1–3) and selectively ban the author of those incongruent comments (Study 2 & 3). We also expected that people whose identities were strongly aligned (“fused”) with the cause would be particularly likely to selectively censor incongruent comments (Studies 1–3) and selectively ban the authors of those comments (Study 2–3). We examined whether the effect of fusion was influenced by the presence of offensive language in the comments (Studies 1–3) and also whether the effect generalized to an array of other identity-related measures (Study 2 & 3). Further, in SOM-III we explored one potential mechanism driving the effect of fusion on selective censoring: strongly fused people's tendency to essentialize the cause. In all studies, we examined whether there were partisan differences in selective censoring (i.e. if selective censoring was stronger among pro-life vs. pro-choice supporters in Studies 1 and 2; pro-gun-rights vs. pro-gun-control supporters in Study 3), and we report any asymmetries between the two sides. For all three studies, we report all measures, manipulations, and exclusions.

2.1. Study 1 method

2.1.1. time 1 (t1), participants.

In August 2017, we recruited 477 participants from Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk), an appropriate source of data for our purposes given that MTurkers routinely review comments by actual website moderators ( Schmidt, 2015 ). 2 Participants first indicated their position on the issue of abortion rights (pro-choice vs. pro-life vs. neither/don't know). Thirty-five participants who reported neutral or no views on abortion rights were not allowed to proceed because a person's pre-existing position on abortion rights needs to be known in order to identify which comments are congruent vs. incongruent with their cause. We removed 32 respondents with identical IP addresses or MTurk Worker IDs to eliminate the possibility of a single respondent completing the survey twice. We excluded four participants who failed our attention check (see SOM-I). Our final T1 sample had 406 participants (49.8% female; 71.6% White; M age  = 36.06; SD age  = 11.59; 274 pro-choice and 132 pro-life participants). The higher proportion of pro-choice participants is typical in liberal-skewed online crowdsourcing platforms such as MTurk (e.g., Ashokkumar et al., 2019 ). In this and all studies, sample size was determined prior to data analysis. Identity measures

Participants completed the seven-item verbal fusion scale (α = 0.91, 95% CI = [0.89, 0.93]) measuring fusion with their cause (e.g. “I am one with the pro-life/pro-choice position”; Gómez et al., 2011 ). They also completed a five-item measure of the mediating mechanism explored in SOM-III: essentialist beliefs relating to the cause (α = 0.91, 95% CI = [0.90, 0.93]) adapted from Bastian and Haslam (2006) ; (e.g., “There are two types of people in this world: pro-life and pro-choice”). Both constructs were rated on seven-point scale ranging from 1 ( Strongly Disagree ) to 7 ( Strongly Agree ). We standardized the fusion and essentialism scores prior to analysis. Means, standard deviations, and inter-variable correlations in the final sample are reported in Table 1 .

Means, standard deviations, and correlations of measures in Study 1 (N = 223).

Note . The censoring rates, ranging from 0 to 1, refer to the proportion of comments of each type (congruent, incongruent, or irrelevant) that participants censored. Fusion's effect on selective censoring is the difference between fusion's association with the censoring rates of congruent and incongruent comments. Fusion's effect was not influenced by position on abortion rights. * indicates p  < .05. ** indicates p  < .01.

Participants provided demographic information before completing the survey (see for a full list of measures). At the end of the study, participants learned that they might be contacted again for other studies. We did not specify when or why we would re-contact them because we wanted to discourage them from associating the first session of the study with the second.

2.1.2. Time 2 (T2) participants.

Two weeks later we re-contacted the participants regarding a seemingly unrelated “comment moderation task.” A total of 251 participants completed the second session of the study, amounting to a 38.2% attrition rate, which is comparable to previously reported attrition rates on MTurk ( Stoycheff, 2016 ). There were no differences in fusion ( t (400) = −0.19, p  = .85, d  = −0.02) between those who did vs. did not complete the second session of the study. We excluded 25 respondents with identical IP addresses or MTurk worker IDs and three participants who evaluated fewer than 50% of the comments in the comment moderation task, resulting in a final sample of 223 participants (52% female; 71.8% White; M age  = 38.36; SD age  = 11.99; 148 pro-choice and 75 pro-life participants) who completed both time points. We were unable to conduct an a priori power analysis because the lack of previous research on censoring made it difficult for us to estimate expected path coefficients, which is required for power analyses for Structural Equation Models (SEM; Muthén and Muthén, 2012 ). To give a general sense of how much power we had with the present sample size, we conducted a sensitivity analysis, which revealed that the sample had 80% power to detect a minimum effect size of f 2  = 0.04 in a multiple regression. Comment moderation procedure

In the comment moderation task, participants read about a new blog purportedly launched with the goal of “encouraging discussion about current issues.” We informed participants that we had received complaints regarding a surge in inappropriate comments posted on the blog and that we needed their help in deleting inappropriate comments. To make sure that participants took the task seriously, we informed them that the blog's administrator would delete all comments that they flagged. Participants then read a series of 40 statements that were adapted from comments from real online blogs and forums. Of the 40 comments, 15 were pro-choice (e.g.: “I love that even though Norma couldn't herself get an abortion (because of the terrible world we live in), she fought so hard to make sure other women could.”), 15 were pro-life (e.g.: “I love that Lily didn't have an abortion even though she didn't want to be a parent. She hadn't planned a baby and wasn't ready for it, but she didn't get an abortion.”), and 10 were irrelevant to the cause (e.g.: “I still can't wrap my head around this horrific, senseless act. Sickening.”). Participants could recommend either deletion or retention of each comment. The full list of comments is available at .

For each participant, we calculated three censoring rates corresponding to the proportion of comments that the participant deleted among (a) congruent comments (i.e., comments endorsing the participant's position on abortion rights), (b) incongruent comments (i.e., comments against the participant's position on abortion rights), and (c) irrelevant comments (i.e., comments irrelevant to abortion rights). The three censoring rates were inter-correlated (see Table 1 ), which indicates that individual differences in people's general tendency to censor were relatively stable across comments. Post-hoc assessment of comment offensiveness

To determine whether strongly fused people's tendency to selectively censor incongruent comments depended on whether the comments included offensive language, we asked five objective judges from MTurk to provide post-hoc ratings of each comment's offensiveness. Of the five judges, two were pro-choice, two were pro-life, and one was neutral (i.e., did not favor either side of the abortion debate). The judges were told that offensive comments were those that “a reasonable person would consider to be abusive, harassing, or involving hate speech or ad hominem attacks.” The inter-judge reliability across the five judges was α = 0.84. We coded each comment as offensive or inoffensive based on the judges' majority opinion (see SOM-I for more details). The offensive vs. inoffensive classification generated from the post-hoc pilot was then applied in the selective censoring analyses. 3 For each participant, we computed four censoring rates corresponding to the proportion of comments that the participant censored among comments of four categories: Offensive-Congruent, Offensive-Incongruent, Inoffensive-Congruent, and Inoffensive-Incongruent.

2.2. Study 1 results

2.2.1. did people selectively censor comments incongruent with their cause.

To test whether people censored incongruent comments at a higher rate than congruent comments, censoring rates for incongruent vs. congruent comments were compared via a paired t -test. A significant effect emerged ( t (220) = 4.0, p  < .001, d  = 0.25). On average, people censored 25.64% ( SD  = 22.35) of the incongruent comments they read but only 20.41% ( SD  = 18.72) of the congruent comments. Later in this section, we report differences in selective censoring between pro-life and pro-choice participants.

2.2.2. Did identity fusion amplify the selectively censoring of incongruent comments?

We used structural equation modeling (SEM) for our analyses to simultaneously model fusion effects on two dependent variables: censoring rate for congruent and incongruent comments. We also conducted alternate analyses treating the difference between people's rates of censoring incongruent and congruent comments as the index of selective censoring and regressing the index over fusion (see SOM-II). Although this method feels intuitively appealing, it is not ideal because the method would not tell us whether any detected effect is driven by people's preference for congruent comments or their antagonism against incongruent comments. Past theorists have warned against conflating these two separate processes and recommend that each should be modeled separately ( Garrett, 2009a , Garrett, 2009b ; Holbert et al., 2010 ). The SEM approach allows us to simultaneously model effects on censoring rates for congruent and incongruent comments treating them as two separate variables with different variances rather than assuming them to constitute a single variable. Note however that both the methods (SEM and computing a difference index) lead us to the same conclusions.

To evaluate our hypothesis that strongly fused people would be especially likely to selectively censor incongruent comments relative to congruent comments, we tested whether the effect of fusion on censoring incongruent comments (indicated by the c 1 path in Fig. 1 ) is significantly larger than the effect of fusion on censoring congruent comments ( c 2 path). A significant difference between the two path coefficients (i.e., Δ c  =  c 1 - c 2 ) would suggest that fusion is associated with disproportionately censoring incongruent, over congruent, comments. In this and all other models, we allowed for residual covariances between the censoring rates. In all the models, we used standardized scores for the continuous predictors, but we did not standardize the censoring rates (they ranged from 0 to 1) to allow the censoring effects to be interpreted in meaningful units. We report unstandardized regression coefficients.

Fig. 1

Structural Equations Model depicting the effect of identity fusion on selective censoring of incongruent vs. congruent comments (Study 1). The c 1 and c 2 paths represent the effects of fusion on censoring incongruent and congruent comments respectively. The significant difference between the two paths (i.e., Δ c ) indicates that fusion is associated with selectively censoring incongruent comments. The coefficients reported are unstandardized. * indicates p  < .05. ** indicates p  < .01.

Fusion was associated with censoring incongruent comments ( c 1 path; b  = 0.03, 95% CI = [0.001, 0.06], p  = .04) but not with censoring congruent comments ( c 2 path; b  = −0.01, 95% CI = [−0.04, 0.01], p  = .38). A Wald test revealed that the difference between the two paths was statistically significant, (χ 2 (1) = 9.88, p  = .002), which is evidence for our main hypothesis that strongly fused individuals are more likely to selectively censor incongruent than congruent comments. To illustrate, participants who were strongly fused (1 SD above the mean) censored 29.56% of the incongruent comments they read but only 15.75% of the congruent comments, while those who were weakly fused (1 SD below the mean) did not censor incongruent comments (20.74%) any more than they censored congruent comments (20.37%). The significant c 1 path suggests that the effect of fusion on selective censoring is driven by strongly fused people's intolerance for incongruent comments rather than their leniency toward congruent comments.

Controlling for the censoring rate of comments irrelevant to abortion rights (to account for participants' general censoring rate and other response biases) did not alter the effect of fusion on selective censoring (χ 2 (1) = 9.88, p  = .002). The fusion effect remained robust when we controlled for participants' position on abortion rights (i.e., pro-life vs. pro-choice; χ 2 (1) = 8.33, p  = .004). Further, the fusion effect was not influenced by the participant's abortion rights position (χ 2 (1) = 1.28, p  = .26), indicating that fusion was equally associated with selective censoring among both pro-life and pro-choice participants. In SOM-III, we report exploratory analyses testing whether essentialist beliefs about people's views on abortion rights mediates the fusion effect on selective censoring. Did offensiveness influence the effect of fusion on selectively censoring?

We asked whether the tendency for strongly fused participants to selectively censor incongruent comments depended on how offensive the comments were. As depicted in Fig. 2 , we modeled the paths from fusion to participants' censoring rates for four types of comments: Offensive-Congruent, Offensive-Incongruent, Inoffensive-Congruent, and Inoffensive-Incongruent. We allowed for residual covariances between the censoring rates.

Fig. 2

Structural Equations Model examining the effect of identity fusion on selective censoring of incongruent vs. congruent comments among offensive and inoffensive comments (Study 1). Δ p and Δ q represent fusion's effects on selective censoring among offensive comments and inoffensive comments, respectively. The significant effects indicate that strongly fused people selectively censored incongruent comments whether the comments were offensive or inoffensive. See SOM-IV for path coefficients. * indicates p  < .05. ** indicates p  < .01.

We first computed the effects of fusion on selective censoring of incongruent vs. congruent comments separately for offensive and inoffensive comments. To compute the effect of fusion on selective censoring for offensive comments, we compared fusion's effect on censoring Offensive-Incongruent (path p1 ) vs. Offensive-Congruent (path p2 ) comments. The significant difference between the two p paths (Δ p  =  p1 – p2 , b  = 0.05, 95% CI = [0.01, 0.09], p  = .008) suggests that among offensive comments, strongly fused individuals selectively censored incongruent comments more than congruent comments. (Refer to SOM-IV for the path coefficients). Similarly, we computed fusion's effect on selective censoring for inoffensive comments as the difference between fusion's effect on censoring Inoffensive-Incongruent comments (path q1 ) vs. Inoffensive-Congruent comments (path q2 ). The resulting significant difference (Δ q  =  q1 – q2 ; b  =  0 .03, 95% CI = [0.002, 0.05], p  = .04) indicated that among inoffensive comments, participants censored incongruent comments more than congruent comments. In short, strongly fused individuals selectively censored incongruent comments more than congruent comments both when the comments were offensive and inoffensive.

Finally, to test whether strongly fused people's tendency to selectively censor incongruent comments was stronger for offensive comments, we compared the two selective censoring effects reported above for offensive vs. inoffensive comments. The difference (Δ p – Δ q ) was non-significant (χ 2 (1) = 2.10, p  = .15), suggesting that the effect of fusion on selective censoring was independent of the offensiveness of comments. That is, strongly fused individuals selectively censored incongruent, as opposed to congruent, comments regardless of whether the content of the comments included offensive language.

2.2.3. Did selective censoring of incongruent comments depend on people's ideologies?

Using a SEM model similar to the fusion analysis, we tested whether there were differences in people's tendency to selectively censor incongruent vs. congruent comments as a function of their stance on abortion rights (i.e., whether they were pro-choice or pro-life). Participants who endorsed the pro-life position showed a stronger tendency to selectively censoring incongruent comments relative to those who endorsed the pro-choice position (χ 2 (1) = 7.36, p  = .007). Pro-life participants also reported marginally higher fusion levels than did pro-choice participants [ t (220) = 1.76, p  = .08, d  = 0.25].

2.3. Study 1 discussion

Study 1 used a novel paradigm to explore people's censoring behaviors in online settings. People tended to censor online content more if the content was incongruent, rather than congruent, with their cause, and this tendency was higher among supporters of the pro-life cause. Importantly, identity-related processes amplified selective censoring of incongruent online content for people on both sides of the abortion rights cause. Specifically, the results showed that people whose identities were strongly fused with a cause were most willing to selectively censor online content posted by their ideological opponents. Interestingly, strongly fused people's tendency to selectively censor comments was driven by their intolerance for incongruent comments rather than an elevated affinity for congruent comments. Post-hoc analyses also showed that fusion's effect on selective censoring occurred regardless of whether the incongruent comments used offensive language. It is notable that strongly fused people showed a stronger selective censoring effect than weakly fused people even though they were not primed to think about their identity before reading the comments.

Study 2 attempted to replicate Study 1 in a pre-registered longitudinal study. The method was largely similar to that of Study 1. To verify the preliminary findings from Study 1's post-hoc analysis on the effects of offensiveness, Study 2 systematically manipulated comment offensiveness a priori. The comments used in the study were pretested and categorized as containing offensive vs. inoffensive content. This allowed us to more robustly probe whether the fusion effect on selective censoring was moderated by offensiveness. Further, it was not clear from Study 1 whether strongly fused people's tendency to selectively censor incongruent comments would extend to censoring the authors of the comments. To test this possibility, the study tested whether strongly fused individuals would opt to ban people who repeatedly posted content that threatened their position on the cause. The hypotheses were pre-registered prior to data collection (see ).

Finally, although we have only focused on identity fusion thus far, we wanted to test whether the effects generalize to other identity-related measures explored in the broad literature: attitude strength, moral conviction, and identification with cause supporters. Studies have found that these constructs predict pro-cause action and an intolerance for opposition (e.g., Singh and Ho, 2000 ; Skitka et al., 2005 ; Thomas et al., 2016 ). We examined the extent to which each of these identity-related measures predicted selective censoring.

4. Study 2 method

4.1. power analysis.

An a priori power analysis was conducted using Monte Carlo simulations to estimate the sample size required to detect the SEM models reported in Study 1. As mentioned in our pre-registration, a sample of 345 participants was required to detect the selective censoring effect computed from the mediation model explored in Study 1 (see SOM-III) with an alpha of 0.05 and 80% power. In addition to replicating Study 1 effects, we wanted to test models examining the impact of the other identity-related measures (attitude strength, moral conviction, and identification with cause supporters) on censoring and also test a model with all identity-related measures simultaneously entered into a structural equation model. Because we had no easy way to estimate the path coefficients for these models, we estimated the required sample size by conducting a conservative power analysis using the models reported in Study 1. As mentioned in our pre-registration, we conducted Monte Carlo simulations to detect the Study 1 mediation model with a conservative alpha of 0.01 and found that we would need a sample size of 510. This conservative estimate would give us sufficient power to detect smaller effects than the ones reported in Study 1. Given the longitudinal nature of the study, we estimated that about 35% of the sample would either drop out between T1 and T2 or be excluded because of failing attention checks, and so we decided to recruit 800 participants at T1. The power analysis and exclusion criteria followed were specified in the pre-registration. Any deviations from the pre-registered plan are noted.

4.2. Comment offensiveness pretest

We wanted to systematically manipulate the offensiveness of comments. To classify comments as offensive vs. inoffensive, we conducted a pilot study on MTurk. We recruited five Mturkers who reported having neutral or no opinions about the abortion rights issue to be objective judges. We piloted 40 comments of which 20 were pro-choice and 20 were pro-life. For each position (pro-choice and pro-life), we piloted 10 comments that we believed contained offensive content and 10 that did not. The instructions provided to the objective judges were the same as in Study 1. The judges evaluated the content of each comment as either offensive or inoffensive. The inter-judge reliability across the five judges was α = 0.87. For each of the four types of comments (Offensive-Prochoice, Inoffensive-Prochoice, Offensive-Prolife, and Inoffensive-Prolife), the seven comments with the highest levels of agreement among the judges were selected for the study. At least three of the five judges agreed on the categorization of the 28 comments that were finally selected for the study (see for the final list of comments).

4.3. Time 1 (T1)

4.3.1. participants.

A sample of 793 participants from Prolific Academic completed the first part of the study in July 2019. The method followed was largely similar to Study 1. As mentioned in the pre-registration, only participants who endorsed either the pro-choice or pro-life position were eligible for the study. This was ensured by setting a pre-screening condition on Prolific such that the study posting was visible only to participants who had previously identified as pro-choice or pro-life. To be sure that the pre-screening worked, participants' views on abortion rights were measured again in the T1 survey, and 15 participants who indicated holding neutral views on abortion were excluded. We also excluded 29 participants who failed either of two attention checks or did not complete them (see SOM-I). Our final sample at T1 had 749 participants (48% female; 69.88% White; M age  = 32.88; SD age  = 11.79; 616 pro-choice and 133 pro-life participants).

4.3.2. Identity measures

As in Study 1, participants completed the seven items of the verbal fusion scale measuring fusion with their own position on the abortion rights (either pro-choice or pro-life) on a seven-point scale (α = 0.92, 95% CI = [0.91, 0.93]). The survey also included measures of a series of identity-related measures including four facets of attitude strength such as attitude extremity (“What is your opinion about the pro-life/pro-choice position?”; 1 =  Strongly against, 9 =  Strongly favor ; Binder et al., 2009 ), attitude centrality (“To what extent does your opinion toward the pro-life/pro-choice position reflect your core values and beliefs”; Clarkson et al., 2009 ), attitude certainty (e.g., “How certain are you of your opinion about the pro-life/pro-choice position?”; 1 =  Not certain at all , 9 =  Extremely certain ; Fazio and Zanna, 1978 ) and attitude importance (e.g., “To what extent is the pro-life/pro-choice position personally important to you?”; Boninger et al., 1995 ; α = 0.91, 95% CI = [0.89, 0.92]). Attitude extremity, centrality, and certainty were measured using one item each, and attitude importance was measured using two items. Attitude centrality and attitude importance used nine-point scales (e.g., 1 =  Not at all ; 9 =  Very Much ). We also measured moral conviction (e.g., “To what extent is your position on the pro-life position a reflection of your core moral beliefs and convictions?”; Skitka and Morgan, 2014 ) using two items on a five-point scale (α = 0.86, 95% CI = [0.83, 0.88]) and identification with cause supporters (e.g. “I identify with other supporters of the prochoice position”; adapted from Thomas et al., 2016 ) using three items and on a seven-point scale (α = 0.83, 95% CI = [0.81, 0.86]). The order of presentation of the above measures was randomized. Participants then completed a measure of the mediating mechanism explored in SOM-III: people's essentialist beliefs about a cause (α = 0.92, 95% CI = [0.90, 0.93]); Bastian and Haslam, 2006 ). Finally, they provided demographic information before exiting the survey. No mention was made of the second session of the study. Means, standard deviations, and inter-variable correlations are reported in Table 2 .

Means, standard deviations, and correlations of measures in Study 2 (N = 540).

Note . The censoring rates, ranging from 0 to 1, refer to the proportion of comments of each type (congruent, incongruent, or irrelevant) that participants censored. Fusion's effect on selective censoring is the difference between fusion's association with the censoring rates of congruent and incongruent comments. This effect was not moderated by position on abortion rights. * indicates p  < .05. ** indicates p  < .01.

4.4. Time 2 (T2)

4.4.1. participants.

Approximately two weeks later, the second session of the study, titled “Comment Moderation Task”, was posted. Only participants who completed the T1 survey could view the posting, but they were not aware of this, and the study posting did not describe the eligibility criterion or its connection to the first part of the study. Under these circumstances, it is highly likely that participants perceived no connection between the first and second session of the study. A total of 542 participants completed the second session of the study. Two participants who completed less than 50% of the task were excluded, 4 leaving us with a final sample of 540 participants (48.70% female; 68.83% White; M age  = 33.53; SD age  = 12.30; 440 pro-choice and 100 pro-life participants). A sensitivity analysis using Monte Carlo simulations revealed that our sample had 99.8% power to detect the fusion effect on selective censoring reported in Study 1. There were no differences in fusion ( t (743) = 1.19, p  = .23, d  = 0.10) between those who did vs. did not complete the second session of the study.

4.4.2. Comment moderation procedure

Participants read about an online forum for discussions on current affairs. They learned that the forum's administrators had received complaints about inappropriate posts by some users and that their task was to help the administrators identify inappropriate posts and block people who repeatedly posted such content. Participants also learned that the comments and users flagged by them would be removed from the forum by its moderators. Because the study was posted on Prolific using a lab account that had previously been used to post other research studies, participants may have easily linked the task to our university and thus may have felt skeptical about our claims that they were evaluating comments from an actual discussion forum and that their evaluations would have real-world consequences. To address this, the study description said that users of the forum were college students and that the forum was owned and run by our university.

Participants then read a series of 28 comments on the abortion rights issue. The comments were designed to look like screenshots of posts from an actual online discussion forum (see Fig. 3 for an example). As shown in the figure, a user icon and handle were displayed next to each comment. The comments that participants read were systematically varied on two factors: Each comment was either pro-choice or pro-life and either offensive or inoffensive. Of the 28 comments, 14 were pro-choice and 14 were pro-life; 14 were pre-determined via the pilot study to be offensive and 14 were inoffensive. In sum, there were four types of comments ( N  = 7 for each type): Offensive-Prochoice, Inoffensive-Prochoice, Offensive-Prolife, and Inoffensive-Prolife. The pro-choice comments were all posted by a single user, and the pro-life comments were all posted by another user. For each comment, participants could recommend deletion or retention, which was our primary measure of censoring. After evaluating all comments, participants were also asked whether the two users whose comments they read should be banned from the blog (“Ban this user from the blog” or “Do not ban this user from the blog”). Finally, participants were asked about the extent to which they doubted the veracity of our claims on a five-point scale (1 =  Not at all ; 5 =  A great deal ), and the mean rating ( M  = 2.56, SD  = 0.98) was lower than the mid-point of the scale (i.e., 3 = A moderate amount; t(533) = −10.282, p  < .001, d  = −0.45), suggesting that a considerable proportion of participants believed that they were helping the moderators of a real blog.

Fig. 3

Example of an inoffensive pro-choice comment used in the comment moderation task (Study 2).

For each participant, we calculated censoring rates corresponding to the proportion of comments congruent with the participant's position on abortion rights and also the proportion of incongruent comments that they flagged. As in Study 1, selective censoring was indicated by a higher censoring rate for incongruent than congruent comments. For the offensiveness-related analyses, we also computed censoring rates for each of the four types of comments (Offensive-Congruent, Offensive-Incongruent, Inoffensive-Congruent, and Inoffensive-Incongruent) to determine whether participants selectively censored incongruent comments among both offensive and inoffensive comments. Overall, participants censored offensive comments ( M  = 0.47, SD  = 0.29) more than inoffensive comments ( M  = 0.06, SD  = 0.13; t (559) = 35, p  < .001, d  = 1.79) indicating that the offensiveness manipulation was successful. The censoring rates for offensive and inoffensive comments were correlated [ r (538) = 0.27, p  < .001], indicating that there are relatively stable individual differences in participants' censoring rates.

5. Study 2 results

5.1. did people selectively censor comments incongruent with their cause and the comments' authors.

Although not pre-registered, we tested whether people generally selectively censored incongruent comments more than congruent comments We compared the censoring rates for incongruent vs. congruent comments via a paired t -test. Replicating Study 1 findings, people censored 32.40% ( SD  = 22.88) of the incongruent comments but only 20.64% ( SD  = 16.18%) of the congruent comments, t(539) = 13.84, p  < .001, d  = 0.58.

We also conducted exploratory analysis testing whether people were disproportionately willing to ban the author of the incongruent comments relative to the author of the congruent comments. We used a McNemar's Chi-squared test to account for the within-subjects nature of the data and found a significant effect (χ 2 (1) = 9.24, p  = .002) such that 21.31% of participants opted to ban the user who posted incongruent comments as opposed to just 15.41% who banned the user posting congruent comments.

5.2. Did identity fusion amplify the selectively censoring of incongruent comments and their authors?

5.2.1. selectively censoring of incongruent comments.

To test our pre-registered hypothesis that strongly fused individuals would be especially likely to selectively censor incongruent comments, we tested a SEM model similar to Study 1 (see Fig. 4 ) with residual covariances between the censoring rates. Alternate analyses treating the difference between censoring rates of incongruent and congruent comments as the selective censoring index did not alter our conclusions (see the last column in Table 3 in the article and SOM-II). As in Study 1, we standardized the continuous predictors in all the SEM analyses, and we report unstandardized regression coefficients. Fusion positively predicted censoring incongruent comments ( c 1 path; b  = 0.03, 95% CI = [0.01, 0.045], p  = .008) but not censoring congruent comments ( c 2 path; b  = −0.005, 95% CI = [−0.02, 0.01], p  = .50). Replicating Study 1's main finding, the difference between the fusion effects on censoring incongruent vs. congruent comments was statistically significant, (Δ c  =  c 1 - c 2 ; χ 2 (1) = 13.14, p  < .001), which is evidence that fusion is associated with selective censoring. To illustrate, participants who were strongly fused (+ 1 SD ) censored 36.36% of the incongruent comments they read but only 18.65% of the congruent comments. Weakly fused participants censored 29.49% of the incongruent comments and 21.26% of the congruent comments, indicating a weaker selective censoring tendency. Fusion's effect on selective censoring remained significant when we controlled for whether participants were pro-choice or pro-life (χ 2 (1) = 13.50, p  < .001), and the effect was not moderated by position on abortion rights (χ 2 (1) = 0.04, p  = .85).

Fig. 4

Structural Equations Model depicting the effect of identity fusion on selective censoring of incongruent vs. congruent comments (Study 2). The c 1 and c 2 paths represent the effects of fusion on censoring incongruent and congruent comments respectively. The path coefficients in the figure are unstandardized. The significant difference between the two paths (Δ c ) indicates that fusion is associated with selectively censoring incongruent comments. ** indicates p  < .01. *** indicates p  < .001.

Path coefficients (c 1 and c 2 ) and Chi-sq values (χ 2 ) of SEM models and coefficients from regression models testing the effects of each identity-related measure on selective censoring (Study 2). Note that each model included only one predictor.

Note . In each model, the predictor was standardized, but the censoring rates were not. The censoring rates ranged from 0 to 1. The path coefficients reported are unstandardized. † indicates p  < .1. * indicates p  < .05. ** indicates p  < .01. *** indicates p  < .001.

Our pre-registered mediational analyses (see SOM-III) suggest that essentialistic beliefs regarding people's stance on abortion rights might be at least one mediating mechanism explaining the fusion effect on selective censoring. In our pre-registration, we also proposed to test the fusion effect controlling for other identity-related measures. We accordingly report a model in which the predictive ability of all the identity-related measures are compared (see SOM-V). Nevertheless, because the measured variables are all strongly related both conceptually and empirically (see Table 2 ), after establishing that multicollinearity was not a problem, we examined whether each of these variables independently predicts selective censoring.

5.2.2. Selective censoring of the authors of incongruent comments

The foregoing analyses revealed that identity fusion with a cause is associated with a tendency to disproportionately censor online content that is incongruent with the cause. To test the pre-registered hypothesis that strongly fused individuals would also display a censoring bias against the authors of incongruent content, we examined a SEM model with two dependent variables corresponding to the binary indicators of whether the participant decided to ban the authors of incongruent, and congruent comments. Fusion was not significantly associated with banning the author of the incongruent comments (OR = 1.17, 95% CI = [0.95, 1.45], p  = .14) or congruent comments (OR = 0.99, 95% CI = [0.78, 1.25], p  = .90). The difference between the two paths, computed as two times the negative loglikelihood of the difference between the two paths, was not significant (χ 2 (1) = 1.18, p  = .28), indicating that fusion was not associated with selectively censoring authors of incongruent comments. However, given that the non-significant coefficients of the two paths were in the predicted direction, it is possible that there exists a small effect that our sample was not sufficiently powered to detect.

5.2.3. Did offensiveness moderate the effect of fusion on selectively censoring?

To verify Study 1's exploratory finding and our pre-registered hypothesis that the offensiveness of comments would not moderate the effect of fusion on selective censoring, we modeled the paths from fusion to participants' censoring rates for four types of comments: Offensive-Congruent, Offensive-Incongruent, Inoffensive-Congruent, and Inoffensive-Incongruent (see Fig. 5 ).

Fig. 5

Structural Equations Model examining the effect of identity fusion on selective censoring of incongruent vs. congruent comments among offensive and inoffensive comments (Study 2). Δ p and Δ q represent fusion's effects on selective censoring among offensive comments and inoffensive comments, respectively. The significant effects indicate that strongly fused people selectively censored incongruent comments whether the comments were offensive or inoffensive. See SOM-IV for path coefficients. * indicates p  < .05. ** indicates p  < .01.

Among offensive comments, fusion was associated with selectively censoring incongruent comments over congruent comments (Δ p  =  p1 – p2 ; b  = 0.04, 95% CI = [0.02, 0.06], p  = .001). Similarly, among inoffensive comments, strongly fused individuals selectively censored incongruent comments (Δ q  =  q 1 – q 2; b  =  0 .02, 95% CI = [0.005, 0.04], p  = .008). (The four path coefficients are reported in SOM-IV). The two significant selective censoring effects suggest that strongly fused people's selective intolerance for incongruent comments was observable among both offensive and inoffensive comments. Comparing two selective censoring effects for offensive vs. inoffensive comments (Δ p – Δ q ) revealed a marginally significant difference (χ 2 (1) = 3.34, p  = .07), suggesting that fusion's effect on selective censoring may have been larger for offensive than inoffensive comments. What is striking however is that as in Study 1, strongly fused people selectively censored incongruent comments even when the comments were inoffensive.

5.3. Did fusion's effect on selective censoring of incongruent comments generalize to other identity-related measures?

Thus far, we focused on the effects of identity fusion. Nevertheless, we conducted exploratory analyses testing the possibility that selective censoring of incongruent comments results from a constellation of identity-related processes. To test this possibility, we assessed the effects of attitude strength (attitude extremity, attitude centrality, attitude certainty, and attitude importance), moral conviction, and identification with supporters, which all index different aspects of people's alignment with a cause. Using the same approach as in the fusion analysis, we sequentially tested the relation of each of the seven predictors to selective censoring. Table 3 reports each model's path coefficients from the tested variable to censoring incongruent comments ( c 1 ) and to censoring congruent comments ( c 2 ). Table 3 also reports the chi-square difference between the two paths ( c 1 – c 2 ) indicating the extent to which the tested variable is associated with selectively censoring incongruent comments. The last column presents linear regression coefficients from alternate analyses testing the effect of each identity-related measure on the difference in participants' censoring rates for incongruent vs. congruent comments.

As indicated by the significant chi-square differences (Δ c ) and the significant regression coefficients ( b ) in Table 3 , each of the constructs produced selective censoring similar to the fusion effects, which is preliminary evidence that broader identity-related processes motivate selective censoring.

Interestingly, most of the predictors (attitude certainty, attitude centrality, attitude extremity, identification with cause supporters, and moral conviction) were negatively associated with censoring congruent comments (see c 2 coefficients in Table 3 ), indicating that they produce a tendency to be lenient toward congruent comments. On the contrary, fusion and attitude importance were not correlated with censoring congruent comments; instead, they were positively associated with censoring incongruent comments (see c 1 coefficients in Table 3 ), implying that these constructs were associated with an intolerance for incongruent comments. We speculate that a preference for congruent content and an intolerance against incongruent content reflect two independent mechanisms leading to selective censorship of incongruent comments.

5.4. Did selective censoring of incongruent comments depend on people's ideologies?

We tested another SEM model (not pre-registered) similar to the fusion analysis to assess the effect of people's stance on abortion rights (pro-choice vs. pro-life). Unlike Study 1, pro-choice participants selectively censored incongruent comments as much as pro-life participants (χ 2 (1) = 2.38, p  = .12), which may be due to higher threat levels among pro-choice participants following the, 2018 nomination Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That is, owing to the conservative shift in the makeup of the Supreme Court in, 2018, pro-choice participants in Study 2 may have generally faced higher threat relative to Study 1, which could have increased their tendency to selectively censor pro-life comments. There was also no difference in fusion levels among pro-choice and pro-life participants ( t (537) = 0.59, p  = .56, d  = 0.07).

6. Study 2 discussion

Study 2 replicated Study 1's main findings that people censor online content that is incongruent with their own political views and that strongly fused individuals are especially likely to selectively censor incongruent content. Strongly fused people's tendency to selectively censor incongruent comments was robust for both offensive and inoffensive comments. Contrary to Study 1, we did not find evidence that pro-life participants selectively censored more than pro-choice participants, which we believe could be due to the socio-political environment during Study 2 data collection.

In addition to replicating Study 1 effects, Study 2 also examined people's willingness to ban the authors of incongruent vs. congruent comments from the forum. We found that cause supporters selectively banned the author who consistently posted cause-incongruent content. Contrary to our hypothesis, this effect was not amplified by fusion. This may have been because banning authors is a relatively extreme action that participants in our samples generally did not endorse. Conceivably, there is a small association of fusion with selective censoring of authors that our sample was underpowered to detect.

Finally, the study found that the selective censoring effect extends to an array of identity-related measures in the literature. The findings also indicate that there may be different paths to selective censorship of opposing content: Whereas fusion and attitude importance were associated with an increased tendency to censor incongruent comments, the other identity-related predictors were associated with a weaker tendency to censor congruent comments.

In short, the results of Study 2 replicated the selective censoring effect that emerged in Study 1. A potential limitation of these studies, however, is that both focused on an issue rooted in religious values, abortion rights. To address this, Study 3 focused on gun rights. The gun-rights issue was particularly relevant in the time that the study was conducted because gun sales peaked during the COVID-19 crisis ( Collins and Yaffe-Bellany, 2020 ).

The method used in Study 3 resembled those used in previous studies except that we used a more controlled manipulation of comment offensiveness that kept the content of the comments constant. Whereas in Study 2 comments were categorized as offensive or inoffensive based on coders' ratings, in Study 3, for each inoffensive comment, we generated an offensive version by adding offensive phrases. In this way, the content of inoffensive and comments was identical except for offensive language. Finally, as in Study 2, we assessed whether the selective censoring effect of fusion generalized to other identity-related measures such as indices of attitude strength, moral conviction, and identification with cause supporters.

8. Study 3 Method

8.1. power analysis.

As mentioned in our pre-registration (see ), an a priori power analysis conducted using Monte Carlo simulations indicated that a sample of 325 participants was required to detect the selective censoring effect detected in Study 2 with an alpha of 0.05 and 80% power. Given the longitudinal nature of the study, we estimated that approximately 30% of the sample would either drop out between T1 and T2 or fail attention checks, and so we decided to recruit 460 participants at T1.

8.2. Time 1 (T1)

8.2.1. participants.

A sample of 466 participants (49.6% female; 67.0% White; M age  = 31.18; SD age  = 11.14) from Prolific Academic completed the first part of the study in May 2020. Participants' views on gun rights were measured in the T1 survey (370 pro-gun-control and 96 pro-gun-rights participants).

8.2.2. Identity measures

Participants completed the identity fusion scale for their position on gun rights (either pro-gun or anti-gun) on a seven-point scale (α = 0.93). Using the measures used in Study 2, we measured four facets of attitude strength – attitude extremity, attitude centrality, attitude certainty and attitude importance, moral conviction, and identification with cause supporters (α = 0.86). The order of presentation of the above constructs was randomized. Means, standard deviations, and inter-variable correlations are reported in Table 5 . Finally, they provided demographic information.

Means, standard deviations, and correlations with confidence intervals in Study 3 (N = 371).

Note . The censoring rates, ranging from 0 to 1, refer to the proportion of comments of each type (congruent and incongruent) that participants censored. Fusion's effect on selective censoring is the difference between fusion's association with the censoring rates of congruent and incongruent comments. This effect was not moderated by position on gun rights. * indicates p  < .05. ** indicates p  < .01.

8.3. Time 2 (T2)

8.3.1. participants.

Two weeks after completing the T1 survey, participants were able to complete a “Comment Moderation Task”. A total of 373 participants completed the task. Two participants who completed less than 50% of the task were excluded, leaving us with a final sample of 371 participants (52.85% female; 66.85% White; M age  = 31.45; SD age  = 11.61; 297 pro-gun-control and 74 pro-gun-rights participants). A sensitivity analysis revealed that our sample had 85% power to detect the fusion effect on selective censoring reported in Study 2. We found a difference in fusion levels between people who did vs. did not complete the T2 session such that individuals who completed T2 were more fused with the cause ( t (462) = 2.01, p  = .05, d  = −0.23).

8.3.2. Comment moderation procedure

As in the previous studies, we asked participants to help moderators of a college-run discussion forum identify inappropriate posts for removal. We gathered 14 pro-gun-rights comments and 14 pro-gun-control comments from the internet, resulting in 28 comments. We created offensive and inoffensive versions of each comment by including or excluding offensive phrases. Participants read either the offensive or inoffensive version of each of the 28 comments. Overall, participants read four types of comments ( N  = 7 for each type): Offensive-Pro-gun-rights, Inoffensive-Pro-gun-rights, Offensive-Pro-gun-control, and Inoffensive-Pro-gun-control (See Table 4 for example comments). As in Study 2, each comment was accompanied by a user icon and timestamp like in real online forums. The pro-gun-rights comments were all posted by a single user, and the pro-gun-control comments were all posted by another user. As in the previous studies, for each comment, participants recommended deletion or retention. After evaluating all comments, participants were also asked whether the two users whose comments they read should be banned from the blog (“Ban this user from the blog” or “Do not ban this user from the blog”). Finally, participants rated how much they doubted that the forum was not real on a five-point scale (1 = not at all, 5 = a great deal). The mean rating ( M  = 2.65, SD  = 0.99) was lower than the mid-point of the scale (i.e., 3 = A moderate amount; t(366) = −6.77, p  < .001, d  = −0.35), suggesting that participants generally did not doubt the veracity of the paradigm.

Sample comments rated by participants in Study 3. The study included 28 comments (14 pro-gun-rights and 14 pro-gun-control), each of which had an offensive and an inoffensive version. Participants rated either the offensive or inoffensive version of each of the 28 comments. The comments were presented in the format illustrated in Fig. 3 and in random order.

For each participant, we calculated censoring rates corresponding to comments congruent and incongruent with their own position on guns. For the offensiveness-related analyses, we also computed censoring rates for each of the four types of comments (Offensive-Congruent, Offensive-Incongruent, Inoffensive-Congruent, and Inoffensive-Incongruent). Overall, participants censored offensive comments ( M  = 0.58, SD  = 0.28) more than inoffensive comments ( M  = 0.07, SD  = 0.12; t (370) = 33.98, p  < .001¸ d  = 2.27) indicating that the offensiveness manipulation was successful. The censoring rates for offensive and inoffensive comments were correlated albeit more weakly than in Study 1 ( r (369) = 0.17, p  < .001).

9. Study 3 results

9.1. did people selectively censor comments incongruent with their cause and the comments' authors.

We tested the pre-registered hypothesis that people would selectively censor incongruent comments more than congruent comments. We conducted a paired t -test comparing the censoring rates for incongruent vs. congruent comments. Replicating findings from the first two studies, people censored more incongruent comments ( M  = 36.97%; SD  = 19.64) than congruent comments ( M  = 27.88%; SD  = 17.62), t (370) = 10.02, p  < .001, d  = 0.49.

We also conducted a pre-registered analysis testing whether people were disproportionately willing to ban the author of the incongruent comments relative to the author of the congruent comments. Contrary to our hypothesis and the results of Study 1, we did not find a significant difference (χ 2 (1) = 1.92, p  = .17). Nevertheless, the means trended in the expected direction. That is, 32.69% of participants banned the user who posted incongruent comments as opposed to just 29.51% who banned the user posting congruent comments.

9.2. Did identity fusion amplify the selectively censoring of incongruent comments?

To test our pre-registered hypothesis that strongly fused individuals would be especially likely to selectively censor incongruent comments, we tested a SEM model (see Fig. 6 ) with residual covariances between the censoring rates. (Alternate analyses treating the difference between censoring rates of incongruent and congruent comments as the selective censoring index, reported in Table 6 below and in SOM-II, result in the same findings). As in Studies 1 and 2, we standardized the predictors in all the SEM analyses, and we report unstandardized regression coefficients. Fusion positively (but not significantly) predicted censoring incongruent comments ( c 1 path; b  = 0.02, 95% CI = [−0.004, 0.04], p  = .12) but not censoring congruent comments ( c 2 path; b  = −0.006, 95% CI = [−0.02, 0.01], p  = .49). The difference between the fusion effects on censoring incongruent vs. congruent comments was significant, (Δ c  =  c 1 - c 2 ; χ 2 (1) = 6.01, p  = .01), which is evidence that fusion is associated with selective censoring. To illustrate, participants who were strongly fused (+ 1 SD ) censored 41.47% of the incongruent comments they read but only 28.56% of the congruent comments. Weakly fused participants censored 35.92% of the incongruent comments and 29.52% of the congruent comments, indicating weaker selective censoring. The effect of fusion on selective censoring remained significant when we controlled for whether participants favored pro-gun-rights or pro-gun-control (χ 2 (1) = 9.24, p  = .002), and the effect was not moderated by position on gun rights (χ 2 (1) = 0.05, p  = .83).

Path coefficients (c 1 and c 2 ) and Chi-sq values (χ 2 ) of SEM models and coefficients from regression models testing the effects of each identity-related measure on selective censoring (Study 3). Note that each model included only one predictor.

Note . In each model, the predictor was standardized, but the censoring rates were not. The censoring rates ranged from 0 to 1. The path coefficients reported are unstandardized. * indicates p  < .05. ** indicates p  < .01. *** indicates p  < .001.

Fig. 6

Structural Equations Model depicting the effect of identity fusion on selective censoring of incongruent vs. congruent comments (Study 3). The c 1 and c 2 paths represent the effects of fusion on censoring incongruent and congruent comments respectively. The significant difference between the two paths (Δ c ) indicates that fusion is associated with selectively censoring incongruent comments. * indicates p  < .05.

9.2.1. Did offensiveness moderate the effect of fusion on selectively censoring?

As in the previous studies and consistent with the pre-registration, we modeled the paths from fusion to participants' censoring rates for four types of comments: Offensive-Congruent, Offensive-Incongruent, Inoffensive-Congruent, and Inoffensive-Incongruent (see Fig. 7 ). Among inoffensive comments, fusion was associated with selectively censoring incongruent comments over congruent comments (Δ q  =  q1 – q2 ; b  = 0.03, 95% CI = [0.009, 0.04], p  = .003). Among offensive comments, the effect was in the predicted direction but not significant (Δ p  =  p 1 – p 2; b  =  0 .02, 95% CI = [−0.007, 0.04], p  = .16). (The four path coefficients are reported in SOM-IV). Comparing two selective censoring effects for offensive vs. inoffensive comments (Δ p – Δ q ) revealed no difference (χ 2 (1) = 0.39, p  = .53).

Fig. 7

Structural Equations Model examining the effect of identity fusion on selective censoring of incongruent vs. congruent comments among offensive and inoffensive comments (Study 3). Δ p and Δ q represent fusion's effects on selective censoring among offensive comments and inoffensive comments, respectively. The difference between them was not significant, which indicates that comment offensiveness did not moderate fusion's effect on selective censoring. See SOM-IV for path coefficients. ** indicates p  < .01.

9.3. Did fusion's effect on selective censoring of incongruent comments generalize to other identity-related measures?

We then tested our pre-registered hypothesis that fusion's effect on selective censoring would extend to seven identity-related measures. Using models similar to the fusion analysis, we tested the effect of each predictor on selective censoring. Table 6 reports each model's path coefficients from the tested variable to censoring incongruent ( c 1 ) and congruent ( c 2 ) comments, and the chi-square difference between the two paths ( c 1 – c 2 ) indicating the extent to which the tested variable is associated with selective censoring. The last column in Table 6 presents linear regression coefficients from alternate models testing the effect of each identity-related measures on the difference between participants' censoring rates for incongruent and congruent comments. The significant chi-square differences (Δ c ) and regression coefficients ( b ) indicate that the selective censoring effect generalized to each of the seven identity-related measures. In contrast to Study 2, the selective censoring effect was largely driven by positive associations between the identity-related measures and censoring incongruent comments.

9.4. Did selective censoring of incongruent comments depend on people's ideologies?

We tested another exploratory SEM model to assess the effect of people's stance on gun rights (pro-gun-rights vs. pro-gun-control). Gun-control supporters selectively censored incongruent comments more than gun-rights supporters (χ 2 (1) = 17.09, p  < .001) even though pro-gun- rights supporters tended to be more strongly fused than pro-gun- control supporters ( t (367) = 2.18, p  = .03, d  = 0.28). Study 3 was conducted during a period that saw increased gun sales ( Collins and Yaffe-Bellany, 2020 ), which should have increased the threat perceived by gun-control supporters, increasing their tendency to selectively censor opposition.\.

10. Study 3 discussion

Study 3 demonstrated that the selective censoring effect extends to issues beyond religiously tinged issues such as abortion rights. Specifically, people selectively censored comments that opposed their views on the gun rights debate, and this effect was amplified among people who were strongly fused with their cause. As in Studies 1 and 2, people selectively censored incongruent comments even when they were inoffensive. Contrary to Study 2, we did not find a significant selective censoring effect on offensive comments, but it could be that our study was underpowered to detect this effect. Further, gun-control proponents selectively censored more than gun-rights proponents, which when taken together with Studies 1 and 2, suggests that people's willingness to selectively censor may depend on the cause at hand (pro-choice or pro-gun-control) and the political context (e.g., level of threat faced by the cause) rather than political ideology (left or right).

Study 3 also replicated the Study 2 finding that selective censoring extends to a range of identity related constructs including attitude strength, identification with supporters, and moral conviction. Nevertheless, we did not find similar results across Studies 2 and 3 regarding the degree to which each identity-related process produced a lenience toward congruent content or an intolerance of incongruent content. Future research will need to disentangle the links between identity related processes and selective censoring.

10.1. General discussion

The current research provides an initial glimpse into how people censor political opponents when moderating online content. Specifically, in three studies, participants who were asked to moderate an online forum deleted approximately 5–12% more identity-incongruent, relative to identity-congruent, comments from putative online forums. Moreover, we found weak evidence that participants were about 3–5% points more likely to ban authors of incongruent as compared to congruent comments. These findings transcend past research on selective exposure and avoidance ( Bakshy et al., 2015 ; Garrett, 2009a ; van der Linden, 2017 ) because censorship is a particularly extreme action that affects not just one's own online environment but also the environments of other people. Furthermore, unlike traditional censorship enforced only by the state ( Bonsaver, 2007 ; Fishburn, 2008 ), the decentralized nature of this new form of censorship implemented by independent users could make it easy to overlook and thus potentially more insidious.

Our evidence that people censor the social media posts of political opponents is consistent with recent evidence that the salutary impact of intergroup contact on intergroup harmony ( Paluck et al., 2018 ) may not extend to online interactions ( Bail et al., 2018 ). We also show, however, that selective censorship of opponents' comments was amplified among people whose cause-related views were firmly rooted in their identities. Strongly fused participants deleted approximately 13–18% more identity-incongruent than identity-congruent comments, while weakly fused participants were much less biased (0–9%). Strikingly, strongly fused individuals disproportionately censored opponents' comments even when the comments conveyed opposing views in an inoffensive and courteous manner. The identity-driven effect on selective censoring generalized to six other identity-related measures including indices of attitude strength, moral conviction, and identification with cause supporters. The converging results across the various predictors suggest that selective censoring results from a combination of several identity-related processes.

Future research might work toward developing a theoretical model of selective censoring that elaborates the relationships between various identity-related processes. Such work might also investigate the two possible mechanisms underlying selective censoring: lenience toward congruent content versus intolerance of incongruent content. Future researchers might also follow up on our evidence that strongly fused participants were especially apt to censor opponents' comments but not their opponents themselves . Also, perhaps people ban individuals based on their most offensive comment rather than based on evaluating multiple comments. Further, whereas we focused on identity-related processes, future research might consider other processes such as expectations regarding the content online subscribers of a given forum prefer ( Haselmayer et al., 2017 ) that may also contribute to moderators' selective censoring.

The censorship effects described here could have considerable impact on online forums and communities that millions of people follow. Studies of moderators have noted that a small number of them govern very large online communities and that they hold enormous power over their communities ( Frith, 2014 ; Matias, 2016b ). Still, past work on moderators has largely focused on how people become moderators ( Shaw and Hill, 2014 ), and the nature of their roles ( Berge and Collins, 2000 ; Colladon and Vagaggini, 2017 ; Frith, 2014 ) and struggles ( Matias, 2016a ). Although some case studies have examined abuse of power by moderators ( Yang, 2019 ), including anecdotal evidence of politically motivated censorship ( Wright, 2006 ), the current research is the first systematic investigation of censoring among people who moderate online communities. This investigation is consequential because selective censoring that favors the viewpoints of a small number of moderators could produce huge biases in the content that millions see. Indeed, censoring by powerful moderators can give onlookers who are not aware that censoring has occurred a false sense of the views of the people in an online community and who belongs there.

Still, our findings may generalize beyond the groups of people who serve as moderators of large online communities or forums. The millions of people who own blogs, YouTube channels, and social media pages, can moderate others' comments on the platforms they control. Even regular social media users can moderate others' comments on their own posts. Of course, in our studies, participants were explicitly given the goal of deleting inappropriate comments. Because most regular social media users may not experience a strong deletion-focused goal, they may censor less than moderators do. Nevertheless, the collective impact of each of these individuals' censoring could produce substantial consequences.

We believe censorship is a potentially overlooked factor in the heightened political polarization our culture is witnessing. This could have important ramifications. For example, selective censoring could lead to a lack of exposure to different viewpoints, creating echo chambers and causing people to develop increasingly extreme opinions ( Price et al., 2006 ) and to overestimate the prevalence of their own viewpoints ( Ross et al., 1977 ). In addition, opponents of causes may witness the increased extremism of inhabitants of the echo chamber and respond in kind by adopting extreme opposing views of their own ( Bail et al., 2018 ). These processes may reinforce themselves, producing more and more polarization over time ( Allcott et al., 2020 ). Censorship could also have implications for the people being censored, who may feel marginalized and become disengaged from the online community or be less likely to share his or her views in the future. Future studies should examine the consequences of selective censoring in online contexts.

11. Conclusion

Contemporary pundits often blame the apparent increase in polarization on “the internet” or “social media.” Researchers have found some basis for such assertions by demonstrating that internet users are indeed selectively exposed to evidence that would lend support to their views. Our findings move beyond this literature by demonstrating that moderators employ censorship to not only bring online content into harmony with their values, but to actively advance their causes and attack opponents of their causes. From this vantage point, those whose political beliefs are rooted in their identities are not passive participants in online polarization; rather, they are agentic actors who actively curate online environments by censoring content that challenges their ideological positions. By providing a window into the psychological processes underlying these processes, our research may open up a broader vista of related processes for systematic study.

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation [grants BCS-1124382 and BCS1528851 to William B. Swann, Jr.], an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council 694986 to Michael Buhrmester, and grant by Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades RTI2018-093550-B-I00 to Angel Gomez. The funders played no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the article for publication.


We thank Elliot Tucker-Drob and Greg Hixon for their help with the data analysis.

Open practices

All study materials and data used in this research have been made publicly available and can be accessed at . The design, methods, and analysis plan of Studies 2 and 3 were pre-registered, and these can be viewed at and respectively.

☆This paper has been recommended for acceptance by Ashwini Ashokkumar

1 Selective censorship can occur as a result of two processes: greater censoring of cause-incongruent content and/or less censoring of cause-congruent content. We did not have an a priori hypothesis regarding which of these selective censoring processes fusion would amplify.

2 Note that the data were collected before reports of drop in the quality of the MTurk participant pool surfaced in, 2018 ( TurkPrime, 2018 ).

3 When designing the Study 1 materials, we did not ensure that the three types of comments (i.e., pro-choice, pro-life, and irrelevant comments) were equally offensive. For example, the post-hoc offensiveness ratings suggest that the pro-life comments may have been generally less offensive than the pro-choice and irrelevant comments. For this reason, the estimates of censoring obtained in Study 2, in which we systematically varied offensiveness a priori, are more trustworthy.

4 In Studies 2 and 3, we excluded participants who responded to fewer than 50% of the comments because their censoring rates are likely to be inaccurate estimates. Note that this exclusion criterion was not pre-registered. In both studies, including these participants did not alter our findings.

Appendix A Supplementary data to this article can be found online at .

Appendix A. Supplementary data

Supplementary material

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ELSA Legal Research

Final Report - Internet Censorship

writing a research paper on censorship and internet

Research coordinated by:  Sarah Ikast Kristoffersen, Nikola Ćirić, Fani Dimoska, Vanya Rakesh, Olegs Sedjakins

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Article contents

  • Nicole Moore Nicole Moore University of New South Wales
  • Published online: 22 December 2016

Insofar as literature is defined negatively, by what it is not, censorship has had a determining role in its historical constitution. Contemporary scholarship emphasizes the dynamic interplay between literary expression and forms of cultural regulation, recognizing its paradoxically productive capacity to generate as well as suppress meaning. At the same time, accounting for censorship’s role in the history of the world’s literature means coming to grips with the often brutal repression, prohibition, and persecution of writing, writers, performance, and cultural producers by sovereign power underwritten by violence. Tracing the genealogies of literary censorship, from its formulations in ancient Rome, through medieval religious persecution, sedition and heresy charges, theatre controls, early modern print and copyright licensing, to the seeming breakthroughs of the Enlightenment, details the interdependence of modernity and cultural regulation. At stake in this history are defining relations between culture and society, knowledge and power, not least in the manner in which literature traverses the boundary between public and private, and censorship polices that divide. The art-for-art’s-sake defense, which separates the literary from what is offensive—nominally from obscenity, pornography, libel, blasphemy, and sedition and effectively from politics, intimacy, and the real—stumbles and fails in the face of culture’s variant aims and readers’ differing pleasures. And the state’s use of the law to enforce its role as a custosmorum has placed not only art in opposition to the law, as Gustave Flaubert saw, but also culture in opposition to morality, when the state becomes the modern arbiter of culture’s social and political roles. The available frames for understanding censorship, from liberal, materialist, psychoanalytic, linguistic, and poststructuralist positions, face challenges from diversifying and yet synthesizing situations for literature in a global world.

  • prohibition
  • pornography
  • self-censorship


In 1988 , Sue Curry Jansen described censorship as “the knot that binds power and knowledge,” and this binding has remained, loosely or tightly, at the heart of the dynamic between censorship and literature. 1 Censorship has been an aspect of social communication for as long as societies have conceived of the latter as a public good, and in the way that, through Jansen’s knot, they have been mutually determining, censorship and literature have been coeval. Censorship defines the literary by outlawing that which it is not allowed to be; literature shapes censorship by exploring and contesting its limits. Institutionally, and insofar as literature has a public and reading is a collective act, censorship has been literature’s determining other. And insofar as censorship in its modern incarnation is cotemporaneous with print culture and dependent for its character on the media technologies and forms of literacy grown by that age, literature has been its most persistent and prominent antagonist. This negative identification, through modernity, has produced the character, form, and identity of literature and censorship as we understand them now. In the contemporary moment, however, neither remains stable and neither category’s current manifestation, legally, socially, or institutionally, can claim any permanency.

The Latin word censor referred to one of the two magistrates in the Roman’s censorial bureaucracy, established in 443 bce , but the Romans did not invent censorship, and neither did the Greeks. Social and political injunctions on forms of speech and representation featured in many ancient civilizations, from early Sumeria and Egypt to the controls built into Chinese ideography, as well as the taboos and protocols maintained around symbolic meaning in numerous other societies. The Freudian definition, of course, refers to a foundational aspect of the functional consciousness, in which unacceptable subconscious forms of meaning and desire are suppressed and displaced; such a model understands censorship to be a constitutive lesson learned by the social subject, dependent neither on a public context nor on forms of collective or sanctioned political power. While recognizing the nonrational and subjective impulses that can collectively animate social censorship is highly revealing, contemporary censorship scholarship is generally focused on public and communal forms of regulation, practices implemented through contracted and legitimated forms of power over groups or populations on a greater than individual scale.

The definition of censorship given by the current Oxford Dictionary of Media and Communication is one of the more useful—“any regime or context in which the content of what is publically expressed, exhibited, published, broadcast, or otherwise distributed is regulated or in which the circulation of information is controlled,” or “a regulatory system for vetting, editing, and prohibiting particular forms of public expression,” or, even more generally, “the practice and process of suppression or any particular instance of this.” This definition’s contemporary focus is on the institutional application of control, distinguishing legally administrated regimes and contexts from private, individual, or singular instances, and asserting as key the complex fact of public expression. This focus distinguishes it from older definitions, including those in other Oxford dictionaries, which show the influence of the word’s Latinate origins in formulating the role of the “censor” as a single operative. The OED ’s definition of “censor” in 1974 was “An official whose duty it is to inspect books, journals, plays etc., before publication, to ensure that they contain nothing immoral, heretical, or offensive or injurious to the State.” Dating that usage to 1644 , the same year as John Milton’s Areopagitica , it also includes “one who censors private correspondence (as in time of war)” from 1914 . The emphasis on the individual censor is notable, but so is the delineation of targets, much more distinctly literary in their itemization than the broadly disseminated forms of communication identified now. In the most immediate reading of this definition, censorship is an activity confined to or exercised only by the state—by an “official” who protects sovereign power from offense. “Immoral, heretical or offensive” describe rather free-floating offenses, however, that have no specified subject or content: the material just is such, without a witness or reader who manifests that offense. Perhaps most anachronistic is the qualifier: “before publication.” Modern liberal censorship regimes have in general abjured the Tudor or early modern practice of controlling the means of production to regulate expression, prioritizing instead effective forms of post-publication and distribution control such as prosecution, imprisonment and seizures, customs and visa controls, point-of-sale and postal regulation, consumer education and ratings systems, and industry self-regulation. Many notably strict censorship regimes have refused the designation on the grounds that pre-publication controls were not in place, including in apartheid South Africa and pre-revolutionary France, while contemporary licensing requirements for media outlets and Internet service providers offer arguably similar regulatory instruments to contemporary governments.

Frames for Censorship

It is possible to conceive of censorship through quite variant theoretical frames, of course. Liberal models for censorship inherit from Enlightenment thinkers a structuring opposition between freedom and control, a pervasive Manichean divide that informs many arguments today. 2 Milton’s much-quoted pamphlet argued that truth should be able to defend itself and that “bad books” would never disappear. Work by thinkers such as André Morellet in France and C. G. Svarez in Germany continued similar arguments in the 18thcentury. In On Liberty , John Stuart Mill elaborated, in 1859 , the argument that truth was best established in unrestricted combat with all ideas, going further than Milton in arguing that we should tolerate ideas we find repellent. The principles of “freedom of speech” as a right enshrined in the First Amendment of the constitution of the United States in 1791 have been elaborated to argue for a free “marketplace” of ideas, and at stake in this conception is a determining assertion of individualized freedom that continues to be enshrined as a foundation of democracy.

Western Marxist and materialist models have emphasized the interests at stake in forms of state and private control, attending to the directed economic and superstructural benefits of hierarchized suppression and emphasizing the importance for censorship of control over the means of culture’s production. Marx began his career as a journalist with an essay on censorship, which the German authorities then censored, and at his trial for “ outrages par parole ” during the revolutions of 1848 declared, “The first duty of the press, therefore, is to undermine the foundations of the existing political system.” 3 Capital’s stake in what Mill condemned as “private censorship”—the most dangerous of all forms, because so “pervasive and so ineradicable compared to legislation, which may be judicially overturned”—remains an often ungraspable aspect of contemporary cultural dissemination. 4 Media oligopolies enact forms of private censorship, where the interests of corporations or organizations can determine the nature of information reported to the public or the kinds of cultural expression reproduced and made accessible; it is a stretch to say publishers can have this role too, but not a long stretch., the China-specific version of Google’s expansive Internet search service, is a key example of public/private partnership in contemporary regulation, in which a multinational company voluntarily aids in implementing the Chinese government’s Internet censorship system, given official guidance but “charged to draw the line for itself.” 5 Even in oligopolies, the nature of private control usually means that alternative avenues of expression remain, however, including not only state-sponsored forums but also other ventures or platforms owned by different parties. In this sense, the role of private ownership as a form of censorship has been limited or relative compared to regimes of regulation administered by governments on a national scale. Contemporary electronic forms of communication have long escaped the confines of the nation-state, however, while becoming increasingly agglomerated via a confined number of dominant providers, companies, and media platforms who can exercise control over very large numbers of users with little regard to countries of origin or national jurisdictions. The arenas of expression thus subject to private censorship are expanding rapidly and complexly.

Political and media studies accounts insistently characterize the object of prohibition as information, maintaining, as did Milton and Mill, that the public’s access to what is simply “the truth” is what matters. 6 Rather, literature’s challenge to censorship has been its claim to art: in Western law, well before the defense of “art’s for art’s sake” developed in the trials of Flaubert and Charles Baudelaire in Second Empire France, this claim had strong defenders, though it was formalized as “literary or artistic merit” only in 20th-century statutes. The relative importance of obscenity as an offense in modern cultural and literary censorship, instead of sedition or blasphemy, and for Madam Bovary perhaps in particular, demonstrates the weakness of that defense, and the degree to which definition of “the literary” has been vulnerable to profound and indeed determining control from regulation. This has occurred not just in the law courts but in censorship’s control over how and in what manner cultural products are produced, distributed, and consumed, determining what forms of meaning are allowed legitimacy in the literary field. There is also a clash of values here, between the press and the arts, knowledge and culture, and ultimately between public and private spheres, reflecting literature’s keen interest (and social role) in intimacy and subjective identity. In prohibiting obscenity, censorship’s aim is not just to keep obscenity “private” (that is, to refuse to allow it to become “information”) but to determine and shape public knowledge of private possibilities—to make private life.

In this regard, Michel Foucault’ scritique of the Enlightenment model, what he termed the “repressive hypothesis,” has had a long tenure for contemporary understandings of literary censorship. Refuting the Manichean divide (“there is no binary division to be made between what one says and what one does not say”), Foucault’s History of Sexuality famously asserted, “Rather than a massive censorship, beginning with the verbal proprieties imposed by the Age of Reason, what was involved was a regulated and polymorphous incitement to discourse.” 7 With Foucault, emphasis shifted to the productive capacity of regulation—the paradoxical ability of prohibition to call into discourse, or interpolate, that which was otherwise unnamable. At the same time, post-Freudian psychoanalytic models, which have been extrapolated to explain social and representational control, enabled theorizations of censorship as fundamental to all human speech and meaningmaking. The mundane acts of selection, prioritization, authorizing, and refusal that occur in every piece or act of communication are understood as at once essential to it and all forms of censorship. Without such editorial sanctions and control, whether unconscious, individual, collective, or political, Judith Butler (among others) has argued, communication would be impossible, and sociality too, not to mention culture. The constitution of the subject is “tied to the circumscribed production of the domain of the speakable.” 8 The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argues for the dependence of the conditions for discourse on principles of exclusion. His Language and Symbolic Power delineates the structuring relations of the “linguistic habitus” and the “linguistic marketplace,” which at both levels incorporate censorship, delineating capacities and propensities but also “specific sanctions and censorships.” 9 For Bourdieu, a fundamental tension between “the expressive interest” and censorship structures all social communication.

The problems that historical accounts have with the common-sense understanding of self-censorship—the internal, individual suppression of what would otherwise be expressed publicly—are that such instances are ephemeral and non-identical, and rarely demonstrate a measurable, verifiable application of power or suppressive control. This sort of critique can be brought against the “new censorship scholarship” that enacted this poststructuralist position, in which censorship is not only pervasive and inevitable, but fundamentally constitutive, and mundane or even enabling for speech. Beate Müller and other scholars of the former Eastern Bloc states have been insistent, moreover, in the wake of the opening of the archives of state socialist censorship, on the importance of distinguishing between such mundane suppression and regimes of calculated and enforced control. 10

Debates about the ways in which censorship can be regulative and/or constitutive, aiming to direct and suppress expression that nonetheless occurs or to control expression at a formative level, as Sue Curry Jansen elaborates, 11 depend in large part on how the object of state censorship is couched. Is it the individual subject or national discourse (or national space, or identity) that national regimes seek to protect? Is state censorship constituting the citizen or regulating public knowledge, or both at once? Using power to delimit knowledge, censorship targets literature insofar as and in the ways in which it first manifests the too-knowing subject, at ease with forms of understanding unsanctioned by regulated consensus or sovereign power, and second, enacts public identity, in the sense of identification, cathecting such understanding beyond a single reading moment. When we push to discover exactly how literature is posited as dangerous by the administrators of censorship, the literary’ saesthetic motivations are laid bare, even though its dangers may be no differently conceived than those of film, various information media, and other forms of popularly circulated culture. Literature and censorship’s shared histories, their parallel and interdependent teleologies, however, can show us what their objects, in practice, have in common.


Attending to the “emergence” of what is now couched as freedom of expression, the American constitutional historian Leonard W. Levy notes a few writers from ancient Greece claiming such, particularly Euripides, whose plays he describes as “a storehouse of allusions to the glories and values of free speech.” 12 Ion and The Pheonissae are cited as asserting the value of a citizen’s right to an unbridled tongue, as is the thought of Demosthenes, and such examples have instanced for similar readers a long-held position for the literary on the side of open and unhindered expression. Yet, as Levy also notes, “there is no evidence that even the most libertarian among the Greeks suffered oral or written sedition to exist with impunity.” 13 Socrates’ notorious punishment is the inaugurating moment for the other narrative of this history—in which censorship’s suppression of disruptive or subversive communication remains a constant in the cultural memory of the Western world.

Observing the effects of Nero’s censorship, the paradoxically productive effect of banning was noted in 109 ce by Tacitus, in his Histories : “So long as the possession of these writings was attended by danger, they were eagerly sought and read: when there was no longer any difficulty in securing them, they fell into oblivion.” 14 The Roman population established economies of reading that were not coextensive with the state’s prescriptions, and this evidence demonstrates the ways in which forms of free expression have also depended on enabling structures of power secondary and tertiary to those of the state. From these early modelings, European notions of liberal freedom and entitled citizenship arose. The Roman censors were responsible for the official census of citizens, and in counting they also designated, so they had considerable power in determining what qualified a man for citizenship: this oversight became effectively the supervision of public morals. They even approved membership of the Senate, dependent on requisite behavioral standards, and a censorial “nota” could mean exclusion. 15 Thus the censors combined moral and political functions—delimiting membership of the political class according to adjudged and deliberated observation of social behavior.

This mode of control rapidly expanded from persons to writings. Tacitus claims Augustus as the first proper censor: “the first ruler to punish words unaccompanied by action,” as Jansen couches it. 16 Libellifamosi laws prohibited libelous or scandalous writing, while sedition was punishable by imperial decree, since libeling the emperor libeled the state. Hannah Arendt’s argument that clear and rigid distinctions between public and private were characteristic of classical Rome and Athens is useful in thinking about the longuedurée of European censorship, and more than that about the ways in which political theory has conceived of its relation to the idea of freedom. If it is the realm of the polis that is the “sphere of freedom,” as Arendt couched it, “it was a matter of course that the mastering of the necessities of life in the household was the condition for freedom of the polis .”And if “necessity is primarily a prepolitical phenomenon, characteristic of the private household organization, … force or violence are justified in this sphere because they are the only means to master necessity—for instance by ruling over slaves—and to become free.” 17 The affairs of the “public world” are matters for free debate between equals—the “true liberty” Euripides assigns to “free-born men,” as Milton quotes him to begin Aeropagitica —but the freedom of these “equals” is dependent on the violent nonfreedom of those on whom the citizen relies to meet his needs in private: women and slaves. Arendt’s stark division misses the activity of the marketplace and trade and manufacture, “abandoned to slaves,” as she acknowledges, but her emphasis on separation offers an explanation not only of the pressure to regulate and suppress traffic in meaning, especially from the intimate realm to the public, but of the ways in which forms of political and social organization themselves enact or militate for profound kinds of censorship, prior to acts of expression, when even majority populations are kept from public expression, sunk in labor and what Giorgio Agamben calls “bare life.”

Moreover, the definition of “public” itself remains complex: for Arendt importantly a “space of appearance” at the center of common concern, in which “everything that appears … can be seen and heard by everybody.” 18 Public meaning is defined not only by access to oral authority and limited literacy, asmodes of dissemination and productionas well as regulation, but also by the ways in which the borderline between household and polis was often crossed and blurred, as Arendt recognizes, citing Plato’s use of everyday and private experiences as examples. 19 For her, there is a crucial intermediary space between these two spheres: the “curiously hybrid realm where private interests assume public significance that we call ‘society.’” 20 As for many other European historians and philosophers, for Arendt this realm comes into proper existence only with the emergence of a market economy in the 16thcentury, which ushers in the socialization of private concerns and the overtaking of public life by collective material interests. At issue in this mediation between realms is the role of literature—the epics, the theater, and orations—and its pervasive interest in the claims of the private sphere not only to public attention but also to political content: Ariadne’s political choices as a daughter and wife, or Electra’s testimony to the importance of affect in the rule of law. And in this way we see Arendt’s public ideal always already inflected by moral questions sourced in the family and household, in intimacy and in relationships of need and dependence.

Dating “freedom of speech” as a phrase from the struggles of the British Parliament to achieve free debate, including criticism of the sovereign, Leonard Levy and others suggest that this predates the conception of “free speech” as a modern civil liberty, but such a separation is linguistic and legal in its historicism. 21 Arendt’s explorations of the restrictions bound into the constitution of the civic sphere throw into question the character of liberties afforded to it and the genesis of free speech in civil society, challenging a narrative in which it “evolves as an offshoot of freedom of the press and freedom of religion.” 22

Political histories of censorship narrow their interest to impositions on critiques of the conduct of power—the offense of sedition and ideological dissent—but the Roman censors’ fundamental strictures were moral: they were the custosmorum , and this can be argued to be the key legal role for any censorship regime in so far as it is a regime. The moral dimensions of political positions and religious conduct are where offense is registered, for example insofar as criticism of a sovereign regards a ruler’s proper conduct. As religious heresy and blasphemy rose to the top of the list of offenses in early Christianity and through the Middle Ages, what would later be called obscenity also gained greater prominence as a measure of moral conduct in the policing of scandalous utterance, blasphemy, and libel. Arguably, literature has always been subject to the policing of shared morality, in distinguishing itself from forms of historical and philosophical writing through its focus on situations of moral ambiguity and its role in enacting cultural pleasure.


From the church of Rome came a papacy that began to act as a government, “by means of the law,” and Walter Ullman’s account of medieval political thought argues for the ways in which Christian dogma and doctrine were fitted to a “Roman jurisprudential scheme,” asserting the maxim that “the Latin world … and later also the Germanic world, were given their faith, their religion, their dogma in the shape of the law.” 23 The legal codes of church and state, thus intermeshed, forbade heresy and treason as crimes against God and king, respectively, and reinforced each other’s power: in 1414 the English Parliament confirmed the right of ecclesiastical officials to prosecute the producers of heretical books. 24 The 14th-century English “literature of protest,” a body of satire and complaint that stretches to the corpus of outlaw ballads and poetry, often targeting corrupt justice and royal government, has connections to rebellions and agitations of that age in both France and England, while the group of statutes known as Scandalum Magnatum and the first statute of Westminster from 1275 extrapolated from the crime of treason to indict “any false news or tales whereby discord or occasion of discord or slander may grow between the king and his people, or the great men of the realm …” 25 Drawn from the Roman law of iniuria , as Debora Shuger establishes, defamation and libel were central protections afforded to persons in public that distinguished English law from papal concepts, and the powerful role of fiction in political critique is hinted at in these histories, provoking truth as a defense but also the performance of virtue. 26 The introduction of the Catholic Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1559 , with the later addition of the Expurgatory Catalogues, began the modern administration of banned lists, facilitating bibliographic surveillance with positive and productive consequences as well as repressive ones. Exported to the Americas along with the Inquisition, religious colonial censorship triumphed in the burning of the Mayan codices, though Sue Curry Jansen records that in 1627 the Index was hailed by anti-Catholic scholar Thomas James as an indispensable guide to the medieval literature of protest and “invaluable as records of the literature of the doctrines and opinions obnoxious to Rome.” 27

The Reformation, as Leonard Levy notes, “by making the monarch the head of the established church, converted every religious question into a political one and suffused government policies with religious overtones. As a result, nonconformity and heresy became virtually indistinguishable from sedition and treason.” 28 In Tudor England, law expanded and particularized such capital offenses, including conspiring and even compassing—“words were interpreted to constitute the overt act” 29 —and under Henry VIII and Mary, executions by burning reached unprecedented numbers. Elsewhere in Europe, the state became the dominant force in policing crimes against religion too, even in Catholic countries, with political motivations justifying persecution. But under Elizabeth I in England, heresy ceased to be a capital crime: as populations began to accept the idea that religious belief could be relative rather than absolute, regulation moved from heresy to blasphemy, from the ecclesiastical courts to the monarch’s. 30 Parliament discussed reviving the writ for burning heretics to deal with Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan in 1666 , but the bill failed, and in 1677 the writ was permanently abolished. In effect, while blasphemy was also a capital offense, reinforced by passage of an act against it in 1698 , it was a lesser one: charges of atheism were more likely to result in death. Scholars of Levy’s generation have argued that repressive persecution under Charles I saw nonconformity as the more heinous crime, because it was a willful opposition to the laws of both church and state, and when enforced by the Star Chamber and the King’s Bench, this could be converted easily into sedition, during the period leading up to the outbreak of civil war. 31

Evidence of censorship in Shakespeare’s folios shows us in detail some of the ways in which the categories of offense were enacted for literature—oaths were policed as much as speech with more directly political import, for example. Passed in 1606 , the Profanity Act “to restrain abuses of players” required that performers who “in any stage play, interlude, show, may-game, or pageant, jestingly or profanely speak or use the holy name of God or of Christ Jesus, or of the Holy Ghost or of the Trinity” should “forfeit for every such offence by him or them committed ten pounds.” 32 After this, as Stanley Wells notes, Shakespeare’s plays were mainly set in the pre-Christian era. Censorship of plays was managed by the Master of the Revels, formally deputized by the Lord Chamberlain to rehearse and approve plays for court and later public performance, and from 1607 to approve them for printing. Differences between the quarto and folio editions of The Second Part of Henry the IV show the latter devoid of oaths, and also evidence removal and then restoration of material referring to the fate of Richard II: “it has usually been assumed that the stirrings of what would become the Earl of Essex’s rebellion had by 1600 made these speeches look uncomfortably topical.” 33

Richard Burt’s Foucauldian discussion of Ben Jonson’s complex positioning, as a jailed playwright later engaged in the culture of court censorship, questions the dichotomy between regulation and liberty presumed in such discussion. While English theatres were closed between 1642 and 1660 , Burt reminds us to consider what was at stake in the professionalization of the stage earlier in the century, tracking efforts by Jonson and Shakespeare to distinguish their productions from popular and unsanctioned entertainments or “cozenage.” 34

Also evident in this history is regulation’s trajectory from oral and theatrical forms to print, as well as the ways in which literary and cultural forms not only were complicit with but also escaped, mocked, and worked around mechanisms of control. Throughout these centuries, of course, the techniques of printing and demand for the products of the early presses were expanding rapidly, enabling the development of a commercial periodical press, independent of state power. 35 Formative definitions of modern censorship are sourced in the 16thcentury (Arendt’s date for modern society), contemporaneous not only with the development of tradeable literature, the beginnings of middle-class literacy, and the formalization of linguistic norms, but also with legislative strategies to regulate this volatile environment. Printers were subject to a licensing system in the United Kingdom that was imposed by a Star Chamber decree in 1586 and reestablished by Charles II in 1662 after the chamber’s abolition and Stamp Acts targeted the proliferation of newspapers (in Ireland too). France developed, by the early 1700s, what is recognizable as a centralized formal regime, with supervisory censors and restrictive licensing of a highly systematic order, regulating a printing industry difficult to contain within the borders of the state and modeling a rationalized system for the rest of Europe. Excepting England, where the licensing act lapsed in 1695 , all states in Europe had laws requiring permission to print until the French Revolution. However, in the United Provinces of the Netherlands, for example, censorship was less systematic, only occasionally intensive. The Qing or Manchu Dynasty in China from 1644 to 1911 , the last of the great dynasties, maintained a banned list of about two thousand items and, in its battle to sustain cultural unity in the face of dissenting print, perpetrated “many famous cases of literary inquisitions and burning of books and persecution of authors,” as Lin Yutang’s 1936 History of the Press and Public Opinion in China notes. 36

Contemporary scholars, however, have shifted our understanding of the complex cultural history this legal history overlays. Shuger argues, in the case of Tudor and Stuart censorship, that “the state had neither the will nor the resources to suppress all dissent; that in practice, censorship tended to be a haphazard affair, less a matter of systematic repression than intermittent crackdowns in response to local contingencies.” 37 Robert Darnton’s expansive work on the literary underground of the ancien régime builds on the consensus that “the literature of the Enlightenment was notorious for developing hidden complicities between writers and readers, and such complicities often served as a way of circumventing censorship,” 38 and indeed much Enlightenment thought was entwined with scandalous tracts, often obscene and libelous, while some of the great French pornographers of the age had international readerships. Together with Burt’s work, Lynn Hunt’s and Joan DeJean’s on the invention of obscenity, as well as Cyndia Clegg’s study of Jacobean regulation, have moved censorship scholarship away from sweeping histories of law and politics toward localized contexts: “any act of censorship needs to seek its rationale in the confluence of immediate contemporary economic, religious, and political events” and in relation to “varied and often contradictory and competing interests.” 39

Case studies of individual persecution or complicity with suppression are many, each a highly revealing petitsrécits to narrativize the dynamic through which censorship produced the literary and vice versa. The autodidact William Hone’s acquittal in three trials for blasphemy in Regency Britain, for example, as Clara Tuite argues, in requiring elucidation of the difference between sedition and blasphemy, and in turn literature and scripture (thus also church and state), correspondingly forced development of the distinction between the literary and the offensive, witnessing at once compulsory performance of proscribed speech and public embrace of Hone’s parodies as forms of political radicalism. 40 But book history more recently has been interested in the cumulative data to be found in publishing, library and state records of bannings and regulation, looking to identify systems and broader patterns across states, national and colonial readerships, and intersected publishing economies. The close relations between the formation of nation-states, as in modern Europe, and requirements for control over the circulation of meaning are evident, from the introduction of copyright laws to border policing of suspect imports. On the one hand, Benedict Anderson’s imagined community of conjoined readers is the motivating specter for national censorship, in contained and delineated space; on the other, the ability of print to travel, exhort, and communicate across space and time provokes both the consolidation of national languages and state activity to regulate entrepreneurial print production. Censorship has remained bound within this nexus at a fundamental level.

Modern Censorship

Nationmaking was also the work of colonialism through these centuries, especially in settler contexts, and literary censorship had a crucial role to play, albeit a negatively productive one, in the formation of cultural identity and the administration of empire. The circulation of illicit and underground publications both to and from the literate colonies is a shadowed but determining component of the interdependent relations between print and imperialism, and especially obscenity and empire, while the suppression and prohibition of resistant colonized expression was important for domination. 41 The Inquisition had more power and impact than Spanish state censorship in colonial Peru, from its introduction in 1568 through to 1820 , though the latter required licensing of every individual publication. Enforced use of papal indices, strict parish controls, and restricted dissemination characterized French Catholic colonial censorship in Quebec. The licensing of printers and the use of copyright law as a regulatory practice was exported from Britain to colonial North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and elsewhere, though not to Ireland. The print and press government monopoly in the Dutch East Indies persisted until the first half of the 20th century, and the great Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, banned and imprisoned from 1965 to 1980 for purported connections to communism, drew explicit parallels between Dutch colonial censorship and his experiences under Suharto’s dictatorship. 42 English-owned printing in19th-century China was dominated by missionary interests and then served as propaganda for the superiority of Western culture. In India, censorship under the English was served by an “administration that depended on modern modes of information gathering—that is, on an endless flow of words on paper”; as Robert Darnton describes, this included gigantic catalogues of publications compiled by the civil service that “constituted a census of Indian literature as the imperial authorities understood it.” 43

The first U.S. conviction under the common law crime of obscene libel occurred in 1815 , and the burgeoning provocations of pornography as this regulation’s primary object were a key motivation for 19th-century legislative censorship, in the wake of obscenity emerging as a legal category in the 18th century. Its articulation broke down in the later 19th century into political issues of social importance, under pressure from feminism, socialism, mass literacy, and transformative changes in the relation between public and private spheres. In 1847 , Canada’s Customs Act first prohibited the importation of “books and drawings of an immoral or indecent character”; 44 in 1853 , Britain’s Customs Consolidation Act incorporated express prohibitions on obscene or indecent articles, formalizing cordons sanitaires against immorality from elsewhere. Michael Roberts noted the coincidence of debate of the 1857 Obscene Publications Act in the English House of Lords with the arrival of news of the Indian Mutiny two days later. 45 Regimes of regulation all over the British Empire were bolstered by this act and by the common-law armor provided in 1868 by the Regina vs Hicklin decision, which famously defined obscenity as “a tendency to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such influences, and into whose hands a publication … may fall.” 46 Battles were formalized in court cases that resulted in jailing and fining authors, publishers, and booksellers; circulating libraries enacted their own forms of discriminatory control. This laid bare the class- and gender-based dimensions of obscenity and blasphemy policing.

Also in 1857 , in Second Empire France, the trials of Gustav Flaubert and his publisher and printer for the publication of Madam Bovary and of Charles Baudelaire and his publisher for Les Fleurs du Mal featured an influential stand-off between literature and legislation, or art and law, which, for Bourdieu and others, inaugurated modern articulations of the literary as an autonomous field, seeking aesthetic freedom as such—“art for art’s sake.” 47 This oppositional framing had some significant influence, even on the early imperatives of film censorship, which was institutionalized in many countries around the world from the first decades of the 20th century and bolstered by its often explicitly articulated distinctions from the social or artistic merits of literature. In Australia, French naturalism brought the customs officers of the colonial states into the law courts in the 1880s, reacting to the prosecution of Emile Zola’s publisher Albert Vizetelly in the United Kingdom, as well as to the work of freethinkers and birth control advocates. 48 Postal censorship was especially important in targeting the latter—vigorously policing the ingress of sexual literacy into domestic space—and as a means of controlling the availability of locally produced material, in the United States in particular. Despite common legal environments, obscenity was policed differently around the British Empire—Deana Heath’s work compares India, Australia, and Ireland and notes Australia’s insistence on defining itself as a stricter censor than Britain, defending Anglo-Saxon standards in the Asia Pacific, and also than India, where the free circulation of birth control information can be seen as an aspect of eugenic interest from the West in restricting population growth. 49 After unrest over the Partition of Bengal in 1905 , however, the offense of sedition became more urgent than obscenity. In court case after court case, “what had appeared as the harmless beginnings of a modern literature stood condemned as revolutionary agitation … Literature now looked dangerous, because it was no longer restricted to the literati: it was spreading to the masses.” 50

Spectacle Censorship

Dominick LaCapra’s 1982 study of Flaubert’s 1857 trial established some of the terms within which the literary trial is now discussed, emphasizing a court’s capacity to explode a prosecuted book’s literary frame, occasioning slippage from the offense at issue to proximate social formations vulnerable to challenge. 51 Shifting the emphasis, with Judith Butler, to performance, Adam Parkes later used “the theater of censorship” to describe the public impact of the sensational English-language obscenity book trials conducted through the first half of the 20th century. He glosses the phrase as “the social space in which texts and authors became subject to public censure and legal action—so that the culture of censorship itself [is] implicitly put on trial,” as it was for William Hone. 52 Beginning with Oscar Wilde’s trial of 1895 , Parkes outlines, as have Laura Doan, Celia Marshik, and Elisabeth Ladenson, the developing furors that followed the U.K. and U.S. bans, prosecution, or public trials of D. H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow ( 1915 ), James Joyce’s Ulysses ( 1922 ), and Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness ( 1928 ), as well as the pivotal suppression of Lady Chatterley’s Lover , also in 1928 , and its 1960 trial in London. Doan emphasizes the role of the incitement of the British press; Marshik demonstrates that modernist literature was written to push the boundaries of sexual expression but also with those boundaries clearly in view; and Ladenson examines the impact of sensational trials, from Madam Bovary ’s to Lolita ’s, on generating audience interest and reaction. 53 Each of these trials shows how the transparent use of public prosecution can produce rather than (merely) suppress literary meaning, and certainly legal and political histories of censorship attend primarily to such case law in articulating change. But as Lisa Sigel argues, this is not the only form of state censorship, and neither has it necessarily been the most effective. Sigel distinguishes between what she terms “spectacular” and “everyday” censorship 54 —the former evident in such show trials, the latter referring to the overlapping legislative and administrative environments Sigel sees in interwar Britain, which enabled pervasive surveillance and control over many forms of communication, usually without public notice and often in secret.

Parkes attends to the performative elements of these sensational censorship trials, but what was happening to real theater? British theater has a long history of regulation; in 1737 , a licensing act gave statutory powers to the Lord Chamberlain that required submitting plays for approval before performance and restricted spoken drama in London to a tight inner-city circle. These powers were delegated to an official examiner of plays and extended nationally in 1843 . In the 1890s, George Bernard Shaw, having been subjected to bans, raged against the system: “Shame, folly and ridicule, and mischief are the fruits of it, and the sole possible ones.” 55 That his plays were more successful in print during that decade demonstrates a productive interplay between stage and page fueled by regulation, and Shaw’s later prominence as a critic and political figure was entwined with his notoriety as a playwright. Theater licensing laws in many countries have operated as de facto censorship powers, though was under laws regulating public speech that Queensland police took to the stage to arrest an actor for uttering the obscene closing line of Alex Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed in 1969 . Laura Bradley’s work on theater censorship in the German Democratic Republic reveals a complex of bureaucratic regulation combined with community accommodation, with the mechanisms of censorship embedded thoroughly within a political culture yet committed to democratizing drama, in ways that were at once highly repressive as well as open to manipulation. 56

Wartime censorship has been discussed separately from the history of arts and literary censorship, but its effect (after the British first introduced modern military censorship during the Crimean War in 1856 , 57 and particularly through its mainstreaming during the “total war” model of the two World Wars) was to implement extensive bureaucracies for censorship, seamlessly integrated into modern government and civil administration, in ways that institutionalized control of communication, including literary, filmic, and other cultural forms. As it had in pre-Revolutionary France, militarized modernity facilitated expansive bureaucratic censorship administrations in colonial India, postcolonial Australia, and pre-apartheid and apartheid South Africa. Like the regimes in midcentury Italy, Japan, and Germany, Salazar’s Estado Novo in Portugal employed fascist ideologies and military control in exerting prepublication press censorship and close regulation of book distribution, in its case from 1933 until 1974 , relying also, as did the small economies of the Eastern Bloc, on control of limited paper stock. One of Salazar’s memorable declarations emphasized the totalizing aim: “only that which is known to exist politically exists; politically, that which seems to exist does indeed exist.” 58 Cold War imperatives produced the most expansive of 20th-centurybook censorship regimes: the USSR’s spekstrahn —secret collections of forbidden publications numbered in the millions. And the writers banned and imprisoned by European communism defined not only the character of Western responses but also the character of state socialism’s defeat. Since the opening of Eastern Bloc archives through the 1990s and 2000s, we know much more about how these centralized, prepublication systems worked as positivist forms of regulation that aimed to expand reading as well as control and powerfully direct it: witness the German Democratic Republic’s conception of itself as a leseland , or “reading nation.” 59

Far from distinguishing totalitarianism from democracy, moreover, such everyday or secret and pervasive civil censorship has been a feature of many 20th-century democratic states as well, in some cases actively targeting literature, film, and publications. Between 1933 and 1971 , for example, the Australian Literature Censorship Board banned more than 510 titles, perhaps 20 to 30 of which attracted sustained public attention. During the same period, without reference to the board, Australian Customs banned over 15,000 more. 60 The division reflected a distinction between publications with and without literary or scholarly merit, the latter banned with no reference to expertise or close parliamentary oversight and no public record, while the relatively large number of titles that were subject to customs control is a reflection of settler Australia’s import culture and restrictive imperial trade agreements. As Sigel argues for the British case, without including such suppressed histories of the lowbrow in recounting liberal censorship, we mistake not only the extent and aims of regulation but also its effective success. Where multiple forms of legislative control and delegated bureaucratic regulation overlap in effecting pervasive but unreported censorship, from postal and vagrant acts to telecommunication interference and Internet licensing, we are justified in describing such systems as regimes. In this regard, Britain and those colonial countries that inherited and bolstered its measures shared effective aims with the comprehensive prepublication, centralized and secret censorship undertaken by 20th-century state socialism. This kind of cultural censorship has been constitutive and not merely regulatory—aiming to control national cultures, forge ideal citizens, and determine national morality. 61 The greatest difference, in the main, is the degree of transparency given such regimes, and the tolerance of criticism, protest, and dissent within them.

One of the other differences is the relative importance given to obscenity censorship—the principal concern for much 20th-century Western (including, notably, apartheid South African) censorship. The most significant shift in 20th-century book banning was the lifting of blanket bans on the expression of homosexuality or same-sex desire in any form. 62 Once the most dangerous category of literary immorality for many repressive regimes, expressed in the jailing of Oscar Wilde, the classification of work such as Pierre Louys’s poetry and Zola’s Nana as banned pornography, the harassment of Gore Vidal, and prohibitions on lesbian pulp, its manifestation, literary or otherwise, continues. Non-heteronormative literary culture remains assertively banned in some parts of the world. “Gay history extends along a road largely lit by the bonfires of the censors,” declares Alberto Manguel. 63 The major shifts in American literary censorship were enacted through fights over obscenity, in mid-20th-century court cases in which literature’s claim to redeeming value and social good was seen to distinguish it from valueless pornography. Again, it was the conventionally lowbrow that proved the key battleground, in fights brought by mail-order companies and small publishers. Still, the much-banned novels of Henry Miller among others were at stake. The 1960 court case brought by Penguin to free Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the United Kingdom is another key spectacle case that marked social transformations in the literary representation of sex, following a less-publicized trial against Grove Press that freed it for sale in the United States and three-part legal proceedings in Japan against the first Japanese translation. 64 Though it took another five years before it was available in Australia or New Zealand, the exoneration of Lawrence’s book was an iconic marker of seismic shifts for readers worldwide.

Contemporary Censorship

Shifts away from systematic censorship of literature in the Western world in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s paralleled shifts in the relative prominence of literature: it is no longer the case that spectacle censorship of major literary works is the main public index of state regulation. Moreover, free speech and freedom of expression arguments have shrunk to libertarian frames, with their concomitant problems with government moderation of competing social interests, while feminist and anti-racist critiques of the model have introduced significant legal protection for minority speech and forms of social dignity deemed vulnerable to harmful expression. The formerly titled “World Wide Web” has changed global communication immeasurably, but the much-vaunted free utopias of the Internet’s first versions have not survived the imposition of nation-shaped regulation and the pervasive capitalization of content delivery. In global cultures of mass literacy, transmedial communicative immediacy, and complex platform diversification, literature has become a niched and traditional cultural form that is still licensed to provoke and challenge.

It is not the case that literary censorship has disappeared from the globe, however: far from it. A list of contemporary writers who have been banned, imprisoned, or murdered is still a list with which to conjure familiar forms of tyranny: Nadine Gordimer, Wole Soyinka, Ariel Dorfman, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dario Fo, Juan Goytisolo, Judy Blume, Nawal Saadawi, Salman Rushdie, Yaşar Kemal, Anna Politkovskaya. Chinese literary critic Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 : he remains imprisoned in China and his prize unacknowledged. The Arab states, including Egypt, continue entangled in their long and varied histories of state censorship: cultural repression has been a key feature of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, even as the arts are one of the most prominent forums for resistant Iranian expression, within and outside the country. Dror Green’s story “The Train of Wonders,” from his 1989 collection Stories of the Intifada , compares the detention of Palestine civilians on a bus with the trains carrying prisoners to Nazi death camps, and is an example of literature that has been banned from the Occupied Territories by Israeli authorities. In contemporary India, censorship of film and literature is rising, and violent attacks on writers and film makers, including murders, are becoming more frequent. 65

Any summary of contemporary literary censorship is confronted by a continuous feed of instances and case studies, despite the many legislative environments in which literary merit has protections from state interference: globalization has meant simultaneous accounting from numerous parts of the world. A brief national ban on a young adult novel in New Zealand, Ted Dawes’s Into the River , was met in 2015 with outrage and increased sales, and prompted one commentator to again revivify Aeropagitica ’s Christian liberal case for the free circulation of ideas, in order to defend use of “the C-word” against Christian lobbying. 66 The 2015 publication of a chapter of Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji’s Istikhdam al-Hayah ( The Use of Life ) in a literary journal where he works occasioned its prosecution under Egypt’s increasingly strict press laws, despite the novel having been approved already by thecustoms censorship board. (It was printed in Lebanon.)This case throws into relief the widening gap between literary and other forms of communicative media: Jumana Bayeh argues that the political role of literature in the Arab Spring has been widely underestimated, while the number of journalists imprisoned in Egypt continues to grow. 67 Naji, with writers such as Youseff Rakha, Nael Eltoukhy, and Mohamed Rabie, has been able to exploit the relative freedom given to literature to challenge contemporary Egyptian morality. Declares Al Jazeera , “Their works, with plenty of sex and scatology, capture the grit of the present while also redeploying a classical Arabic language that has been largely erased from literary use.” 68

Literary censorship is a key part of China’s vast regulation of the media sphere, aiming finally, as numbers of Western commentators argue, for compliant self-censorship: it is a constitutive regime. 69 Besides bans on Chinese books that flout the unexpressed guidelines, from writers such as Liao Yiwu and Lian Yianke, China also bans uncounted numbers of non-Chinese publications, including from the diaspora, such as Singaporean Australian writer Lau Siew Mei’s Playing Madam Mao ( 2000 ), which condemns 1980s Singaporean censorship, itself an expression of the “Asian values” of long-serving president Lee Kwan Yew. Recently, Hong Kong booksellers dealing in publications critical of the central government have been removed from their shops and even from Thailand, provoking criticism and street protests, before reappearing to speak publicly from police custody in mainland China. Peter Hessler’s account of censorship of his work in China emphasizes the close and dependent relationship between translation and censorship—a sizeable topic of study in its own right—but also the necessarily close complicity between the production of literature and regulated control in everyday forms of literary culture. 70 In this respect, contemporary Chinese censorship exhibits parallels with the pervasive and productive characteristics of former communist censorship regimes in Europe. How closely writing lives with its censor measures, perhaps, what literature still likes to call freedom.

Review of the Literature

As detailed above, censorship has been a topic of concern to thinkers since the ancient world, and polemicists and pamphleteers have agitated for and against it in large numbers. Literary or cultural scholarship on censorship is also diversely voluminous, but contemporary work can be seen to be following five directions. 71 In the wake of Foucault, the “new censorship scholarship” of U.S. critics in the 1990s critiqued the Manichean divide between free speech and regulation, and pursued poststructuralist interest in the determining ability of regulation to provoke discourse. 72 Key works from Judith Butler and Pierre Bourdieu provide the theoretical underpinning for a position that accepts the constitutive role of censorship in guaranteeing speech. 73 This has provoked the rereading of much English-language censorship history via the productive dynamic between regulation and speech, from Tudor-Stuart censorship and Jacobean debates to the “censorship dialectic” in British modernism identified by Celia Marshik. 74

In the wake of the opening up of the archives of Eastern Bloc censors, however, this position has been challenged by scholars attendant to the realities of centralized prepublication regimes of control, in contrast to mundane expression, exploring the complex ways constitutive communist regulation has been inhabited. 75 This archival turn has been matched by revelatory new work from book and theatre historians using digital humanities tools to mass, quantify, and render comparable the records of censorship regimes from many different countries and periods. Inspired by Robert Darnton’s assessments of the ancien régime , this direction has produced studies and in some cases datasets on pre-Revolutionary France, 18th-century English theatre, colonial India, apartheid South Africa, the German Democratic Republic, 20th-century Australia, fascist Italy, imperial Japan, and WWII Britain, among others. 76 In addition, the American Library Association has compiled a dataset registering challenges to books in the United States since 1990 , though the data are not searchable by researchers. 77 This new work dovetails with a developing attention to comparative approaches to literary censorship, moving outside the determining model of a national regime, as the United Kingdom and United States reconsider world literature approaches following provocations from their empires. 78 The transnational frames of this research show off in new relief the bulwark that censorship presents to any vaunted vision of a freely communicative global culture, inherited from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and now everywhere in sight and everywhere frustrated, diversified, complex, impossible.

Links to Digital Materials

  • American Library Association (ALA) Guide to Researching Banned and Challenged Books in the United States .
  • American Library Association (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) Database of Frequently Challenged Books Banned in Australia: Federal Book Censorship 1900–1973 . Edited by Marita Bullock and Nicole Moore . AustLit 2008. A database recording bans on literary titles by the Australian Literature Censorship Board under Customs legislation.
  • Beacon for Freedom of Expression : A database compiling information on book bannings from around the world and through history.
  • The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe Project, 1769–1794 . Edited by Simon Burrows , Mark Curran , Vincent Hiribarren , Sarah Kattau , and Henry Merivale , May 6, 2014.
  • Index on Censorship .
  • International Freedom of Expression .
  • The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences , Peter D. McDonald’s database of decisions for just over 450 South African titles during the apartheid era.
  • MOI Online: A Publishing and Communication History of the Ministry of Information . Edited by Simon Eliot , Simon Tanner , Alejandro Giacometti , Henry Irving , and José Miguel Viera . Institute of English Studies, Kings College, London.
  • PEN International .

Further Reading

  • Butler, Judith . Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative . New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • Coetzee, J. M. Giving Offence: Essays on Censorship . Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996.
  • Darnton, Robert . The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France . New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.
  • DeGrazia, Edward . Girls Lean Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and Its Assault on Genius . New York: Vintage, 1993.
  • Dutton, Richard . Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama . London: Macmillan, 1991.
  • Foucault, Michel . The History of Sexuality , Vol. 1. Translated by Robert Hurley . London: Random House, 1978.
  • Hunt, Lynn , ed. The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity 1500–1800 . New York: Zone Books, 1993.
  • Jansen, Sue Curry . Censorship: The Knot That Binds Power and Knowledge . New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Marcus, Stephen . The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-nineteenth-century England . New York: Basic Books, 1966.
  • Müller, Beate , ed. Censorship and Cultural Regulation in the Modern Age . Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004.
  • Post, Robert C. , ed. Censorship and Silencing: Practices of Cultural Regulation . Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 1998.

1. Sue Curry Jansen , Censorship: The Knot that Binds Power and Knowledge (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

2. Geoff Kemp , “Introduction,” in Censorship Moments: Reading Texts in the History of Censorship and Freedom of Expression , ed. Geoff Kemp (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 1–8.

3. Karl Marx , “The Role of the Press as Critic of Government Officials,” defense speech at trial of Feb 1849, in Karl Marx on Freedom of the Press and Censorship , ed. Saul Padover (New York: McGraw Hill, 1974), 144 ; quoted in Jansen, 93.

4. Lee Bollinger , “Censorship,” in The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World , ed. Joel Krieger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) , online.

5. Robert Faris , Stephanie Wang , and John Palfrey , “Censorship 2.0,” Innovations 3.2 (2008): 165–187 , 170.

6. See the otherwise opposed entries on “Censorship” by Lee Bollinger and Jeremy A. Rabkin in The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World , ed. Joel Krieger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) , online.

7. Michel Foucault , The History of Sexuality , vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley (London: Random House, 1978), 27 , 34.

8. Judith Butler , Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997) , 139. See also Nicole Moore , “ Censorship Is ,” Australian Humanities Review 54.3 (May 2013): 49.

9. Pierre Bourdieu , Language and Symbolic Power , ed. John B Thompson , trans. Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson (Oxford: Polity, 1992), 37.

10. Beate Müller , “Censorship and Cultural Regulation: Mapping the Territory,” Censorship and Cultural Regulation in the Modern Age (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004), 1–32 , 9–11.

11. Jansen, Censorship , 61.

12. Leonard W. Levy , Emergence of a Free Press (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 3.

13. Levy, Emergence , 4.

14. Cornelius Tacitus , Alfred J. Church , and William J. Brodribb , Annals of Tacitus: Translated into English with Notes and Maps (London: Macmillan, 1906) , book 14, 277; quoted in Jansen, Censorship , 41.

15. Peter Sydney Derow , “Censor,” The Oxford Classical Dictionary , 4 ed., eds. Simon Hornblower , Antony Spawforth , and Esther Eidinow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) , online.

16. Jansen, Censorship , 40.

17. Hannah Arendt , The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 28–29.

18. Margaret Canovan , “Politics as Culture: Hannah Arendt and the Public Realm,” in Hanna Arendt: Critical Essays , eds. L. P. Hinchman and S. K. Hinchman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 179.

19. Arendt, The Human Condition , 67.

20. Arendt, The Human Condition , 65.

21. Levy, Emergence , 3.

23. W. Ullman , Medieval Political Thought (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1975), 13.

24. D. M. Loades , “The Theory and Practice of Censorship in Sixteenth Century England,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 24.141 (1974): 141–157 , 142.

25. Quoted in Loades, “The Theory and Practice of Censorship,” 143.

26. Debora Shuger , Censorship and Cultural Sensibility: The Regulation of Language in Tudor-Stuart England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).

27. Quoted in Jansen, Censorship , 45.

28. Levy, Emergence , 5.

29. G. Elton , Policy and Police: The Enforcement of the Reformation in the Age of Thomas Cromwell (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 222.

30. L. Levy , Blasphemy: Verbal Offence against the Sacred, from Moses to Salman Rushdie (Chapel Hill: North Carolina Press, 1995), 96.

31. Levy, Blasphemy , 108.

32. Censorship entry in Stanley Wells , A Dictionary of Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) , online.

33. Michael Dobson, Henry IV part 2 entry, The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare , 2d ed., eds. Michael Dobson , Stanley Wells , Will Sharpe , and Erin Sullivan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) , online.

34. Richard Burt , Licensed by Authority: Ben Jonson and the Discourses of Censorship (London: Cornell University Press, 1993), 86.

35. J. B. Thompson , The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 1988), 129.

36. Lin Yutang , A History of the Press and Public Opinion in China (Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, Ltd., 1936), 167–179.

37. Shuger, Censorship and Cultural Sensibility , 2.

38. Robert Darnton , “Censorship, A Comparative View: France 1789, East Germany 1989,” Historical Change and Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures , ed. Olwen Hufton (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 101–130 , 125.

39. Cyndia Clegg , Press Censorship in Jacobean England (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 20.

40. Clara Tuite , “Not Guilty: Negative Capability and the Trials of William Hone,” in Censorship and the Limits of the Literary: A Global View , ed. Nicole Moore (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 44 . See also discussion in Joss Marsh , Word Crimes: Blasphemy, Culture and Literature in Nineteenth-Century England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

41. Cf. Nicole Moore , The Censor’s Library: Uncovering the Lost History of Australia’s Banned Books (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2012), 20–22.

42. Pramoedya Ananta Toer , “Manuscripts Banned and Destroyed,” in An Embarrassment of Tyrannies: 25 Years of Index on Censorship , eds. W. L. Webb and Rose Bell (London: Victor Gollancz, 1997), 94–98 , 94.

43. Robert Darnton , “Literary Surveillance in the British Raj: The Contradictions of Liberal Imperialism,” Book History 4 (2001): 133–176 , 138.

44. Pearce J. Carefoot , “ Censorship in Canada ,” Historical Perspectives on Canadian Publishing (Hamilton, ON: McMaster University Library, 2009).

45. M. J. D. Roberts , “Morals, Arts and the Law: The Passing of the Obscene Publications Act, 1857,” Victorian Studies 28.4 (1985): 609–629.

46. Regina v. Hicklin , (1868) 3 L.R.Q. B. 360 [ Hicklin ], 371.

47. Pierre Bourdieu , The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field , trans. Susan Emanuel (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 75–81.

48. Moore, The Censor’s Library , 44–45.

49. Deana Heath , “Purity, Obscenity, and the Making of an Imperial Censorship System,” in Media and the British Empire , ed. Chandrika Kaul (Houndsmill: Palgrave, 2006), 160–173 , 164–165; cf. Moore, The Censor’s Library , 27–28, 53.

50. Darnton, “Literary Surveillance,” 58, 56.

51. Dominick LaCapra , Madame Bovary on Trial (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982), 31.

52. Adam Parkes , Modernism and the Theatre of Censorship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 11.

53. Laura Doan , Fashioning Sapphism: The Origins of a Modern English Lesbian Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001) ; Celia Marshik , British Modernism and Censorship (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006) ; and Elisabeth Ladenson , Dirt for Art’s Sake: Books on Trial from Madame Bovary to Lolita (New York: Cornell University Press, 2007).

54. Lisa Sigel , “Censorship in Interwar Britain: Obscenity, Spectacle and the Workings of the Liberal State,” Journal of Social History 45.1 (2011): 61–83.

55. G. Bernard Shaw , “The Censorship of the Stage in England,” The North American Review 169.513 (August 1899): 251–262 , 261.

56. Laura Bradley , Cooperation and Conflict: GDR Theatre Censorship, 1961–1989 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

57. Phillip Knightley , “Here Is the Patriotically Censored News,” in An Embarrassment of Tyrannies: 25 Years of Index on Censorship , eds. W. L. Webb and Rose Bell (London: Victor Gollancz, 1997), 162–166 , 162.

58. Nelson Ribeiro , “Censorship and Scarcity: Controlling New and Old Media in Portugal, 1936–1945,” Media History 21.1 (2015): 74–88.

59. Christoph Links , “Leseland DDR: Bedingungen, Hintergründe, Veränderungen,” in Friedensstaat, Leseland, Sportnation , ed. Thomas Gro β ‎bölting (Berlin: Christoph Links Verlag, 2009), 196–207 , 196–197; see also Nicole Moore and Christina Spittel , “South by East: World Literature’s Cold War Compass,” Australian Literature in the German Democratic Republic: Reading through the Iron Curtain (London: Anthem, 2016), 1–32.

60. Marita Bullock and Nicole Moore , “Introduction,” in Banned in Australia: Federal Book Censorship 1900–1973 AustLit, 2008).

61. Nicole Moore, “Censorship Is,” 55.

62. Nicole Moore , “Introduction,” in Censorship and the Limits of the Literary: A Global View , ed. Nicole Moore (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 1–10 , 7.

63. Alberto Manguel , “Daring to Speak One’s Name,” in An Embarrassment of Tyrannies: 25 Years of Index on Censorship , eds. W. L. Webb and Rose Bell (London: Victor Gollancz, 1997), 241–250 , 243.

64. Elisabeth Ladenson, Dirt for Art’s Sake , 131.

65. S. Shankar , “ Poetry and the Curse: On Censorship in India ,” Words Without Borders , October 15, 2015.

66. Allan Drew , “ The C-word ,” Overland 221 (Summer 2015).

67. Jumana Bayeh , “Egypt’s Facebook Revolution: Arab Diaspora Literature and Censorship in the Homeland,” in Censorship and the Limits of the Literary , ed. Nicole Moore (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 219–231.

68. Marcia Lynx Qualey , “ Yes, Ahmed Naji is a novelist ,” Al Jazeera (November 11, 2015).

69. Lynda Ng , “China’s Elusive Truths: Censorship, Value and Literature in the Internet Age,” in Censorship and the Limits of the Literary , ed. Nicole Moore (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 233–246 , 235.

70. Peter Hessler , “Letter from Beijing: Travels with My Censor: A Chinese Book Tour,” New Yorker (March 9, 2015), 34–40.

71. Cf. Nicole Moore, “Introduction,” 2–4.

72. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality .

73. Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art .

74. Michael Holquist , “Corrupt Originals: The Paradox of Censorship,” PMLA 109.1 (1994): 14–25 . Richard Burt , ed., The Administration of Aesthetics: Censorship, Political Criticism, and the Public Sphere (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994) ; Debora Shuger, Censorship and Cultural Sensibility ; and Celia Marshik, British Modernism and Censorship .

75. Beate Müller, “Censorship and Cultural Regulation”; M. Cornis-Pope and J. Neubauer , eds., History of the Literary Cultures of East Central Europe , vol. 3 (Amsterdam: John Benjamin, 2007) ; Laura Bradley, Cooperation and Conflict: GDR Theatre Censorship ; and Siegfried Lokatis and Simone Barck , Zensurspiele: HeimlicheLiteraturgeschichten der DDR (Halle: MDV, 2008).

76. Robert Darnton , The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984) ; The Forbidden Bestsellers of Prerevolutionary France (London: W. W. Norton), 1996; Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature (London: W. W. Norton, 2015); cf. ; S. Burrows , M. Curran , V. Hiribarren , S. Kattau , and H. Merivale , The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe Project, 1769–1794 , May 6, 2014 ; Eighteenth Century Drama: Censorship, Society and the Stage (Marlborough, U.K.: Adam Matthew Digital, 2016); Anjali Arondekar , For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009) ; and Peter D. McDonald , The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and Its Cultural Consequences (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) , and Marita Bullock and Nicole Moore , Banned in Australia : A Bibliography of Federal Book Censorship (AustLit, 2008) ; Guido Bonsaver , Censorship and Literature in Fascist Italy (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2007) ; Jonathan Abel , Redacted: The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012) ; and Simon Eliot, Simon Tanner, Alejandro Giacometti, Henry Irving, and José Miguel Viera, MOI Online: A Publishing and Communication History of the Ministry of Information (London: Institute of English Studies).

77. Compiled by the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom .

78. Teresa Seruya and Maria Lin Moniz , eds., Translation and Censorship in Different Times and Landscapes (Newcastle, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008) ; Catherine O’Leary and Alberto Lázaro , eds., Censorship Across Borders: The Reception of English Literature in Twentieth-Century Europe (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011) ; Deana Heath , Obscenity and the Politics of Moral Regulation in Britain, India and Australia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) ; Francesca Billiani , ed., Modes of Censorship and Translation: National Contexts and Diverse Media (London: Routledge, 2014) ; and Nicole Moore , ed. Censorship and the Limits of the Literary: A Global View (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015).

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113 Censorship Essay Topics & Examples

Looking for censorship topics for research papers or essays? The issue is controversial, hot, and definitely worth exploring.

🏆 Best Censorship Topic Ideas & Essay Examples

🚫 internet censorship essay topics, 📍 censorship research questions, 💡 easy censorship essay topics, 😡 controversial censorship topics to write about, ❓ research questions about censorship, 🙅 censorship topics for research paper.

Censorship implies suppression of public communication and speech due to its harmfulness or other reasons. It can be done by governments or other controlling bodies.

In your censorship essay, you might want to focus on its types: political, religion, educational, etc. Another idea is to discuss the reasons for and against censorship. One more option is to concentrate on censorship in a certain area: art, academy, or media. Finally, you can discuss why freedom of expression is important.

Whether you need to write an argumentative or informative essay on censorship, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ve collected best internet censorship essay topics, title ideas, research questions, together with paper examples.

  • Need for Internet Censorship and its Impact on Society The negative impacts of internet have raised many concerns over freedom of access and publishing of information, leading to the need to censor internet.
  • Censorship in Advertising One of the most notorious examples is the marketing of drugs; pharmaceutical companies have successfully convinced a significant number of people that drugs are the only violable solution to their health problems.
  • Literature Censorship in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury The issues raised in the novel, Fahrenheit 451, are relevant in contemporary American society and Bradbury’s thoughts were a warning for what he highlighted is happening in the contemporary United States.
  • Pros and Cons of Censorship of Pornography This is due to the fact that pornography is all about exploitation of an individual in maters pertaining to sex as well as violence exercised on females by their male counterparts.
  • Censorship and the Arts in the United States The article titled “Censorship versus Freedom of Expression in the Arts” by Chiang and Posner expresses concerns that the government may illegitimately censor art to avoid corruption of morals and avoid subversion of politics.
  • Censorship on Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury The main protagonist of the novel is Guy Montag, a fireman whose job like others, is to burn books without questioning the impact of his decision.
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  • How Propaganda and Censorship Were Used In Britain and Germany During WWI?
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  • How Virginia Woolf’s Orlando Subverted Censorship and Revolutionized the Politics of LGBT Love in 1928?
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Censorship Of The Internet Research Paper Examples

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Government , Politics , Censorship , Internet , Children , Information , Family , Middle East

Words: 2500

Published: 12/23/2019


The internet is a wonderful source of information and means of communication. Never again in the history of mankind has global communication being so easy yet so beneficial. For instance, medical professionals can discuss the latest operating techniques with their colleagues in distant places. Students can access millions of books on the internet while shoppers can buy exotic goods over the same platform without leaving the comfort of their couches at home. This is the beautiful face of the internet. The ugly side of internet is rife with people who use this wonderful innovation to conduct illegal activities. These range from distribution of materials that are objectionable to minors and the general public to cyber crime which manifests itself in various forms such as money laundering and hackings. The simplicity and access of using the internet is increasing day to day exposing millions of children to entirely all the content in the internet. The question begs, should the internet be censored? This is a controversial question because censorship bears on morality. Some people argue that censorship is against the provisions of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech while others opine that it is immoral to let children view obscene and possibly dangerous content on the internet. This essay explores how censorship can work in some cases while in others it can be detrimental to societal growth.

Internet censorship

Internet censorship is the suppression or control of publishing of, or the access to information available on the internet (Chawick, 2009). Internet censorship takes the form of site blocking or content filtering. The practice may be carried out by governments or private organizations on their own initiative or on behalf of the government or regulators. Primarily, internet censoring or the regulation of cyberspace is defined by state-controlled internet filtering. Individuals and private entities may engage in self-sponsorship for various reasons. Some of the reasons for self-censorship are religious beliefs, moral standings, business reasons, conformance to societal norms or even intimidation and fear of legal consequences (Faris & Villeneuve, 2011).

Internet censoring takes various forms. The earliest form was IP-(Internet protocol) address in china in late 1990s. In early 2000, China intensified its censoring technologies by implementing two advanced technologies. One was hijacking the DNSs (Domain Name System) while the other was dynamic filtering of internet data flow. These systems were hacked as people developed anti-blocking software. Today most organizations or governments that censor the internet use GFW (Great FireWall) technologies. Shapiro (2000) advises that it is important for organizations or governments to conduct comprehensive tests before launching them because they can get tricked by hacker and anti-censorship campaigners to block themselves or unintended sites.

The first and almost universally acclaimed basis of practicing internet censorship is exposure of children to objectionable content. These include exposure to pornography and their exposure to sexual exploitation. Objectionable content refers to access to gambling sites, sites that include hate speech (Nazi ideologies), political satire, criminal activities, violence, and illegal drug us (Bush et al. 2009). Other includes sites that contain defamatory, blasphemous, libelous or even slanderous contents. Most governments have illegalized the exposure of children to some or all of these sites. The commonest age limit to the access of these sites in most countries is 18 years. Conviction with a crime touching on children and the content on the internet ranges from fines to varying jail terms.

Some controversy still reigns over the legislations to regulate exposure of children to indecent acts. In US the Communications Decency Act (CDA) which was signed into law in 1995 was later nullified by the courts. The Act outlawed deliberate transmission of indecency acts to any person under the age of 18. According to Shapiro (2000) one of the reasons cited by the US Supreme Court while dismissing the act was that technology capable of screening kids did not exist. Lessig (1998) counters this argument by stating that children are less likely to afford materials fit for censorship and cannot dress up like adults in order t disguise themselves. The truth however is that children still find easy access to materials they are not supposed to see at will. Innovations requiring people to provide credit card numbers to access certain cites acts to deter minors since few of them hold bank accounts. Although this poses the danger of money laundering and cyber theft, it achieves the censorship of sites for child protection to a significant extent.

Private organizations censor by filtering access to their sites to protect themselves from malwares or to guard their reputation in case hackers use their sites to commit crimes such as sexual harassment. Internet censoring based on these grounds is also widely supported especially if the sites exist for the common good of the society. The censorship of access to information in the sites of international financial organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other organizational sites such as the European Union can gain considerable societal support (Shavitt & Zilberman, 2011). Moreover, these organizations have the ability to hire and maintain people knowledgeable on information technology. This gives them an edge to block access to their databases for instance.

Censorship can also work if it targets at promoting the security of the society. If secrets about government and state security operations are revealed to the general public, the security of the people may be compromised. Bush et al (2009) assert that it is for this reason that only a small portion of the information in websites of security agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Internet filtering to control activities of insurgents, extremist groups and terrorists often enjoys widespread public support (Chadwick, 2009). Examples of such censorships include blocking of sites used by the Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Wikileaks as well as 4chan which is associated with the group Anonymous.

Censorship can also work if it targets sites that share or violate copyrights and other intellectual property rights (Cowie et al 2003). The United States and Europe are at the frontline in the protection of intellectual property rights and internet censoring is one way they achieve this. One of the motivations for doing this is the protection of existing economic interests like low cost telephone services over Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Interference with these services can lead to reduced customer base levels for telecommunication companies. Since most governments sponsor and control most of these organizations which enjoy monopoly it becomes necessary to exercise some form of censorship (Faris & Villeneuve, 2011). Examples of censorships on these grounds include pee-to-peer (P2P) and related sites such as the pirate bay and skype.

The censoring of websites that have overwhelming public support is bound to meet substantial resistance, mass protests or even ultimate failure (Cowie et al, 2003). These include censoring search engine sites such as Google and bing. The Chinese and Cuban governments tried this drawing widespread public protests and international condemnation. Others include censorships on web hosting sites such as hostgator, bluehost and hostmonstor. Other censorships are also applied on media sharing sites such as YouTube and flickr, social networks such as facebook and MySpace, blog hosting sites such as BlogSpot, Wikipedia among other websites experiencing massive traffic and where people can share information.

It is important to highlight the danger of censoring social networking sites for whatever the reasons governments or organizations may have. Facebook currently has about 900 million registered users with more than 500 million active users! If facebook was a country it would be the world’s 3rd most populous country after China and India! The site has been blocked in China, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. The site was censored for containing anti-Islamic and religious material that is biased and anti-Islam (Fonseca, 2007). However the events of the Arab uprising seem to defy these grounds for censoring the site in these countries. Millions of Muslims took to social networking sites specifically facebook to vent their anger and to press for their leaders to relinquish power. This they did with satisfactory outcomes in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen where they managed to out their leaders and agitate for a change in leadership and increased democracy.

The most controversial reason for censoring the internet is for political reasons. Governments censor the internet because they do not have free and fair elections or where rulers are trying to hold onto power in spite of being widely unpopular. The government blocks sites that criticize, rebuke it is policies or contradict what it has told the people. In some cases, the government can censor sites that bear religious information which people may use to rebel or topple them. In most cases the government succeeds to censor the internet for some time. The emergence of charismatic leaders in those societies, international pressure and advancements in technology and education usually results in such oppressive governments lessening their censorship over the internet (Shapiro, 2009). This results in more people getting information and demanding their rights of speech and expression.

The Arab Uprising in the spring of 2011 which started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Yemen and Libya is a classic example of how the government attempt to censor the internet for political reasons can spectacularly fail. In all four countries, the leaders were ousted. Social networking sites like facebook and twitter take substantial credit for fuelling uprisings in the Arab world. To date, the uprising has spread to more than 14 other Arab countries such as Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, and Syria among others.

While some countries practice partial censorship others take it further and limit the access to information such as news while some governments suppress the discussions among their citizenry especially through Social Networking sites. Moreover, governments can initiate internet censorship in anticipation of events likely to draw the interests of the masses such as elections, riots and protests (Lessig, 1998). The best example of internet censorship on this basis is the events of the Arab uprising. Governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya attempted to curtail discussions among their populace by censoring social networking sites notably Facebook and Twitter.

There are several socio-economical implications of censoring the internet. Building and maintaining censorship systems is expensive. Thousands of websites are launched every day and it therefore becomes hard to monitor and censor the content in these sites. This makes the censorship process hard and compels governments or organizations to invest heavily in developing softwares to block the sites or filter the content displayed in those sites.

Censorship softwares achieve their purpose by hiding where a user is visiting, hiding where the content is hosted or hiding who the user is (Chadwick, 2009). The systems deployed for censorship purposes are themselves subject to abuse. They can for instance be hacked to block the sites that are not intended to or get used to get to the databases of the sensitive information which a government or organization is trying to censor. In some cases of censorship programmers develop softwares that block out sites that contain some words. For instance, the mention of the word “sex” or “breast” blocks out all sites containing the words. This can limit research to sites providing botanical or biological information. The censoring of these sites can for instance block information about breast cancer or sex education. This has the potential to achieve the opposite of what it was designed to protect in the first place.

The innovation of the internet tremendously improved communication and the sharing of information. While some people put the internet to good use such as research and to ease their lives by for instance shopping from home, others use the platform to commit crimes. The question of censoring the internet bears on morality and is therefore controversial. Internet censoring takes the form of blocking certain websites or filtering the content accessible through certain websites. Governments as well as private entities engage censorship based on moral standings, business among other reasons. There are three primary reasons as to why censorship occurs. Firstly is for political reasons where oppressive and unpopular governments want to remain in power, interference with elections, protests among others. Secondly censorship occurs for security reasons where the governments censor websites used to spread terror or incite violence by extremist or terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. Lastly censorship can be fueled by moral or religious reasons. In this case the exposure of sexual or mentally torturous content to children is censored. Moreover, the government can censor the internet when some sites share copyrights and other intellectual property rights. In this case the government aims at guarding economic interests of individuals as well as those of the country. Cases where censorship occurs to protect children from indecent exposures have gained massive public support. Internet censorship for security purposes is still a controversial issue. Some governments especially those facing opposition from their citizenry, outlaw access to some websites claiming they are run by groups that pose security threats to the state. On the contrary they could be targeting at limiting their peoples’ freedom of speech and expression through certain groups such as the Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood for fear of being toppled. The case of internet censorship for political purposes gone awry is best illustrated by the spring 2011 Arab uprising. The uprisings, fueled through popular social networking sites; facebook and twitter saw the ousting of leaders in four Arab countries while 14 others experienced protests from their populace. These among other reasons elaborate why censorship of the internet can work in some cases while in others it can lead to the detriment of the very society it aims at protecting.

Bush, R., Maennel, O., Roughan, M. & Uhlig, S. 2009. Internet optometry: assessing the broken glasses in Internet reachability. In conference on Internet censorship.

Chadwick, A. 2009. Routledge handbook of Internet politics. Routledge international handbooks. Taylor and Francis. pp. 332

Cowie, J., Ogielski, A., Premore, B., Smith, E. and Underwood, T. 2003. Impact of the 2003 blackouts on Internet communications. Faris R. & Villeneuve, N. 2011. Measuring Global Internet Filtering. The Scope and depth of internet filtering. Retrieved 6 June 2012 from: Fonseca, P. 2007. Cerf sees government control of Internet failing| Reuters. Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Retrieved June 6, 2012, from idUSN1420689320071114?sp=true Lessig, L. 1998. The Laws of Cyberspace. Proceedings of the Taiwan Net ‘98 Conference, Taipei. Retrieved 6 June 2012 from: Shapiro, A. L. 2000.The control revolution : how the Internet is putting individuals in charge and changing the world we know. New York: Public Affairs, NY.

Shavitt, Y. & Zilberman, N. 2011. A study of geolocation databases. Journal on Selected Areas of Communications, abs/1005.5674, 2011.


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Research paper on internet censorship.

December 30, 2012 UsefulResearchPapers Research Papers 0

Internet censorship is the policy aimed to limit the access to the information kept in the web by various means and on different purposes. Internet censorship is very often carried out by the government of the country, who decide to limit the ability of people to join certain websites and get access to certain information. Besides, censorship can be carried out by the owners of the websites, by certain organizations, which are influential enough and connected with the government.

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Censorship is considered to be a negative thing, which limits people’s rights. Very often the government of a non-democratic country carries out Internet censorship to close the access of the people to true-to-life objective facts, because today wars are held not with the help of weapon, but information. On the other hand, the Internet is the greatest source of pornography of all kinds, so censorship is quite a positive decision to protect children from it. Besides, the Internet piracy is also a widespread problem, so censorship in this case protects intellectual property from stealing and free downloading.

A properly-analyzed research paper on the topic has to present the definition of censorship, the history of the phenomenon and present its types, then, concentrate on Internet censorship and determine its reasons, the type of censored websites, the list of countries which carry out Internet censorship and analyze their decisions. Moreover, a good paper has to contain personal thoughts of a student concerning the problem and certain solutions and compromises which will be effective enough to make censorship logical and useful but not a limitation of human rights.

Students who need to complete a good research paper on Internet censorship have to spend much time to enrich their knowledge about the topic. They are obliged to prepare a logical well-analyzed paper, which presents the topic from all sides and explains the purpose and all the aspects of Internet censorship, including its reasons and impact. Students often are too inexperienced to prepare a good paper of the ind at once, so they need good writing assistance of a professional. The best help is a free research paper on against Internet censorship in the web prepared by a real expert.

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  • Published: 06 May 2024

APOE4 homozygozity represents a distinct genetic form of Alzheimer’s disease

  • Juan Fortea   ORCID: 1 , 2 , 3   na1 ,
  • Jordi Pegueroles   ORCID: 1 , 2 ,
  • Daniel Alcolea   ORCID: 1 , 2 ,
  • Olivia Belbin   ORCID: 1 , 2 ,
  • Oriol Dols-Icardo   ORCID: 1 , 2 ,
  • Lídia Vaqué-Alcázar 1 , 4 ,
  • Laura Videla   ORCID: 1 , 2 , 3 ,
  • Juan Domingo Gispert 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 ,
  • Marc Suárez-Calvet   ORCID: 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 ,
  • Sterling C. Johnson   ORCID: 10 ,
  • Reisa Sperling   ORCID: 11 ,
  • Alexandre Bejanin   ORCID: 1 , 2 ,
  • Alberto Lleó   ORCID: 1 , 2 &
  • Víctor Montal   ORCID: 1 , 2 , 12   na1  

Nature Medicine ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Predictive markers

This study aimed to evaluate the impact of APOE4 homozygosity on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by examining its clinical, pathological and biomarker changes to see whether APOE4 homozygotes constitute a distinct, genetically determined form of AD. Data from the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center and five large cohorts with AD biomarkers were analyzed. The analysis included 3,297 individuals for the pathological study and 10,039 for the clinical study. Findings revealed that almost all APOE4 homozygotes exhibited AD pathology and had significantly higher levels of AD biomarkers from age 55 compared to APOE3 homozygotes. By age 65, nearly all had abnormal amyloid levels in cerebrospinal fluid, and 75% had positive amyloid scans, with the prevalence of these markers increasing with age, indicating near-full penetrance of AD biology in APOE4 homozygotes. The age of symptom onset was earlier in APOE4 homozygotes at 65.1, with a narrower 95% prediction interval than APOE3 homozygotes. The predictability of symptom onset and the sequence of biomarker changes in APOE4 homozygotes mirrored those in autosomal dominant AD and Down syndrome. However, in the dementia stage, there were no differences in amyloid or tau positron emission tomography across haplotypes, despite earlier clinical and biomarker changes. The study concludes that APOE4 homozygotes represent a genetic form of AD, suggesting the need for individualized prevention strategies, clinical trials and treatments.

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Data availability.

Access to tabular data from ADNI ( ), OASIS ( ), A4 ( ) and NACC ( ) can be requested online, as publicly available databases. All requests will be reviewed by each studyʼs scientific board. Concrete inquiries to access the WRAP ( ) and ALFA + ( ) cohort data can be directed to each study team for concept approval and feasibility consultation. Requests will be reviewed to verify whether the request is subject to any intellectual property.

Code availability

All statistical analyses and raw figures were generated using R (v.4.2.2). We used the open-sourced R packages of ggplot2 (v.3.4.3), dplyr (v.1.1.3), ggstream (v.0.1.0), ggpubr (v.0.6), ggstatsplot (v.0.12), Rmisc (v.1.5.1), survival (v.3.5), survminer (v.0.4.9), gtsummary (v.1.7), epitools (v.0.5) and statsExpression (v.1.5.1). Rscripts to replicate our findings can be found at (ref. 32 ). For neuroimaging analyses, we used Free Surfer (v.6.0) and ANTs (v.2.4.0).

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We acknowledge the contributions of several consortia that provided data for this study. We extend our appreciation to the NACC, the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, The A4 Study, the ALFA Study, the Wisconsin Register for Alzheimer’s Prevention and the OASIS3 Project. Without their dedication to advancing Alzheimer’s disease research and their commitment to data sharing, this study would not have been possible. We also thank all the participants and investigators involved in these consortia for their tireless efforts and invaluable contributions to the field. We also thank the institutions that funded this study, the Fondo de Investigaciones Sanitario, Carlos III Health Institute, the Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red sobre Enfermedades Neurodegenerativas and the Generalitat de Catalunya and La Caixa Foundation, as well as the NIH, Horizon 2020 and the Alzheimer’s Association, which was crucial for this research. Funding: National Institute on Aging. This study was supported by the Fondo de Investigaciones Sanitario, Carlos III Health Institute (INT21/00073, PI20/01473 and PI23/01786 to J.F., CP20/00038, PI22/00307 to A.B., PI22/00456 to M.S.-C., PI18/00435 to D.A., PI20/01330 to A.L.) and the Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red sobre Enfermedades Neurodegenerativas Program 1, partly jointly funded by Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional, Unión Europea, Una Manera de Hacer Europa. This work was also supported by the National Institutes of Health grants (R01 AG056850; R21 AG056974, R01 AG061566, R01 AG081394 and R61AG066543 to J.F., S10 OD025245, P30 AG062715, U54 HD090256, UL1 TR002373, P01 AG036694 and P50 AG005134 to R.S.; R01 AG027161, R01 AG021155, R01 AG037639, R01 AG054059; P50 AG033514 and P30 AG062715 to S.J.) and ADNI (U01 AG024904), the Department de Salut de la Generalitat de Catalunya, Pla Estratègic de Recerca I Innovació en Salut (SLT006/17/00119 to J.F.; SLT002/16/00408 to A.L.) and the A4 Study (R01 AG063689, U24 AG057437 to R.A.S). It was also supported by Fundación Tatiana Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno (IIBSP-DOW-2020-151 o J.F.) and Horizon 2020–Research and Innovation Framework Programme from the European Union (H2020-SC1-BHC-2018-2020 to J.F.; 948677 and 847648 to M.S.-C.). La Caixa Foundation (LCF/PR/GN17/50300004 to M.S.-C.) and EIT Digital (Grant 2021 to J.D.G.) also supported this work. The Alzheimer Association also participated in the funding of this work (AARG-22-923680 to A.B.) and A4/LEARN Study AA15-338729 to R.A.S.). O.D.-I. receives funding from the Alzheimer’s Association (AARF-22-924456) and the Jerome Lejeune Foundation postdoctoral fellowship.

Author information

These authors contributed equally: Juan Fortea, Víctor Montal.

Authors and Affiliations

Sant Pau Memory Unit, Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau - Biomedical Research Institute Sant Pau, Barcelona, Spain

Juan Fortea, Jordi Pegueroles, Daniel Alcolea, Olivia Belbin, Oriol Dols-Icardo, Lídia Vaqué-Alcázar, Laura Videla, Alexandre Bejanin, Alberto Lleó & Víctor Montal

Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Enfermedades Neurodegenerativas. CIBERNED, Barcelona, Spain

Juan Fortea, Jordi Pegueroles, Daniel Alcolea, Olivia Belbin, Oriol Dols-Icardo, Laura Videla, Alexandre Bejanin, Alberto Lleó & Víctor Montal

Barcelona Down Medical Center, Fundació Catalana Síndrome de Down, Barcelona, Spain

Juan Fortea & Laura Videla

Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Institute of Neurosciences, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

Lídia Vaqué-Alcázar

Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center (BBRC), Pasqual Maragall Foundation, Barcelona, Spain

Juan Domingo Gispert & Marc Suárez-Calvet

Neurosciences Programme, IMIM - Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute, Barcelona, Spain

Department of Medicine and Life Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain

Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red Bioingeniería, Biomateriales y Nanomedicina. Instituto de Salud carlos III, Madrid, Spain

Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC), Madrid, Spain

Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI, USA

Sterling C. Johnson

Brigham and Women’s Hospital Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

Reisa Sperling

Barcelona Supercomputing Center, Barcelona, Spain

Víctor Montal

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar


J.F. and V.M. conceptualized the research project and drafted the initial manuscript. V.M., J.P. and J.F. conducted data analysis, interpreted statistical findings and created visual representations of the data. O.B. and O.D.-I. provided valuable insights into the genetics of APOE. L.V., A.B. and L.V.-A. meticulously reviewed and edited the manuscript for clarity, accuracy and coherence. J.D.G., M.S.-C., S.J. and R.S. played pivotal roles in data acquisition and securing funding. A.L. and D.A. contributed to the study design, offering guidance and feedback on statistical analyses, and provided critical review of the paper. All authors carefully reviewed the manuscript, offering pertinent feedback that enhanced the study’s quality, and ultimately approved the final version.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Juan Fortea or Víctor Montal .

Ethics declarations

Competing interests.

S.C.J. has served at scientific advisory boards for ALZPath, Enigma and Roche Diagnostics. M.S.-C. has given lectures in symposia sponsored by Almirall, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, Roche Diagnostics and Roche Farma, received consultancy fees (paid to the institution) from Roche Diagnostics and served on advisory boards of Roche Diagnostics and Grifols. He was granted a project and is a site investigator of a clinical trial (funded to the institution) by Roche Diagnostics. In-kind support for research (to the institution) was received from ADx Neurosciences, Alamar Biosciences, Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, Eli Lilly, Fujirebio, Janssen Research & Development and Roche Diagnostics. J.D.G. has served as consultant for Roche Diagnostics, receives research funding from Hoffmann–La Roche, Roche Diagnostics and GE Healthcare, has given lectures in symposia sponsored by Biogen, Philips Nederlands, Esteve and Life Molecular Imaging and serves on an advisory board for Prothena Biosciences. R.S. has received personal consulting fees from Abbvie, AC Immune, Acumen, Alector, Bristol Myers Squibb, Janssen, Genentech, Ionis and Vaxxinity outside the submitted work. O.B. reported receiving personal fees from Adx NeuroSciences outside the submitted work. D.A. reported receiving personal fees for advisory board services and/or speaker honoraria from Fujirebio-Europe, Roche, Nutricia, Krka Farmacéutica and Esteve, outside the submitted work. A.L. has served as a consultant or on advisory boards for Almirall, Fujirebio-Europe, Grifols, Eisai, Lilly, Novartis, Roche, Biogen and Nutricia, outside the submitted work. J.F. reported receiving personal fees for service on the advisory boards, adjudication committees or speaker honoraria from AC Immune, Adamed, Alzheon, Biogen, Eisai, Esteve, Fujirebio, Ionis, Laboratorios Carnot, Life Molecular Imaging, Lilly, Lundbeck, Perha, Roche and outside the submitted work. O.B., D.A., A.L. and J.F. report holding a patent for markers of synaptopathy in neurodegenerative disease (licensed to Adx, EPI8382175.0). The remaining authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Medicine thanks Naoyuki Sato, Yadong Huang and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Jerome Staal, in collaboration with the Nature Medicine team.

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Supplementary information

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Supplementary Methods, Results, Bibliography, Figs. 1–7 and Tables 1–3.

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Fortea, J., Pegueroles, J., Alcolea, D. et al. APOE4 homozygozity represents a distinct genetic form of Alzheimer’s disease. Nat Med (2024).

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Received : 03 November 2023

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