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Google Politics: The Political Determinants of Internet Censorship in Democracies*

Abstract

The expansion of digital interconnectivity has simultaneously increased individuals’ access to media and presented governments with new opportunities to regulate information flows. As a result, even highly democratic countries now issue frequent censorship and user data requests to digital content providers. We argue that government internet censorship occurs, in part, for political reasons, and seek to identify the conditions under which states censor. We leverage new, cross-nationally comparable, censorship request data, provided by Google, to examine how country characteristics co-vary with governments’ digital censorship activity. Within democracies, we show that governments engage in more digital censorship when internal dissent is present and when their economies produce substantial intellectual property. But these demand mechanisms are modulated by the relative influence that democratic institutions provide to narrow and diffuse interests; in particular, states with proportional electoral institutions censor less.

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Stephen A. Meserve is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Texas Tech University, 113 Holden Hall Boston & Akron Streets, Lubbock, TX 79409 (stephen.meserve@ttu.edu), Daniel Pemstein is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Political Science, North Dakota State University, 1661 12th Avenue North, Fargo, ND 58108 (daniel.pemstein@ndsu.edu). The authors would like to thank seminar participants at Texas Tech University, the European Political Science Association conference, and the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science association, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Sivagaminathan Palani provided invaluable research assistance. The authors contributed equally to this work, which was supported, in part, by a Google Faculty Research Award. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit https://doi.org/10.1017/psrm.2017.1

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