“Social Pressure and Political Self-Censorship: Evidence from Hong Kong” by Samson Yuen
September 1, 2021 @ 9:00 am – 10:00 am JST
Authors: Samson Yuen (Hong Kong Baptist University)
Abstract: Authoritarian regimes around the world often impose repressive laws to restrict acts or expressions that threaten their rule. While these laws are intended to target opposition activists, they also have the effect of inducing self-censorship among ordinary citizens. What prompts people to self-censor other than the fear of being punished by such laws? This article argues that social pressures play an important role in inducing people to self-censor when facing threats posed by repressive laws. Using a panel survey conducted on Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters before and after the introduction of a national security law in 2020, we find that respondents are more likely to engage in self-censorship when they 1) have received cautionary reminders from family members and peers, 2) have more acquaintances who are self-censoring themselves, and 3) have lower trust in strangers. We also find that these effects are partially mediated by respondents’ stress levels. The findings highlight the relational and emotional dynamics of self-censorship while contributing to a more nuanced understanding of how authoritarian repression works.