In This Review

Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall
Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall
By Margaret E. Roberts
Princeton University Press, 2018, 288 pp

Roberts disputes the conventional wisdom that the Chinese government exerts near-total control over the Internet. Instead, she shows that Beijing uses “porous censorship,” accomplished by techniques she labels “fear, friction, and flooding.” The first consists of threats and punishments aimed at deterring the most vocal critics from posting online. The second consists of blocks that make it dicult, but not impossible, for ordinary users to access undesirable content. The third involves inundating the Internet with information the government wants people to see. Using some innovative research techniques, Roberts shows that most users, having only limited time and energy, settle for the information they can readily get. She argues that porous control is more effective than total control, because it is less conspicuous and arouses little opposition. Roberts focuses on the Internet, but her argument also applies to what China does in print and broadcast media. And as she points out, similar techniques are popping up elsewhere in the world, as well, including in democracies, where governments promote or hide information and Internet providers tweak algorithms to inuence what users see.