While previous literature was focusing on the censorship main effect, the restriction on the information availability to a specific population, Dr. Hobbs’ research confirms that censorship can actually increase the access to political information. He describes this phenomenon as the “gateway effect” in a recently published article in the American Political Science Review.
The article, entitled “How Sudden Censorship Can Increase Access to Information,” shows that when governments suddenly shut down social media sites during protests or other crises, this can actually increase the access to censored information.
The author uses clear examples to explain his findings and to situate the importance of his empirical contributions in political science. He uses the example that people used to read books from a specific author whose titles are suddenly banned by a government. Thus, people will try to find those books despite the censorship, increasing the black market value such a book. Eventually, those people discover other authors that they did not know, but they begin to appreciate. In a similar way, when the Chinese government suddenly shut down access to Instagram during the Hong Kong democracy protests in 2014, this led millions of Instagram users in China to figure out ways to keep accessing Instagram. The use of “virtual private networks, (known as VPNs) allowed them to use Instagram and access to other social networks.
“Individuals might not intend to seek out political information,” but they have this unexpected access to political information while trying to escape Instagram censorship. This is one of the most important findings of this paper. In fact, Dr. William Hobbs noted that, “most prior work showing that censorship can increase attention to blocked information found this effect among people who were already interested in politics and angry about censorship.” In his findings, even while the number of people accessing Instagram in China went down, the number of people accessing even more political content actually went up.