Learning the Real Reason for Chinese Censorship

In the past, explains political scientist Gary King, the way to study online censorship in China was to find someone who’s had their content taken down from the Web and talk to them about the experience. But China is a big and populous place, and Chinese censorship common, so this piecemeal approach was unsatisfactory.

But, continues King, who leads Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, you can “reverse engineer” the hunt for censorship using analysis of big data sets – all the pre-censored social media posts in China-big! And so he and his team did just that using computers around the world to check on these posts and see which ones were altered or axed by the Chinse authorities. (It was 13 percent, by the way.)

So, given that the assumed goal of the censorship was the prevent criticism and protests of government policy, what did the computational social science team learn?

That’s the focus of this portion of a talk by King last year on Capitol Hill. That talk — “The big deal about big data” – detailed for policymakers and academics the importance not so much of collecting big data sets, but on finding innovative ways to analyze what was in those data sets.

King’s talk was hosted by SAGE Publishing with co-sponsors the American Political Science Association and the American Statistical Association. His goal was to give a series of examples demonstrating the utility of big data in conducting social science and the necessity of solid and innovative data analysis to make sense of anything.

You can see this ninth video from his talk – and the answer to the question of what they found — below.

Videos in the series

  1. Ziyad Marar On The Opportunities That Big Data Provides Social Scientists
  2. What Makes Big Data Valuable?
  3. Examples: Exciting Data That Is Useless Without Analytics
  4. Example: Social Scientists Determine Cause Of Death At A Distance
  5. Example: Analysis Rids Social Security Forecasts Of Bias
  6. Example: New Data Methods Combat Gerrymandering
  7. Example: Big Data Much Better Than People at Determining Keywords
  8. Example: Watching Chinese Citizens Get Around Censorship
  9. Example: Learning The Real Reason For Chinese Censorship
  10. The Spectacular Success Of Quantitative Social Science
     
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