Andrew McAfee: Big Data Reveal Three Surprising Facts About Chinese Censorship

InsightaaS: Andrew McAfee is well-known as a commentator on the business of, investment trends within, and the social implications resulting from IT. In this post, he provides his perspective on quantitative social research conducted by Harvard professor Gary King. King’s research uses insights gleaned from Big Data to identify how Chinese government censors react to different types of social media posts. 

I went to a stellar presentation last week by Gary King, a political scientist at Harvard and director of the school’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. He talked about research he’s been conducting with Jennifer Pan and Margaret Roberts about the nature and practice of censorship in China today.

This work got started when King’s team noticed that some of the Chinese social media posts they were collecting (for other purposes) disappeared after a short time. Once it became clear that this was because of government censorship, a fantastic research opportunity opened up.

Crimson hexagon, which King cofounded, constantly collects a huge amount of social media from around the world. By seeing which of this content later disappeared from within China the team gained an unprecedented view into a dark and fascinating topic: which aspects of its people’s speech a modern totalitarian regime wants to suppress. This view also allows us to make better-educated guesses about why and how this censorship happens. What we learn from it would have surprised even Orwell.

Here are my three headlines from King’s talk and his team’s research…

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