The Best Defense

Censorship in China: A hot new Harvard study finds it huge -- and quite revealing

I hear from a friend who is a political scientist that the hottest study in his world is a paper by Harvard's Gary King on social media censorship in China. Or, as King puts it, "the largest selective suppression of human communication in the history of the world."

The bottom line seems to be that, going by what they censor, Chinese authorities most fear collective action -- that is, not individual protests or outcries, but the threat of people getting together.

Here is a link to the paper. Here is the summary of it from Professor King's website:

Chinese government censorship of social media constitutes the largest selective suppression of human communication in the history of the world. Although existing systematic research on the subject has revealed a great deal, it is based on passive, observational methods, with well known inferential limitations. We attempt to generate more robust causal and descriptive inferences through participation and experimentation. For causal inferences, we conduct a large scale randomized experimental study by creating accounts on numerous social media sites spread throughout the country, submitting different randomly assigned types of social media texts, and detecting from a network of computers all over the world which types are censored. Then, for descriptive inferences, we supplement the current approach of confidential interviews by setting up our own social media site in China, contracting with Chinese firms to install the same censoring technologies as existing sites, and reverse engineering how it all works. Our results offer unambiguous support for, and clarification of, the emerging view that criticism of the state, its leaders, and their policies are routinely published whereas posts with collective action potential are much more likely to be censored. We are also able to clarify the internal mechanisms of the Chinese censorship apparatus and show that local social media sites have far more flexibility than was previously understood in how (but not what) they censor.

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The Best Defense

Two e-mails from Marines: Who is right?

Last month (mid-August) the Marine Corps announced that it would start firing captains and majors who have repeatedly been passed over for promotion. Or, as the announcement of the policy change put it, "EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, MARINE CORPS POLICY IS TO SELECT FOR CONTINUATION ONLY THOSE TWICE PASSED MAJORS AND TWICE PASSED CAPTAINS WHOSE CONTINUED SERVICE IS IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE MARINE CORPS BASED ON THE NEEDS OF THE MARINE CORPS IN ACCORDANCE WITH CRITERIA ESTABLISHED BY THE SECRETARY Of THE NAVY."

Two e-mails about this appeared in my inbox.

The first was from a more senior Marine officer: "We are institutionally breaking faith all over the place. Amos is killing the soul of the Corps. His legacy is going to be one of division and resentment."

The other, immediately above it, was from a field-grade officer: "About time."

Which one is right?

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