COVID-19 Increased Censorship Circumvention And Access To Sensitive Topics In China

We study the impact of crisis on information seeking in authoritarian regimes. Using digital trace data from China during the COVID-19 crisis, we show that crisis motivates citizens to seek out crisis-related information, which subsequently exposes them to unrelated and potentially regime-damaging information. This gateway to both current and historically sensitive content is not found for individuals in countries without extensive online censorship. While information seeking increases during crisis under all forms of governance, the added gateway to previously unknown and sensitive content is disproportionate in authoritarian contexts.