- THE EPOCH TIMES - Mar 9, 2021 -
Due to the psychological mechanisms of self-censorship, a single account blocked, a single video deleted, or a book banned can result in a broad chilling of speech. Important policy debates don’t occur, news story ideas aren’t pitched to editors, and books aren’t accepted for publishing, or written to begin with.
In some cases, it appears the censors employ the psychological tricks on purpose, achieving maximum suppression with minimal responsibility. These methods aren’t new—in fact, they have long been employed by totalitarian regimes.
The principle of self-censorship is that people, just to be on the safe side, refrain from saying even things that aren’t outright banned by some applicable rules.
An example is the effect of the Johnson Amendment, a law that prohibits tax-exempt nonprofits, including religious organizations, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
Even though the law doesn’t prohibit discussion of political topics and stands virtually unenforced, opponents have long argued that pastors have avoided political topics in their sermons just to be sure they can’t be accused of running afoul of the law.
Here are a number of methods used to enhance self-censorship.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the world’s most notorious censor of free speech, has for decades used the method of making its policies intentionally vague. During its past political campaigns, for example, the central leadership would issue a decree that “rightists” and “counterrevolutionaries” were to be punished. The next lower rung of Party officials wouldn’t be told what exactly makes one a “rightist” or a “counterrevolutionary” and perhaps not even what the punishment should be. No official, however, would want to be seen as too lenient—that would carry the risk of being labeled oneself. As such, each successive level of bureaucracy would intensify its interpretation of the policy, leading to ever more extreme results. In some periods, the hysteria went far beyond self-censorship, as even refraining from political speech wasn’t enough.