Segment-and-Rule: Modern Censorship in Authoritarian Regimes
The internet grants citizens with the ability to choose which media outlets to consume. This access to foreign independent outlets risks exposing citizens to negative information about the authoritarian regime. In response to this novel threat, authoritarian regimes introduced censorship firewalls which seem to fail at their task: millions bypass these restrictions everyday. We contend that the regime deliberately aims for a specific segment of the population to self-select into bypassing the firewall: regime opponents. By bypassing the firewall, opponents are occasionally convinced to comply after seeing positive and credible reporting about the regime by banned foreign outlets. The firewall ensures that regime supporters exclusively consume content from domestic outlets and so their compliance is secured via regime propaganda. We label this strategy one of segment-and-rule and show how it maximizes compliance. We also explain how authoritarian regimes can engineer segment-and-rule by making local outlets parrot the party line, investing in domestic entertainment or strategically banning foreign entertainment. By providing citizens with more choice, the internet may have entrenched authoritarian regimes.