Innovators and Emulators: China and Russia’s Compounding Influence on Digital Censorship
May 11, 2023
Catherine Andrzejewski, Ana Horigoshi, Abigail I. Maher, and Jonathan A. Solis
Illiberalism is on the rise in countries around the world, as once-promising democratic countries have regressed into more authoritarian ones. Governments now poised to remain in power against the will of their citizenry are beginning to mirror the illiberal practices of authoritarian regimes, such as China and Russia, that project their power regionally and throughout the globe. In response to this alarming trend, development practitioners keen to fund programs to counteract authoritarian influence are often left with analyses that focus on the influence of a single authoritarian regime in a country or region. However, rising autocrats may take guidance from multiple foreign governments, and the compounding effects of two or more authoritarian actors in a single country remains understudied by researchers, leaving a crucial knowledge gap for practitioners. This project begins to fill this gap. In partnership with the International Republican Institute (IRI), AidData has mapped the common tools of digital censorship utilized by China and Russia—two established, authoritarian governments keen to influence and spread illiberalism to vulnerable countries. Using reports from media watchdogs and key informant interviews, this study maps the tools used by both authoritarian and autocratizing governments for digital censorship, focusing on domestic digital censorship. The study analyzes the overlap in use of censorship tools and assesses the compounding influence that China and Russia have on five specific autocratizing countries: Azerbaijan, Nicaragua, Serbia, Turkey, and Uganda.