Networked authoritarian governments’ use of digital repression creates uncertainty and amplifies risk signals for ordinary citizens using social media for political expression. Employing theoretical frameworks from the risk and decision-making literature, we experimentally examine how citizens perceive and respond to the risks of low-effort forms of online activism in an authoritarian context. Our online field experiment demonstrates that emotional responses to the regime’s risk signals about online activism drive decision-making about contentious online political expression as compared with cognitive appraisal of risk. Moreover, the relationship between anticipatory emotions and contentious online political expression varies significantly depending on individuals’ involvement with the controversial topic of expression. We discuss the importance of emotions and citizen risk judgments for understanding online activism within networked authoritarian contexts.