A Psychological Firewall? Risk Perceptions and Public Support for Online Censorship in Russia*

Erik C. Nisbet*, Olga Kamenchuk, Aysenur Dal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Objective: Authoritarian regimes commonly justify Internet censorship by framing the Internet as a threat to their citizens that must be tightly controlled for their own protection. This threat rhetoric underpins government censorship and creates a “psychological firewall” driving public support for a censored Internet. Methods: Based on risk and decision-making scholarship, we evaluate how mass media and partisan regime support promulgate these threat perceptions, and in turn how they influence citizen attitudes about censorship. Employing Russia as a case study, we tested our hypotheses with a national survey (N = 1,600) conducted in May 2014. Results: We found that reliance on Russian national TV news predicted greater Internet threat perceptions, and in turn these threat perceptions significantly increased support for online political censorship. Conclusion: Approval of the Putin government further amplified the impact of these threat perceptions on support for censorship. Implications for understanding psychological foundations for support for censorship in authoritarian contexts are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)958-975
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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