Terrorism and internet censorship

Stephen A. Meserve, Daniel Pemstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The internet provides a powerful tool to terror organizations, enhancing their public messaging, recruitment ability, and internal communication. In turn, governments have increasingly moved to disrupt terror organizations’ internet communications, and even democracies now routinely work to censor terrorist propaganda, and related political messaging, in the name of national security. We argue that democratic states respond to terror attacks by increasing internet censorship and broadening their capacity to limit the digital dissemination of information. This article builds on previous work suggesting this relationship, substantially improving measurement and estimation strategy. We use latent variable modeling techniques to create a new measure of internet censorship, cross nationally and over time, from internet firm transparency reports, and compare this measure to an expert-survey based indicator. Leveraging both measures, we use a variety of panel specifications to establish that, in democracies, increases in terror predict surges in digital censorship. Finally, we examine the posited relationship using synthetic control methods in a liberal democracy that experienced a large shock in terror deaths, France, showing that digital censorship ramped up after several large terrorist attacks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)752-763
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • internet censorship
  • latent variable models
  • terrorism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations


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