Self-Censorship on Facebook (Paper)

Interesting paper…


We report results from an exploratory analysis examining “last-minute” self-censorship, or content that is filtered after being written, on Facebook. We collected data from 3.9 million users over 17 days and associate self-censorship behavior with features describing users, their social graph, and the interactions between them. Our results indicate that 71% of users exhibited some level of last-minute self-censorship in the time period, and provide specific evidence supporting the theory that a user’s “perceived audience” lies at the heart of the issue: posts are censored more frequently than comments, with status updates and posts directed at groups censored most frequently of all sharing use cases investigated. Furthermore, we find that: people with more boundaries to regulate censor more; males censor more posts than females and censor even more posts with mostly male friends than do females, but censor no more comments than females; people who exercise more control over their audience censor more content; and, users with more politically and age diverse friends censor less, in general.


Makes for interesting reading. You would be able to do something similar with Discourse, using typing or composer time.

I think they made a bit of a logical leap though. This is the scope of what they mean by ‘self censorship’:

We operationalize “self-censorship” as any non-trivial content that users began to write on Facebook but ultimately did not post…

To mitigate noise in our data, content was tracked only if at least five characters were entered into the composer or comment box. Content was then marked as “censored” if it was not shared within the subsequent ten minutes; using this threshold allowed us to record only the presence or absence of text entered, not the keystrokes or content. If content entered were to go unposted for ten minutes and then be posted, we argue that it was indeed censored (albeit temporarily). … the content of self-censored posts and comments was not sent back to Facebook’s servers: Only a binary value that content was entered at all.

See further page 122.

If you keep that scope and the mechanics they used firmly in mind when looking at the results, it takes on a slightly different character. e.g.

Over the 17-days, 71% of all users censored content at least once.

What you can definitely say is that 71% of users kept content in a compose for ten minutes before posting it within the 17 day period. I think it’s a bit misleading to say categorically that 71% of users self-censored.

That may seem like a quibble, but the more you think about it, there are actually quite a few reasons why you may have a content-filled compose for more than 10 minutes prior to posting, e.g.

  • You get distracted by something IRL

  • Someone else posts something while you’re composing

  • You have to look something up. And while you’re looking that thing up you notice something else interesting and go down a rabbit hole. This often happens to me when I’m writing a post actually…

  • You are just writing a longish and considered post. It would be misleading to call all long / thoughtful posts ‘self-censored’.