Internet censorship in liberal democracies: Learning from autocracies?

Andreas Busch*, Patrick Theiner, Yana Breindl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Internet blocking is no longer a tool wielded only by authoritarian regimes, but one also commonly employed by liberal democracies. In the last decade, access restrictions have become the go-to policy solution where enforcing content regulation is difficult such as child pornography, copyright infringement, or online gambling. In liberal democracies, Internet blocking takes the shape of self-, co-, or state regulation, as well as combinations of these forms. Content restrictions lie at the intersection of various constitutional rights and principles, and honoring this delicate balance seems easiest through the democratic accountability inherent in formal legislation. However, many other regulatory schemes have emerged from completely private self-regulation by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as the UK’s Cleanfeed system, to hybrid public–private partnerships in the shape of co-regulatory arrangements used in Germany or Scandinavia. As of 2015, most liberal democracies have introduced access restrictions through one or more of these three regulatory modes. But what explains their diversity and their systematic variation across countries? This chapter builds on insights generated in a larger research project on “Net Blocking in Liberal Democracies.” Its first part provides an empirical introduction to the topic by looking at Internet blocking in 21 liberal democracies. Next, we provide an analysis of factors influencing whether democracies erect access impediments. We point out some common driving forces and obstacles, partially building on Lijphart’s typology of democracies. Lastly, we discuss the results with a special view towards topics of democratic theory such as “embedded democracy” and “crisis of democracy.”
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationManaging Democracy in the Digital Age
Subtitle of host publicationInternet Regulation, Social Media Use, and Online Civic Engagement
EditorsJulia Schwanholz, Todd Graham, Peter-Tobias Stoll
PublisherSpringer, Cham
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9783319617084
ISBN (Print)9783319617077, 9783319871400
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sep 2017


  • Internet
  • Internet architecture
  • blocking
  • content regulation
  • copyright
  • online gambling
  • regulatory politics
  • liberal democracies
  • comparative public policy
  • quantitative analysis


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  • Parliaments 2.0? Digital media use by national parliaments in the EU

    Theiner, P., Schwanholz, J. & Busch, A., 22 Sep 2017, Managing Democracy in the Digital Age: Internet Regulation, Social Media Use, and Online Civic Engagement. Schwanholz, J., Graham, T. & Stoll, P-T. (eds.). 1st ed. Springer, Cham, p. 77-95 19 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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