As social media becomes more accessible, more people have a platform for sharing information on a number of topics, from their favored products to their favored government leaders. The latter topic is considered problematic in countries such as China and Saudi Arabia, where tight control of the information available to the populace is one of the standard tools available to the ruling regime.
Government censorship works to conceal information; however, advances in data intelligence may cause censorship to backfire by shedding light on the very topics it was meant to obscure. Take the downfall of Chinese politician Bo Xilai, for example. Before he and his (allegedly) fifty-year-old underwear became world famous over the course of his arrest and highly publicized trial for corruption, there was a flurry of governmental efforts to censor posts containing his name. Earlier, when Bo was still in power and one of his lieutenants was about to fall from grace, the same phenomenon happened to posts containing the lieutenant’s name.
In both cases, the Chinese government’s attempt to hide information surrounding a controversy left “eraser marks” where the controversial information had been. These eraser marks may provide a valuable tool to data scientists. Governments that are fond of censorship tend to have a high degree of influence over the markets in their countries; analysis of censorship trends can alert data analysts to events and upheavals in these markets before the rest of the world takes notice.
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