Shocking the Crowd: The Effect of Censorship Shocks on Chinese Wikipedia

Ark Fangzhou Zhang, Danielle Livneh, Ceren Budak, Lionel P. Robert, Daniel M. Romero

Collaborative crowdsourcing has become a popular approach to organizing work across the globe. Being global also means being vulnerable to shocks -- unforeseen events that disrupt crowds -- that originate from any country. In this study, we examine changes in collaborative behavior of editors of Chinese Wikipedia that arise due to the 2005 government censor- ship in mainland China. Using the exogenous variation in the fraction of editors blocked across different articles due to the censorship, we examine the impact of reduction in group size, which we denote as the shock level, on three collaborative behavior measures: volume of activity, centralization, and conflict. We find that activity and conflict drop on articles that face a shock, whereas centralization increases. The impact of a shock on activity increases with shock level, whereas the impact on centralization and conflict is higher for moderate shock levels than for very small or very high shock levels. These findings provide support for threat rigidity theory -- originally introduced in the organizational theory literature -- in the context of large-scale collaborative crowds.

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