Populations may be so terrorized by repressive actions of governments that they censor themselves voluntarily. Self-censorship may be exercised in all manner of expression: by writers, artists and scientists, and by editors, artistic producers, publishers, teachers and administrators. Private conversation may be hypocritical or guarded, or may evince genuine approbation of government policies; but dissent and criticism will never be expressed. Media self-censorship denies the public the chance of gaining objective knowledge of conditions in time to act on that knowledge. Self-censorship can be reinforced by a graduated series of penalties for perseverance in dissent. Under the most despotic regimes, unjustified and arbitrary violence may be unleashed against those expressing themselves freely or incautiously.
Self-censorship exists under all dictatorships whether of one man, an oligarchy or a party. It exists wherever reprisals against freedom of speech are enacted, however subtly, and it can therefore be found in organizations of all types and in social relationships. (For example, a woman may be forced to exercise self-censorship by the insistence on dominance by the male.) In the international community, a country dependent on foreign aid may be prevented from speaking out on bilateral or global issues.