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When and why do autocrats combine both covert and overt political control strategies? Why do citizens voluntarily aid authoritarian rule? This research presents a unique theory suggesting that autocrats strategically incorporate ordinary citizens into bureaucratic roles in digital governance. The study posits that authoritarian regimes foster a hybrid form of surveillance by promoting mass par- ticipation in digitally monitoring their peers. Such an approach amplifies information collection and ensures efficient implementation of coercive policies. Using China’s participatory digital surveillance initiative as a case study and employing a difference-in-differences design, our findings indicate that citizen involvement in digital surveillance significantly enhances voluntary information sharing with the government, amplifying crime deterrence. However, this approach also inadvertently diminishes social trust due to increased mutual reporting and suspicion. Overall, these consequences bolster regime stability. This study underscores the understudied dimensions of citizen participation in digital governance and surveillance, shedding light on the multifaceted strategies autocrats adopt for autocratic survival.

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