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It is demonstrated that the measured value of the self‐bias voltage on electrodes with an insulating target plate in a radio‐frequency dry etching system is strongly influenced by the configuration of the electrode, and may have no straightforward relation with the actual self‐bias voltage between the target surface and ground. The mechanism allowing measurement of the self‐bias voltage is identified as plasma‐induced surface conduction on the insulating target plate assisted by high electric fields at the target plate edge.