Anton Shirikov

PhD Candidate

University of Wisconsin-Madison

I am a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. I study media, political communication, misinformation and propaganda. In my dissertation, I use experiments and survey data to examine when biased media are found more credible and who is more sensitive to political bias in the news. In my other work, I study the legacies of communism and contemporary political institutions in the former Soviet Union.

I am fascinated by the modern tools of computational social science, including digital data collection, automated text analysis, machine learning, and network analysis.

Before graduate school, I have worked as a journalist and an editor in Russian independent media, covering politics and technology. That experience continues to inform my academic interests.



Working Papers

Who Trusts State-Run Media? Source Cues, Bias, and Credibility in Non-Democracies

View at SSRN

Scholars of politics and media have long debated whether citizens of non-democracies trust pro-government media and recognize their bias. I argue that state-controlled media can indeed command trust, and that one explanation for this trust is partisan affinity for like-minded content. I design a novel experiment, situated in Russia, to study whether partisanship affects trust in state-controlled and independent media. I also surveyed Russian respondents on media preferences and evaluations of state-run and independent news organizations. I find that government supporters use and trust state-run media more than government critics, whereas critics use and trust independent media more. These results help us to understand how contemporary autocrats build support, showing that authoritarian governments can intervene in media industries and sustain long-term disinformation campaigns without seriously undermining the reputation of their propaganda outlets. Independent media, in contrast, often pose a smaller threat to autocrats, because many loyalists are disinclined to use or trust these media.

Is Trust in Media Decreasing? Evidence from the World Values Survey

Scholars and observers are increasingly concerned that confidence in mainstream media is decreasing, which could undermine the democratic political process and make citizens more vulnerable to manipulation. Various surveys have documented dwindling confidence in media in the U.S. and other democracies, but so far this research has not established whether this decline is a global trend. I suggest a more robust approach using data from the World Values Survey to establish worldwide trends in attitudes. The resulting analysis shows there has been some decline in confidence in media since the early 1990s, but there is no evidence of a decline among stable democracies. Confidence in media has been decreasing instead in democratizing countries and other states that have undergone substantial political changes.

A Model of Censorship and Propaganda

With Scott Gehlbach and Dmitriy Vorobyev

A fundamental constraint of information design is that propaganda must be believed to be effective. The presence of outside information tightens this constraint. We extend the canonical two-state, two-action of Bayesian persuasion to endogenize the presence of such information. The sender (government) chooses both the precision of an outside signal—it chooses a level of censorship—and a probability distribution over propaganda messages, where the distribution can be conditioned on the outside signal. The government bears an opportunity cost of censorship, in that the government relies on outside information to decide whether to repress rather than persuade. In equilibrium, the government may employ censorship and propaganda alongside repression; many combinations of propaganda and censorship may be behaviorally equivalent. Under plausible additional assumptions, we predict a positive correlation between censorship and propaganda that is decreasing in the cost of repression.

The Oligarch Vanishes: Defensive Ownership, Property Rights, and Political Connections

With John Earle, Scott Gehlbach and Solomiya Shpak. View at SSRN

We examine the use of proxies, shell companies, and offshore firms to defend property against seizure by private and state actors. Our theoretical framework emphasizes the role of political connections in defensive ownership. Linking information from investigative journalists on the key holdings of numerous Ukrainian oligarchs with firm-level administrative data on formal ownership ties, we observe some form of defensive ownership among more than two-thirds of oligarch-controlled firms, but such conduct is much less common for those connected to the incumbent regime. Further exploiting the abrupt shock to political connections that accompanied the Orange Revolution, we find a sharp rise in defensive ownership among previously connected oligarchs.

Smart Ways to Use a Postcommunist Dummy

With Dmitrii Kofanov and Yoshiko M. Herrera

Recent work has questioned the contemporary meaning of Eurasia as a region and postcommunism as concept. Nevertheless, postcommunism is still frequently used as a dummy variable in social science research. In this paper we review ways that the postcommunist dummy has been used in existing quantitative work, and we then employ advanced clustering methods to examine how the 27 postcommunist countries of Eurasia, as well as other countries of Western Europe and Asia, cluster in terms of political, economic, social, demographic, and value-based dimensions, based on data from around 2000 and 2014. We find little evidence that postcommunist countries are distinct from Western European or Asian countries on most dimensions or that they coherently group together. This analysis provides a more systematic understanding of the heterogeneity of postcommunist countries, and we discuss the key implications of this heterogeneity for quantitative social science research.

Legislatures and Executive Recruitment in Autocracies: Does Parliamentary Behavior Matter?

Interbranch mobility, and more specifically, recruitment of legislators into executive offices, is common for authoritarian regimes, but the role of legislative behavior in this selection remains unclear. Do legislatures serve as testing grounds, allowing autocrats to screen and evaluate candidates? Does legislative effort improve chances of a subsequent executive career? I examine the logic of appointments from parliament using a newly collected data set that covers biographies and parliamentary behavior of legislators who served in the Russian State Duma from 2004 to 2016. I find evidence that Duma members who apply more effort in legislative work are more likely to continue their parliamentary careers, but legislative effort in the Duma does not appear to increase the chances of appointment. Instead, my findings suggest that deputies are recruited into executive offices primarily on the basis of their previous work experience, their party membership, and possibly personal ties. Parliamentary service, however, may help legislators get ahead by making them more visible to government leadership.