Work in Progress

  • Learning About Bias: An Experiment on News Consumption in Russia (With Georgiy Syunyaev)

    Most media that people consume exhibit certain political biases or slants. However, many citizens either do not understand or underestimate the slant of the media they consume. This study proposes a new experimental design to investigate whether making media slant more evident affects how citizens perceive news coverage and update their political beliefs. Our experimental intervention fielded on an online survey platform in Russia exposes respondents to a substantial amount of news coverage by major pro-government and independent television channels and, at the same time, makes respondents more attentive to the slant of news reporting. Our panel design allows us to examine the subsequent impact of the intervention on respondents’ perceptions of media, willingness to consume particular media outlets, and evaluations of the economy and government performance.

  • Circulation of Russian State Media Narratives in the U.S. Media Ecosystem (With Hannah Waight, Kevin Aslett, Megan Brown, Jason Greenfield, Solomon Messing, Jonathan Nagler, Margaret Roberts, and Joshua A. Tucker)

    We investigate the diffusion of Russian state media narratives and information in the US media ecosystem and how these patterns shifted following the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. There is growing recognition of the infiltration of Russian talking points in US domestic media. While there has been much emphasis on right-wing amplification of Russian state media narratives, in the immediate aftermath of the full-scale invasion we also observed instances when even mainstream US outlets cited Russia Today (RT) stories. Until they were exposed by a Politico story, Reuters had a partnership with Russian state media TASS and syndicated TASS content. We explore and explain these patterns in our paper. Drawing on new methods for multilingual narrative clustering and a database of 1.8 million news website articles we collected with real time web scraping, we estimate which United States media outlets published information and narratives from Russian state media and whether these patterns shifted with the onset of the conflict.

  • Is There Really a Dictator’s Dilemma? Information and Repression in Autocracy (With Scott Gehlbach, Zhaotian Luo, and Dmitriy Vorobyev)

    View at SocArxiv

    In his seminal work on the political economy of dictatorship, Ronald Wintrobe (1998) posited the existence of a "dictator's dilemma," in which repression leaves an autocrat less secure by reducing information about discontent. We explore the nature and resolution of this dilemma with a formalization that builds on recent work in the political economy of nondemocracy. When the regime is sufficiently repressive, and the dictator's popularity correspondingly unclear to opposition as well as autocrat, the ruler faces two unattractive options: he can mobilize the repressive apparatus, even though there may be no threat to his rule, or he can refrain from mobilizing, even though the threat may be real. Semicompetitive elections can ease the dilemma through the controlled revelation of discontent. Depending on the ease of building a repressive apparatus, autocrats who manage information in this way may prefer more or less repression than Wintrobe's dilemma alone implies.

  • Trust Building Across Identity Groups: An Experiment in Kazakhstan (With Yoshiko Herrera and Andrew Kydd)

    Mistrust is a common cause of conflict between individuals belonging to different identity groups. When can such mistrust be overcome? We study this question using an experiment based on a trust game between members of different social identity groups. In particular, we study the effect of hearing about positive interactions across group lines on the willingness of individuals to take a chance on cooperating with outgroup members. We field the experiment in Kazakhstan, focusing on relations between Kazakhs and Russians.

  • The Effects of Social Media Censorship on Polarization (With Yoshiko Herrera, Mingcong Pan, and Yiming Wang)

    Political polarization is a pressing problem around the world and social media have come under scrutiny for their possible role in facilitating it. In democracies, some companies or governments restrict online expression or block access to certain platforms. In autocracies, digital restrictions are used widely to stem oppositional activity, often under the pretense of fighting extremism. But do digital restrictions reduce polarization, or do they exacerbate it? Existing work suggests both possible outcomes. We examine the effects of digital restrictions via a series of online survey experiments in the U.S., China, and other countries, focusing on how a threat of social media restrictions affects citizens' social identities, political polarization, and online behavior.

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

    View at SSRN

    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.