Prof. Anita Gohdes, Hertie School of Governance
“Distract and divert: How world leaders use social media during contentious politics”
Date & Time: February 15, 2021 (Monday), 12:30pm
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Dr. Anita Gohdes (Ph.D. University of Mannheim) is Professor of International and Cyber Security at the Hertie School in Berlin. Her research focuses on political violence, state repression and the measurement of human rights. Previously, she was Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Zurich and a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center International Security Program. Since 2009, she has worked for the California-based non-profit Human Rights Data Analysis Group. She currently advises the German Federal Foreign Office and has consulted for the World Bank and the United Nations on the issues of security and state fragility. Her doctoral dissertation was awarded the German Dissertation Award in the Social Sciences by the Körber Foundation and the Walter Isard Dissertation Award by the Peace Science Society. She is a member of the Centre for International Security’s research team. Her work has been published in the American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Peace Research, Significance, Journal of Human Rights, and at Oxford University Press.
How do leaders communicate during domestic crises? We provide a first global analysis of world leader communication on social media during social unrest. We theorize about leaders’ digital communication strategies, building on the diversionary theory of foreign policy, as well as research on the role of democratic institutions in explaining elite responsiveness. We present a new dataset that characterizes leader communication through social media posts published by any head of state or government, employing a combination of automated translation and supervised machine learning methods. Our findings show that leaders attempt to divert public attention during social unrest by both increasing their online messaging and by shifting the topic from domestic to foreign policy issues. Democratic institutions create additional incentives for leaders to engage in distraction, in particular in the run-up to elections. Our results demonstrate how social media provide meaningful comparative insight into leaders’ political behavior in the digital age.