Distract and divert: How world leaders use social media during contentious politics

Wednesday 14 October 2020 (15:00-16:30)

The Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security (ICCS), the Department of Political Science and International Studies (POLSIS) and the International Development Department (IDD) are delighted to welcome Professor Anita Gohdes (Hertie School of Governance) to present her latest paper.

The paper is co-authored with Pablo Barberá, Thomas Zeitzoff, and Evgeniia Iakhnis.


How do leaders communicate during domestic crises? This paper provides a first cross-national evaluation of how world leaders communicate on social media during social unrest. We build on the diversionary theory of foreign policy, as well as institutional and political factors that explain variation in 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 emphasizing foreign policy issues, and that democratic institutions create additional incentives for democratic leaders to respond to domestic crises through diversion, in particular in the run-up to elections. Finally, we show that social media provide new tools for leaders to communicate to their constituents, and that these communications provide meaningful insight to leaders' political behavior.

This ICCS/POLSIS/IDD joint seminar is open to staff, students, and the general public. Please register if you would like to attend.

We hope to see some of you there! A Zoom link will be emailed to participants before the event.