I am an advanced PostDoc at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies (icmb) of the University of Bern, specializing in Comparative Politics, Political Communication, and Social Network Analysis (SNA).
Applying SNA to informal institutions in authoritarian regimes, I explain why some elites become part of the inner circle while others get purged and how leaders can rule without holding official positions. More recently, I have examined political AstroTurfing (hidden propaganda campaigns) on social media, using SNA to reveal the coordination networks underlying such operations. My future research project will examine how our knowledge of opaque authoritarian regimes and their elites is generated by examining the social network of one source of such knowledge, namely the experts on such regimes.
My research has appeared in Nature's Scientific Reports, Political Communication, the Journal of East Asian Studies, in the Proceedings of ICWSM, in Political Studies and the Journal of Intercultural Studies, among others. I've also co-authored a textbook on SNA and contributed to the Palgrave Handbook of Political Elites.
My current research focus is on hidden disinformation campaigns on social media. I have examined one of the earliest known Twitter AstroTurfing campaign - implemented by the South Korean secret service during the 2012 Presidential election - and show that networks of coordinated messaging help us identify such campaigns and are the result of principal-agent problems theorized in social science. Such network patterns are present even in the most recent such campaigns, as we discuss in our contribution to the Washington Post, and have subsequently shown in an article in Nature's Scientific Reports. In my own ongoing research, I keep track of the P.R. of China's official information campaigns on Twitter and their interactions with AstroTurfing accounts. With my colleagues at ICMB, I study Covid-19 related misinformation in Switzerland.
In earlier research (Journal of East Asian Studies), I have argued for conceptualizing elite politics as happening in networks instead of between factions. I have shown that it is possible to construct political elite networks in closed regimes using publicly available data, and have evaluate different approaches to do so. In research awarded the John Sprague Award of APSA's Political Networks Section, I have tested a series of such more complex hypotheses on a network constructed from the career paths and promotion patterns of the top Chinese political elites. I show that while direct connections to alleged faction leaders raise the chance of entering the inner circle (the Politburo), so do ties to other elites. Central network positions predict appointments up to a decade ahead. But not all friends in high places are helpful. In a bureaucracy riven with struggles such as China's, connections to anyone but the most powerful figure in a province may actually reduce promotion chances (Political Studies). In ongoing research, I explore automated ways to extract information on elite networks from unstructured text, such as newspaper articles, biographies, or expert reports on elite politics in China and the United States. Together with Jos Dornschneider-Elkink (University College Dublin) and Hans Hanpu Tung (National Taiwan University), I am implementing a pilot expert survey on the connections and influence of Chinese political elites, and study the social networks of the interviewed experts themselves.
I have received my PhD from New York University's Department of Politics in 2015, was a postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia University's Harriman Institute in 2015/2016 and a visiting scholar at UCSD's School of Global Policy & Strategy (on an SNF Postdoc.Mobility grant). I left a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's Division of Social Science because of the deterioriating political situation in Hong Kong at the end of 2021.