Social Media Impact on International Affairs, Bonn 22-25.05.2022

Here are my somewhat unfinished slides from the workshop in Bonn:


First, the group turned out to be amazing. I was the most impressed by Nadia Said, Lisa Oswald, and Leor Zmigrod. Others were no less impressive, but their research is not that close to mine.

My aim in the talk was to tell the story behind the paper (Pashakhin, 2021) and invite participants to reflect about the assumptions we tend to put into our research questions. I wanted to connect my talk with a discussion happening on hard-to-define concepts. Among those were: ‘fake news,’ ’trust,’ ‘ideology,’ and the ‘public sphere.’ I am still unsure whether my message had reached the participants, and I would like to elaborate on it here in writing.

Summary of the talk:

  • Some concepts (like the public sphere) are essentially contested and that is okay. We have to treat them carefully: they are entangled with normative notions that are not that bad for the research.
  • Although the normative part is important, it is also contested. It can be useful to unlink the normative notions from the theory and examine what remains. This can make a better theory, and clean some space for fresh thoughts on how to approach socially and politically problematic issues.
  • Social theories are messy. A sociologist on your team can help you ’excavate’ implicit assumptions about social relations. For instance, the liberal model of the public sphere became a default for a certain stream of literature on social and political fragmentation. Treating this model uncritically, can result in overstatement of your results as has been showed in the case echo chambers (Dubois & Blank, 2018).
  • My paper illustrates an example of how you can get caught into default notions, and how you can get out. And when you get out, the results may just give enough to ask the better research question. In my case: ‘why manipulations with news agendas do not produce audience fragmentation?’ And the surprising piece of the puzzle that at the moment seems best to explain it is the national identity (Sharafutdinova, 2020). This seems even more interesting, if we consider the identity in the context of Leor’s work on ideology (Zmigrod, 2022).


  • Dubois, E., & Blank, G. (2018). The echo chamber is overstated: the moderating effect of political interest and diverse media. Information, Communication & Society, 21(5), 729–745.
  • Sharafutdinova, G. (2020). The red mirror: Putin’s leadership and Russia’s insecure identity. : Oxford University Press.
  • Zmigrod, L. (2022). A Psychology of Ideology: Unpacking the Psychological Structure of Ideological Thinking. Perspective on Psychology.
  • Pashakhin, S. (2021). Public agenda fragmentation beyond established democracies: the case of Russian online publics in 2017. Russian Journal of Communication , 13(3), 305–324.