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IBS Speaker Series: Alex Siegel

April 1 @ 12:00 pm 1:00 pm

Join in person or via Zoomemail ibs-contact@colorado.edu for the password.
*Light lunch served at 11:45, please RSVP.

Title: Co-optation and Coercion of Online Influencers: Evidence from Saudi Wikipedia 

Abstract: How do authoritarian regimes use co-optation and coercion of influential internet users to control online information?  This paper explores how the Saudi regime co-opted prominent Wikipedia administrators to alter content on sensitive domestic and foreign political topics. I argue that the co-optation and coercion of influential social media users offers regimes an effective tool to manipulate online information environments, with greater plausible deniability and better evasion of content moderation than other forms of computational propaganda. Drawing on a recent ban of Saudi Wikipedia users for coordinated inauthentic activity, I use a two-way fixed effects design and quantitative text analysis of Wikipedia edits to evaluate how banned users’ behavior compares to the activity of non-banned users before and after their reported co-optation. I find that Saudi co-optation led to increased editing of pages referencing sensitive political topics, particularly during moments of crisis. This work contributes to our understanding of how authoritarian regimes have adapted longstanding strategies of co-optation, coercion, and information control in the digital age. 

Bio: Alexandra Siegel is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, a faculty affiliate of NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics and Stanford’s Immigration Policy Lab. She received her PhD in Political Science from NYU in 2018. Her research uses social media data, network analysis, and experiments—in addition to more traditional data sources—to study mass and elite political behavior in the Arab World and other comparative contexts. She is a former non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institute, Junior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former CASA Fellow at the American University in Cairo. She holds a Bachelors in International Relations and Arabic from Tufts University.

IBS 155A

Institute of Behavioral Science 1440 15th Street
Boulder, CO 80302