• Name (as it will be spelled on your application documents): Anton Sobolev

  • Fields: Comparative Politics, Methods

  • Link to your CV, as posted on your personal website (then you can update the document whenever you like without Jason needing to update the department webpage): www.asobolev.com/files/Anton-Sobolev-CV.pdf

  • Personal website address: www.asobolev.com

  • Email address (that you use for professional contacts): asobolev@ucla.edu

  • Dissertation title: “Dictators in the Spotlight: What Do They Do When They Cannot Do Business as Usual?”

  • Dissertation summary (1-2 paragraphs that have been carefully edited and approved by your advisor):

My dissertation explores the strategies that modern authoritarian leaders use to survive in office. Unlike many 20th century dictators, todays autocrats must operate “in the spotlight”—new media and information technology enables the political opposition and the public to observe their actions. This greater observability limits the effectiveness of government repression, sometimes forcing the authorities to shift to other tools of political control. I study two of these alternative tools: the staging of pro-government rallies to create an image of invincibility and the recruitment of armies of paid supporters to shape the narrative on the Internet and disrupt online conversation.

To explore these strategies, I focus on the case of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia. I argue that, faced with a wave of anti-government protests, an autocrat such as Putin can discourage further demonstrations by organizing pro-government rallies that—perhaps surprisingly—convey credible information to regime opponents about the dictator’s popularity. Moreover, this discouragement effect will be stronger—under certain conditions—if the autocrat allows some media freedom. I test this theory using data I collected on which Russian cities had access to broadcasts of the independent radio station, “Echo of Moscow.” Combining matching techniques with a difference-in-differences design, I compare protest dynamics in the cities that received broadcasts and in those that did not.

To better understand the second strategy, I explore the behavior and impact of several hundred “trolls”—paid supporters of the regime who are allegedly employed to leave pro-government comments on social media platforms. Using probabilistic topic modeling, I develop a method to estimate the causal effect of troll interventions in online discussions. I find that trolls are able to successfully divert online discussions from politically charged topics, but are ineffective in promoting a pro-government agenda. In a separate chapter, I develop a methodology for the study of such Internet actors. Specifically, I devise a set of identification methods to detect paid “political commentators” that will work on a variety of social media platforms.

  • Research interests (1-3 sentences)

Applying text analysis, machine learning and causal inference to collective behavior in authoritarian regimes, I explore the strategies that modern autocrats use to survive in office and how citizens respond to these strategies by organizing collective actions. My research interests cover a wide range of questions associated with protest behavior in the broadest sense.

  • Teaching interests (1-3 sentences).

I have experience preparing and teaching in Comparative Politics at both the undergraduate and graduate level with a focus on Autocracies, Russian Politics, and Internet Politics. I can also teach methodology courses, specifically applied courses on data analysis, research design, and causal inference. While being at UCLA, I participated in creating courses at the department of political science and the Anderson business school.

I am interested in teaching courses on political development in Africa, elections in the developing world, introduction to Comparative Politics, and International Relations. I can also teach methodology courses, specifically data analysis and research design.

I am particularly interested in teaching courses on political institutions with an eye toward their behavioral effects. I have taught courses on Congress, the Presidency, and Constitutional Law, in addition to introductory courses in American politics and research methods. At the graduate level, I would be excited to teach more advanced courses on political parties and interest groups, as well as methods courses on social network analysis.

Teaching Interests: I have extensive experience creating and teaching courses in Comparative Politics. I have also taught in American Politics and Political Theory courses, as well as in the Communications and Sociology departments. I have taught statistics and game theory to both undergraduate and graduate students. I am prepared to teach courses in Comparative Politics, authoritarian politics, the Middle East, the role of the media in politics, Political Economy, game theory, and statistics. I am committed to creating inclusive and interactive learning environments.

Teaching Interests: I have experience preparing and teaching my own courses and am prepared to teach a broad range of courses in Comparative Politics at both the undergraduate and graduate level. I have taught UCLA’s Introduction to Comparative Politics course for four summers and will be teaching upper-division undergraduate courses in Constitutional Design, Nationalism and Separatist Movements in Western Europe, and Comparative Political Parties this year.