How State-controlled Media Shapes Public Opinion? Experimental Evidence from Russia

Arturas Rozenas (NYU)
Denis Stukal (NYU)
Georiy Syunyaev (Columbia University)

Abstract: Growing evidence suggests that state-controlled media adopt various strategies to shape citizens' beliefs about its competence in dealing with the economy. But we do not know whether these efforts are effective in changing the attitudes of the citizens, and whose attitudes they affect the most and the least. We develop a model of information updating where citizens are uncertain about the credibility of the media source as well as the value of the policy defended on the state-controlled media. Following information from the media, citizens update simultaneously on the credibility of the media as well the value of the policy. The model allows us to identify citizens with prior profiles that make them the least and the most susceptible to state-controlled media. We then test the predictions of the model using a two-stage online experiment in Russia. In the first stage, we introduce treatments to manipulate priors about the media credibility and the value of the policy. In the second stage, we randomize exposure to news content from the state media voicing support for the recent pension reform in Russia.