Marcel Schliebs


marcel schliebs



Marcel Schliebs

DPhil candidate, Oxford Internet Institute


Marcel Schliebs is a DPhil student in Social Data Science and Researcher on the Programme on Democracy & Technology at the Oxford Internet Institute. His research is located at the intersection of political science, statistics, and data science, and focuses on studying on the impact of authoritarian state-backed information operations on democratic societies. Besides his academic role, he advises Western governments on counter-disinformation, and previously served at NATO Headquarters’ Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction Non-Proliferation Centre. He recently led two major investigations in collaboration with the Associated Press and NBC, detecting and disrupting large coordinated inauthentic networks which amplified Chinese diplomats and promoted the narrative that COVID came to Wuhan through American Lobster. 

DPhil topic

Authoritarian governments such as Russia or China invest significant resources in their propaganda efforts both domestically and abroad. Externally, these regimes operate wide ecosystems of state-controlled media outlets in dozens of languages around the globe, and their diplomats have joined Western social media platform where they target foreign audiences with pro-regime propaganda and disinformation. These overt attempts to shift public opinion through overt public diplomacy are complemented by covert forms of exerting sharp power, including operating grey news outlets with hidden state ties as well as running networks of fake accounts in an effort to inauthentically manipulate social media platforms.  

While the presence of such overt and covert efforts has been universally established, the academic literature still lacks a sufficient understanding of the effectiveness of foreign information operations targeting liberal democracies. This includes both the question of reach, thus how many individuals around the world are being exposed to foreign authoritarian propaganda, as well as its impact, in other words whether the content is actually able win hearts and minds by shifting individuals’ attitudes and behaviours.  

To close this gap, my DPhil research applies a mix of data science methodologies, including causal inference, natural language processing, network analysis and factorial experiments, to study the impact of authoritarian information operations on foreign audiences in liberal democracies. The results will provide timeline insights and help policy makers make informed choices in the delicate balancing act between upholding the democratic freedom of expression and protecting democracies from malign foreign interference.