Dr Gillian Bolsover

Dr Gillian Bolsover


I research the effects of commercialisation, globalization, and new media and communication technologies on politics and civil society, with a particular emphasis on the USA and China (both individually and in comparison). I specialize in mixed-methods and innovative research designs, from cutting-edge big data and computational social science techniques (such as network analysis, natural language processing and data visualization) to discourse analysis and photographic ethnography.

Before joining the University of Leeds, I was based at the University of Oxford's, Oxford Internet Institute – first as a DPhil (PhD) student, then as a researcher and later research associate. As a postdoctoral researcher on the project on computational propaganda, research I was involved in was crucial in raising awareness about the effects of bots, algorithms, misinformation and other forms of automated online political opinion manipulation in recent political events in the USA, France and China. This research won the members of the project the W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award by the United States National Democratic Institute in November 2017. As part of this position, I spoke to high-profile policymaking audiences at the NATO-Georgia Public Diplomacy Forum, a workshop for Ministry of Defence and other state employees in Singapore, and to members of the Australian High Commission during their European tour. At Leeds, I will continue to research critical issues in modern political and social life and use this knowledge as a platform to engage policymakers, students and members of the public, with an eye toward positive social change.

Prior to returning to education to pursue a PhD, I worked as a professional photojournalist both freelance in the USA, UK and China and for two years at a daily newspaper in the USA (as well as one year as production director and editor-in-chief of a small media company in Shanghai). As a journalist, I produced major photo and video projects about families whose lives had been affected by suicide, the story of a woman beating breast cancer, and the effects on the local immigrant community of a large raid at a chicken processing plant. I won national awards and recognition for my work as a visual journalist and have produced journalistic projects in English, French, Spanish and Chinese.

Research interests

My recent research falls into four areas:
•    The use of computational propaganda, such as robot accounts and "fake news," to manipulate online public opinion, including in the 2016 US and 2017 French Presidential Elections;
•    The efforts of the Chinese state to "occupy" online spaces, studying the particular case of Environmental Protection Bureau's and online environmental governance;
•    The effects of the movement onto massive commercial social media platforms on the nature of citizenship and political participation for Internet users in the US and China;
•    And the nature of online political speech, particularly testing existing theories of political participation against large and representative datasets using both quantitative and qualitative techniques.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://essl.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • DPhil Information, Communication and the Social Sciences, University of Oxford
  • MA Global Media and Communications, Fudan University, Shanghai
  • MSc Global Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • BA Political Science and Photojournalism, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, USA

Professional memberships

  • Association of Internet Researchers
  • Chinese Internet Research Conference

Student education

I am involved in modules related to modern Chinese politics, comparative politics and reseaching politics, technology and media.

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Democratic Engagement

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>The school welcomes enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>