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Dr. Florian Töpfl


Emmy Noether Junior Research Group

Emmy Noether junior research group leader

DFG Project "Mediating (semi-)Authoritarianism. The Power of the Internet in the post-Soviet World"

Otto-von-Simson-Straße 3
14195 Berlin

Office hours

Mondays from 13:00 to 14:00 h (by e-mail appointment)

Room 109 (Ihnestraße 21)


Dr Töpfl heads the five-year project as a Emmy Noether Junior Research Group Leader. He received his PhD in political science from the University of Passau in Southern Germany in 2009. Since then, he has been a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science; a researcher and lecturer at the Institute for Media Studies and Communication Research, LMU University Munich; and a postdoctoral fellow at the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and Eastern European Studies at Columbia University, New York. Dr Töpfl has also held visiting fellowships at the Aleksanteri Institute for Russian Studies, University of Helsinki, and in the Sociology Department at the Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg.

Project summary

Whenever protest has arisen recently in non-democratic regimes across the globe, the mass media have been quick to speak of Twitter revolutions or Facebook uprisings. In parallel, a vibrant debate has evolved in academic journals around how internet-mediated communication affects non-democratic politics. However, while essayistic treatment of this question has been pervasive, a strong body of research on the topic is only now emerging. Most importantly, there is still a surprising scarcity in this literature of case-based, cross-national research. This striking lack of comparative research is particularly unfortunate because it significantly limits the ability of researchers to claim validity for their findings beyond the specific national context they are investigating. To address this gap, this project will compare phenomena of internet-mediated communication (and their consequences) across three (semi-)authoritarian regimes in the post-Soviet world: Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

The project‘s central research question can be formulated as follows: how has the rapid rise of internet-mediated communication in the past decade changed political communication, politics, and polities in these three countries? To address this question, the project is divided into five sub-projects, each of which  will investigate communicative change in relation to one key mid-range theoretical concept. Concepts investigated will include political representation, the decoding of political news, counterpublics, and political scandal. The project will involve junior research group leader Dr Florian Toepfl and two PhD students, each of whom  will focus in the course of the project on data collection and interpretation with regard to one of the three countries under investigation.

At the most abstract level, the project will aim to make highly visible theoretical contributions to the recently vibrant debates on de-westernizing media studies and the mediatization of politics. Moreover, it will create a wealth of knowledge of great interest to German and European foreign policy makers.

Dr Töpfl's research focuses on the inter-relations between old and new media and politics in non-democratic regimes, with a strong focus on Russia and the post-Soviet world. More specifically he is interested in how the rapid rise of the internet in the past decade has changed political communication, politics, polities, and political culture in non-democratic regimes. Dr Töpfl's research projects are largely based on qualitative empirical data from Russia. However, in interpreting and theorizing the data, he aims consistently for comparative perspectives with both western democracies and (semi-)authoritarian regimes in Asia and the Arab world.

For more details, please consider also my short contribution to the Newsletter of the Political Communication Divisions of the ICA and the APSA, where I summarize the key findings of my recent research.

Toepfl, F. (in press). Comparing authoritarian publics. The benefits and risks of three types of publics for autocrats. Communication Theory.

Litvinenko, A., & Toepfl, F. (2019). The “Gardening” of an Authoritarian Public at Large: How Russia’s Ruling Elites Transformed the Country’s Media Landscape After the 2011/12 Protests “For Fair Elections”, Publizistik (published online first). [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version].

Zavadski, A., & Toepfl, F. (2019). Querying the Internet as a mnemonic practice: how search engines mediate four types of past events in Russia. Media, Culture & Society, 41(1), 21-37. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version].

Toepfl, F. (2018). From connective to collective action: Internet elections as a digital tool to centralize and formalize protest in Russia. Information, Communication & Society, 21(4), 531-547. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version].

Toepfl, F., & Litvinenko, A. (2018). Transferring control from the backend to the frontend: A comparison of the discourse architectures of comment sections on news websites across the post-Soviet world. New Media & Society, 20(8), 2844-2861. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version].    

Toepfl, F., & Piwoni, E. (2018). Targeting dominant publics: How counterpublic commenters align their efforts with mainstream newsNew Media & Society20(5), 2011-2027. [Link to publisher's website]  [Link to free depository version]

Toepfl, F. (2018). Innovating consultative authoritarianism: Internet votes as a novel digital tool to stabilize non-democratic rule in RussiaNew Media & Society20(3), 956-972. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version]

Toepfl, F. (2016). Beyond the Four Theories: Toward a discourse approach to the comparative study of media and politics. International Journal of Communication10(2016), 1530–1547. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version]

Toepfl, F., & Piwoni, E. (2015). Public Spheres in Interaction: Comment Sections of News Websites as Counterpublic SpacesJournal of Communication, 65(3), 465–488. doi: 10.1111/jcom.12156. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version].

Toepfl, F. (2014). Four facets of critical news literacy in a non-democratic regime:  How young Russians navigate their newsEuropean Journal of Communication29(1), 68-82. doi: 10.1177/0267323113511183. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version].

Toepfl, F. (2013). Why do pluralistic media systems emerge? Comparing media change in Russia and the Czech Republic after the collapse of CommunismGlobal Media and Communication9(3), 239-256. doi: 10.1177/1742766513504176. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version].

Toepfl, F. (2013). Making Sense of the News in a Hybrid Regime: How Young Russians Decode State TV and an Oppositional BlogJournal of Communication63(2), 244–265. doi:10.1111/jcom.12018. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version].

Toepfl, F. (2012). Blogging for the Sake of the President: The Online-Diaries of Russian GovernorsEurope-Asia Studies64(8), 1437-1461. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version].

Toepfl, F. (2011). Managing Public Outrage. Power, Scandal, and New Media in Contemporary RussiaNew Media & Society13(8), 1301-1319. [Link to publisher's website] [Link to free depository version].