Zichen (Jess) Hu

Zichen (Jess) Hu

PhD Researcher

Department of Media and Communications

Connect with me

English, Mandarin, Spanish
Key Expertise
Network analysis, Political communication, STS

About me

Project Title

Dynamic networks and emergent publics of Covid-19 vaccine conspiracy theories: starting from (not just fringe) communities on 4chan, 8kun and Reddit

Research Topic

Zichen (Jess) investigates the dissemination process and consequences of vaccine conspiracy theories—one of the most disreputable ways of responding to pandemic crises—in their delegitimisation of scientific truth claims, epistemic authority, and challenge to what counts as “literate public” and “global public good”. Leveraging network analysis and combined digital methods, her PhD thesis explores how people holding conspiracist beliefs bind together on platforms under laissez-faire governance (4chan, 8kun and Reddit), where banned users from mainstream platforms aggregate and share a techno-libertarian and anarchist platform imaginary. The project maps the fractured, fluctuating cross-site associations, focusing on the evolving alignments and formation of (e.g., semi-expert) coalitions that aim to establish new epistemic authorities and the way they strategically navigate the affordances of the “platforms for free speech” for expanding their network and influence. Exploring these network structural configurations enables Zichen (Jess) to articulate the platforms’ affordances of crowdsourcing evidence for making and amplifying conspiracy theories, which create “path dependencies” (Peters, 2015, p. 33) for political interactions and lend momentum to the emergence of (counter) publics associated with, yet more complex than, populism. Jess's project takes the networks as “microphysics of power” (Foucault, 1979) and a roadmap for unpacking the contestability of power shown in the evolving transnational conspiracy theory networks and evolving narratives of the conceived power relations amongst scientific R&D institutions, policy making authorities and the wider public. This leads to the analysis of such dynamic networks and discursive boundary work that brings in the genealogy of power struggles amongst the above stakeholders. Particularly, Jess is analysing the power struggles over the credibility and trustworthiness of knowledge production about not only bioscience on immunology; but also, its ethical parameters comprised of free (or careless/hate/irresponsible) speech, transmissible risks versus liberal imaginaries of body sovereignty, (anti)globalisation (transnational pharmaceutical corporates’ role in global development), and international (dis)order (vaccine diplomacy, etc.).


Zichen (Jess) is now a digital technologies and governance researcher in Oxford Global Society, where she collaborated with academic and industry experts to publish policy reports (see publications). She’s now also working as the editor of the Special Issue “Technology and Governance in the Age of Web 3.0” for the journal Politics and Governance (Cogitatio Press). She has also been an invited reviewer for Humanities and Social Science Communications (Nature Springer) on network analysis method (spatial distribution and associated spatial regression distribution analysis), various digital methods for corpus linguistic analysis, and topics of hate speech in the context of ultra-nationalism, populism, and anti-feminism. She has also reviewed for conferences on digital platform and infrastructure studies.

Zichen (Jess) obtained her master’s degree in MSc Politics and Communications in 2022 with a distinction at LSE Media and Communications Department. Her dissertation was entitled “Big Brother Watch’s campaign against COVID Pass and its implications for science communication” (Distinction, supervised by Claire Milne), in which she investigates campaigning strategies that foreground the tension between citizenship and public health measures, and she uses Social Network Analysis to provide empirical evidence of political publics that resonate with such a tension in citizenship and urge to have a consequential dialogue with new knowledge in science seeking to have it verified and proved within ethical parameters in order to reestablish trust under (authoritarian) capitalism, where there are competing imperatives (ie profit, political stability). The pursuit of understanding what counts as, and who are eligible to define “literate and conscientious public” in highly mediated media environment sustained throughout her master’s study with other empirical studies across different national and historical contexts (UK, US, China, and Russia).

In 2021, Zichen (Jess) completed a BA (Hons) degree in International Communications with Spanish (First Class Honours) from University of Nottingham Ningbo China. She was trained on philosophy of technology, STS, critical theories, and cultural studies, and awarded multiple scholarships during her bachelor’s study from the university, provincial government, and China’s National Council. During her undergrad exchange at the University of Warwick, Zichen (Jess) studied political science and sociology focusing on China’s populist nationalism and modernity characterised with a priority of Science and Technology development, and UK’s class stratification, educational inequality, ideological contour of STEM curriculum and consequences on the public opinion on technocrat governance. This is where she formed a Sino-West comparative insights of global populist orientation that gives rise to challenges to rationalised systems of knowledge and specialist expertise, particularly evident during the pandemic when the efforts in science communications were ethically and practically challenging. She used to be a research programme member at LSE Government Department, working on China's multifaceted public diplomacy strategy in reporting the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Prior to that, she used to be a research assistant at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China and contributed to many research projects on China’s media diplomacy, bibliometric analysis of political communication scholarship (please see the publication part).


Dr Nick Anstead and Professor Shakuntala Banaji

Expertise Details

Network analysis; Political communication; STS; Challenges to science/health communications and knowledge production; Digital technologies and governance



Conference paper and presentations

  • 07/24: Two accepted manuscripts: (1) “Diving deep into the dynamic networks and emergent publics in vaccine conspiracy theories in the Covid-19: (not just) fringe communities on 4chan, 8chan and Reddit” and (2) “Continuities and divergences of China’s public diplomacy in Latin America during and post pandemic: a perspective from Chinese diasporic communities’ mediating role” by IAMCR 2024.
  • 07/24: Accepted manuscript: “What made a blockchain-based infrastructure a ‘mission impossible’ in China: contesting normative values and political economic interests in decentralisation and imaginaries of the public” by Data for Policy 2024 ‘Decoding the future: Trustworthy governance with AI?’, 9-11 July at Imperial College, London. To be published on the conference’s partner journal Data & Policy (Cambridge University Press) in 2024.
  • 12/23: Accepted manuscript: “Going beyond the dichotomised ‘elite versus mass’ dichotomy: Mapping social networks in vaccine controversy” at Fourth Helsinki Conference on Emotions, Populism, and Polarised Politics (HEPP4) at University of Helsinki (Panel 3.3: Conspiracy Theories and Populism). Manuscript selected to HEPP working paper series vol. 3, to be published in summer 2024.
  • 06/23: Accepted abstract: “Re-imagining the future of participatory politics: A case of re-evaluating 4chan and Reddit’s role as conspiracy ‘incubators’”, LSE Media Futures (Annual Department Conference) (Session3, Panel: Participatory Realities in Digital Time).
  • 06/22: Accepted manuscript: “‘Progression’ and ‘Retrogression’ constructed in nuclear technology and ‘a decadent Western disease’: Communication failures in Chernobyl and AIDS crisis in the Soviet Union’s turbulent 1986” at LSE Department of International History Student Conference: Reimagining Progression and Retrogression in History (Panel 2: Global Political History/Movements).
  • 06/22: Accepted abstract: “Implications of anti-ICT controversies for science communication: A case of the UK’s biggest anti-Covidpass campaign” at LSE Knowledge Beyond Boundaries research conference(Panel 3b: Health, Policy, and Recovery).


  • Forthcoming: (initially accepted journal article by) Journal of Information Technology & Politics (Taylor & Francis Group, Routledge); paper accepted by Data for Policy 2024 to be published on the conference’s partner journal Data & Policy (Cambridge University Press) in 2024; paper accepted by Helsinki conference on emotions, populism and polarised politics (HEPP) working paper series.
  • 03/22-06/22: Research programme “Global Media Narratives of the Russo-Ukrainian War” at LSE Government Department, supervised by Dr Eva Polonska-Kimunguyi (organised by LSE Media and Communication Department, LSE Polis and Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA) Project No.: PPI/APM/2018/1/00019).
  • 10-12/2020: Research member of Data Scholarship project in University of Nottingham LRLR (Library, Research and Learning Resources). Bibliometric (citing network) analysis for scientific literature (esp. political communications from 2018-20) using CiteSpace and VOSviewer.
  • 01-04/2019: Prof. Xiaoling Zhang’s joint research project with Zhejiang Daily Press Group: “The changing landscape of media diplomacy: A case of China”, which contributes to her latest book with Dr Corey Schuetz (2022) China's International Communication and Relationship Building. London: Routledge).
    • Data collection and analysis of social media engagement (SME) of China’s media diplomacy projects (e.g., CGTN, China Daily Global, provincial government’s media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, etc).
    • Industry observation reports based on my internship as part of China’s media diplomacy attempts under Council Information Office.