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Jan 6, 2017

1.6: New: Media, Technology, Politics


Greetings, readers. The Data & Society newsletter returns with a special Friday afternoon edition: We are diving into 2017 with a brand new cluster of six essays on

Media, Technology, Politics

These pieces begin to address different facets of the ongoing public conversation around “fake news,” propaganda, hate speech, and the US election. As an extension of our Algorithms and Publics project, we have been tracking mis/disinformation campaigns for the last several months, observing different networks seeking to manipulate both old and new media, shape political discourse, and undermine trust in institutions and information intermediaries.

We are concerned about the rise of new forms of propaganda that are networked, decentralized, and Internet and data-savvy. We are also concerned about the evolution of harassment techniques and gaslighting, the vulnerability of old and new media to being conduits for fear and disinformation, and the ways in which well-intended interventions can be misappropriated. A healthy response, we think, is going to require engagement by many different constituencies, and we’re aiming to help inform and ground the conversation.

These essays are our initial attempts to address the complex of issues we’re seeing:

  1. Hacking the Attention Economy: danah boyd describes some of the tactics and strategies that people have taken to manipulate old and new media for fun, profit, and ideology. This essay explores decentralized coordination efforts, contemporary information campaigns, and cultural logics behind gaming the system.
  2. What’s Propaganda Got To Do With It? Caroline Jack brings historical context to the use of the term “propaganda,” arguing that the resurgence of this label amid social anxieties over the new media landscape is reflective of deeper cultural and ideological divides.
  3. Did Media Literacy Backfire? is danah boyd’s examination of how media literacy education efforts to encourage the public to be critical consumers of information may have contributed to widespread distrust in information intermediaries, complicating efforts to understand what is real and what is not.
  4. Are There Limits to Online Free Speech? Alice Marwick explores how the tech industry’s obsession with free speech has been repurposed (and newly politicized) by networks whose actions are often seen as supporting of hate speech and harassment.
  5. Why America is Self-Segregating is danah boyd’s attempt to lay out some of the structural shifts that have taken place in the United States in the last twenty years that have magnified polarization and resulted in new types of de-diversification.
  6. How do you deal with a problem like “fake news?” Robyn Caplan looks directly at the challenges that companies face when they seek to address the inaccurate and often problematic content that is spread widely on social media sites.

Next Steps

We know that many of our readers are also working on these issues. We invite feedback and critique, additions and suggestions, links and pointers.

In our six new pieces, we discuss everything from civic infrastructure to propaganda to hate speech to the costs of media literacy. There are many other, interwoven themes and issues. What should we be reading and sharing with our community? What kinds of questions should we be asking? Gentle readers, what keeps you up at night?

Please let us know at onward@datasociety.net.

And if you’re working on these topics and want to be invited to events that we’re hosting, we want to know that too!

In addition to a workshop for researchers on Propaganda and Media Manipulation (application deadline: February 15), we intend to host a series of conversations about these issues, alongside our continued work on media, accountability, and the public sphere. Please stay tuned to this newsletter for more information, and keep us posted about work you’re doing so that we can invite you as appropriate to smaller events.

(And if you missed our 2016, year-end newsletter, dig it up here!)