Big, If True Webinar: Technologies of the Far-Right

Big, If True Webinar: Technologies of the Far-Right

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May 4, 2020, 10:21 am

Friday, May 1, 2020 – Do you ever wonder why certain technologies get made and others don’t? Most of the time the problem is resources, other times it’s because of breakthrough innovation, but in every case it’s also about politics. From “not in my backyard” campaigns shutting down nuclear power to activists fighting back against facial recognition, technology is a space of political contestation. 

Recently, Luke O’Brien, a reporter at HuffPost, covered the controversy surrounding Clearview AI, a company that has amassed a large database of images and social media data of private citizens. His reporting also illustrated how right-wing activism shaped the design of the technology and flouted platforms’ terms of service in pursuit of big data. 

In this episode, Luke is in conversation with Biella Coleman, an anthropologist of hackers, who has studied how technopolitics can influence law and change society. Here, we will discuss how the “alt-right” developed, how they spread their ideas, and what responses are necessary to prevent this from reoccurring. 

Gabriella Coleman is an anthropologist, academic and author whose work focuses on hacker culture and online activism, particularly Anonymous. She holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific & Technological Literacy at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Luke O’Brien covers political extremism and propaganda for HuffPost and is a contributing writer on the Highline team. He specializes in narrative and investigative features and has worked for POLITICO Magazine, Deadspin, Wired News, an alt-weekly and a small-town daily. His freelance work has appeared in The AtlanticFortuneRolling StoneFast Company, and Slate, among other publications.


Hosted by Joan Donovan, PhD, Big, If True is a seminar series presented by the Technology and Social Change Research Project (TaSC) at the Shorenstein Center.

Want to keep up with what TaSC is seeing week to week? Sign up for their newsletter, Meme War Weekly, and get fresh insights from the team straight to your inbox.

Dr. Donovan’s research specializes in Critical Internet Studies, Science and Technology Studies, and the Sociology of Social Movements. Dr. Donovan’s research and expertise has been showcased in a wide array of media outlets including NPR, Washington Post, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, ABC News, NBC News, Columbia Journalism Review, The Atlantic, Nature, and more.

The TaSC Project researches media manipulation, disinformation, political communication, and technology’s relationship to society. The research team is composed of subject matter experts, Brian Friedberg, an investigative ethnographer of online social worlds, Gabrielle Lim, a researcher of sociotechnical systems and information controls, and Rob Faris, co-author of Network Propaganda and researcher of large-scale media ecosystems. The TaSC Project aims to understand how media manipulation is a means to control public conversation, derail democracy, and disrupt society. The project conducts research, develops methods, and facilitates workshops for journalists, policy makers, technologists, and civil society organizations on how to detect, document, and debunk media manipulation campaigns. The project is creating a research platform called the Media Manipulation Case Book, which will include 100 case studies to advance our knowledge of how misinformation travels across the web and platforms.