What Comes After Disinformation?
It may be time for a new approach to disinformation studies
On May 25th 2022, media and communication scholars met at Sciences Po in Paris for a pre-conference before the annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA) to discuss the question, “What comes after disinformation studies?”
This week, we’re proud to release a special issue of the Bulletin of Technology and Public Life offering 11 articles that take up the question of “what comes after disinformation studies” from many angles. As the pieces in this collection show, it may be time for disinformation studies to fade away—or become something new.
Chris Anderson and Théophile Lenoir note in their introductory essay,
“The problem is twofold. First, disinformation studies has generally lacked analyses of power and interest… Second, the real problem underlying informational politics in many countries are powerful groups seeking to hold on to their political, social, economic, and cultural advantages in the face of increasingly powerful challenges to that power.”
Several pieces take on the “infocentric” nature of the current discussion to consider instead issues of style, distraction, ignorance, context, and state violence.
Another recurring theme is the importance of understanding disinformation in non-Western contexts, with pieces exploring disinformation in a Vietnamese context and information disorder across Mali, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Senegal, and the Sahel.
Finally, these scholars grapple with how we define democracy in a world with disinformation, centering questions of power, moral claims, inequality, race and ethnicity, and conflict.
So, what does come after disinformation studies? Anderson and Lenoir offer a clear call to regulators and others seeking to build more just, resilient democracies:
“Technical solutions to political problems are bound to fail. Historical, structural, and political inequality—and especially race, ethnicity, and social difference—needs to be at the forefront of our understanding of politics and, indeed, disinformation.”
Reinstating Trump’s Facebook account
When the Oversight Board asked for comments on Facebook’s decision to ban former President Trump’s accounts, CITAP submitted a comment. We noted then that:
The grounds for removing the former president from the platform permanently in the context of Facebook’s Community Standards are clear. Facebook’s actions follow the company's history of suspending users who repeatedly violate policies… We also believe his permanent ban is more than justified given the former president’s repeated violations of Facebook’s Community Standards, the ongoing threat to U.S. democratic institutions including the public’s exercise of voice at the ballot box, and ongoing potential for violence.
This week, as Meta announced that it will allow Trump to return to its platforms, Deen Freelon made the case for why this is still a bad idea (thread):
Congratulations to Tressie McMillan Cottom on being recognized with Brandeis University’s Gittler Prize, awarded for outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations.
Publications and appearances
Curious how TikTok plans to continue operating in the United States? Affiliate Matt Perault and Samm Sacks have details: “The cornerstone feature of Project Texas is a new subsidiary: TikTok U.S. Data Security Inc. (USDS). TikTok established USDS in July 2022. The new entity houses the functions of TikTok’s business that are most likely to give rise to national security concerns, such as access to U.S. citizen data and decisions on content moderation.”
"Well documented inequalities associated with institutional prejudice and social filters shape who can work with [large language models], as well as the tacit assumptions that guide decision-making." Affiliate Scott Timcke takes up a justice-based critique of ChatGPT for TechPolicyPress.
January 31: The Center on Tech Policy will be hosting a webinar panel discussion on the state of state platform regulation. Zoom registration.
February 3: Alice Marwick and Bruce Mutsvairo in conversation on studying online radicalization and disinformation, hosted by the Rutgers Digital Ethnography Working Group. Virtual, 1-2:30pm. Registration and details.
February 3: Alice Marwick, Chad Bryant, Heesoo Jang, and Shashank Srivastava talk ChatGPT in Context—3:00 pm, University Room, Hyde Hall, UNC Campus.
February 10: The spring speaker series continues with a panel on Digital Governance in the Global South, featuring Sareeta Amrute and Chinmayi Arun in conversation with Nanditha Narayanamoorthy. 11am ET, virtual. Details and registration.
February 14-17: The University of Florida’s Frank gathering, where Francesca Tripodi will be participating alongside other amazing speakers. Event information and registration.
March 9 & 10: The virtual QAnon Research Conference. Event invitation and registration.
May 30, 2023: Release date for Alice Marwick’s The Private Is Political: Networked Privacy and Social Media.
Rest of Web
On our future reads shelf:
On our current to-read list:
And a great summer opportunity:
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