Six essays on media, technology and politics from Data & Society

danah boyd writes, "Yesterday, a group of us at Data & Society put out six essays on 'media, technology, politics.' Taken together, these pieces address different facets of the current public conversation surrounding propaganda, hate speech, and the US election. Although we only allude to specifics, we have been witnessing mis/disinformation campaigns for quite some time as different networks seek to manipulate both old and new media, shape political discourse, and undermine trust in institutions and information intermediaries. In short, we are concerned about the rise of a new form of propaganda that is networked, decentralized, and internet-savvy. We are also concerned about the ongoing development of harassment techniques and gaslighting, the vulnerability of old and new media to propagate fear and disinformation, and the various ways in which well-intended interventions get misappropriated. We believe that we're watching a systematic attack on democracy, equality, and freedom. There is no silver bullet to address the issues we're seeing. Instead, a healthy response is going to require engagement by many different constituencies. We see our role in this as to help inform and ground the conversation. These essays are our first attempt to address the interwoven issues we're seeing.

1. Hacking the Attention Economy: I describe 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 my 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 my 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.

(CC BY 2.0-licensed photo by CEA+ | Artist: Nam June Paik, “Electronic Superhighway. Continental US, Alaska & Hawaii” (1995).)