SCL and Cambridge Analytica: Peering Inside the Propaganda Machine

Speaker: Emma Briant
Date recorded: May 9, 2018
Emma Briant discusses her research into SCL Group, the vast nexus of companies and organizations including Cambridge Analytica that constitute a modern-day propaganda machine.

Cambridge Analytica and their parent company SCL Group hit the headlines recently when, after their work on the Trump campaign, reporting exposed misuse of Facebook data linked them to ‘Brexit’, unethical conduct in international elections, and revealed their relationship to defense contracting.

Dr. Emma Briant has spent over a decade researching SCL and Cambridge Analytica. She drew on substantial contacts she developed in her work on defense propaganda (Propaganda and Counter-terrorism: Strategies for Global Change, Manchester University Press, 2015) to research an upcoming book, What’s Wrong with the Democrats? Media Bias, Inequality, and the Rise of Donald Trump (co-authored with George Washington University professor Robert M. Entman) and academic publications on the EU referendum.

In this talk, Briant discusses her analysis of the company’s activities in each of these areas, how she gained such unique access to key executives who worked on the campaigns, as well as the implications of the key evidence she recently submitted to several public inquiries in the UK.

Real Talk About Fake News

Speaker: Nabiha Syed in conversation with Claire Wardle and Joan Donovan
Date recorded: Feb 28, 2018
Nabiha Syed explores how our existing theories surrounding the first amendment are inadequate to address the current state of “fake news” and “bad” online speech.

Real Talk about Fake News | Nabiha Syed in conversation with Claire Wardle and Joan Donovan: “Fake news” isn’t exactly new: Tabloids have long hawked alien baby photos and Elvis sightings. Many have thus argued that fake news—propaganda, misinformation, and conspiracy theories—have always existed, and therefore requires no new consideration.

When we agonize over the fake news phenomenon, though, we are not talking about these kinds of fabricated stories. What we are really focusing on is why we have been suddenly inundated by false information—purposefully deployed—that spreads so quickly and persuades so effectively. This is a different conception of fake news, and it presents a question about how information operates at scale in the internet era.

In this Databite talk, Nabiha Syed explores how existing First Amendment theories fail to adequately explain our digital information economy, and how that theoretical incoherence leaves users and social media platforms ill-equipped to deal with “fake news” and other “bad” speech online. Nabiha also offers several factors to be considered in any systemic theory that can help move us beyond the troubled status quo.

Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor

Speaker: Virginia Eubanks
Date recorded: Jan 17, 2018
Virginia Eubanks shows the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America.

Virginia Eubanks speaks about her most recent book Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. Eubanks systematically shows the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America. The book is full of heart-wrenching and eye-opening stories, from a woman in Indiana whose benefits are literally cut off as she lays dying to a family in Pennsylvania in daily fear of losing their daughter because they fit a certain statistical profile.

The U.S. has always used its most cutting-edge science and technology to contain, investigate, discipline and punish the destitute. Like the county poorhouse and scientific charity before them, digital tracking and automated decision-making hide poverty from the middle-class public and give the nation the ethical distance it needs to make inhuman choices: which families get food and which starve, who has housing and who remains homeless, and which families are broken up by the state. In the process, they weaken democracy and betray our most cherished national values.

Regulating informational infrastructure: Internet platforms as the new public utilities

Speaker: K Sabeel Rahman
Date recorded: Dec 6, 2017
K Sabeel Rahman discusses the emerging landscape of regulating the information platforms and ISPs that comprise a new infrastructure.

K Sabeel Rahman-The informational, economic, and political influence of the dominant tech platforms — Google, Facebook, and Amazon in particular — has become a central topic of debate. K. Sabeel Rahman argues that these firms are best understood as the core infrastructure of our 21st century economy and public sphere. The infrastructural power of these firms raises a range of policy questions. What exactly about these firms (e.g., their accumulation of data, their gatekeeping functions, their control over vital public and economic functions like retail delivery or online speech) is “infrastructural?” How should these infrastructural functions be governed and regulated, in light of both their economic and political influence?

The Rise of Big Data Policing: Surveillance, Race, and the Future of Law Enforcement

Speaker: Andrew Guthrie Ferguson
Date recorded: Nov 2, 2017
Andrew Guthrie Ferguson shares insights and questions from his new book, The Rise of Big Data Policing: Surveillance, Race, and the Future of Law Enforcement.

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson discusses his book, The Rise of Big Data Policing, that critically examines data-driven surveillance technologies and their legal impact on everyday policing. Andrew Guthrie Ferguson is professor of law at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law. He is a national expert on predictive policing, big data surveillance, and the fourth amendment.

WTF: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us

Speaker: Tim O'Reilly
Date recorded: Oct 11, 2017
Tim O’Reilly shares insights from his latest book, WTF: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us.

WTF? can be an expression of amazement or an expression of dismay. In today’s economy, we have far too much dismay along with our amazement, and technology bears some of the blame. In this combination of memoir, business strategy guide, and call to action, Tim O’Reilly, Silicon Valley’s leading intellectual and the founder of O’Reilly Media, explores the upside and the potential downsides of today’s WTF? technologies.

The New Governors: The People, Rules, and Processes Governing Online Speech

Speaker: Kate Klonick
Date recorded: Sep 1, 2017
Kate Klonick talks about her research on how private internet platforms govern online speech.

Kate Klonick talks about her recent article, “The New Governors: The People, Rules, and Processes Governing Online Speech”, which provides one of the first analysis of what private online platforms are actually doing to moderate speech under a regulatory and First Amendment framework. It argues that to best understand online speech, we must abandon traditional doctrinal and regulatory analogies, and understand these private content platforms as systems of governance operating outside the boundaries of the First Amendment. Kate is currently a doctoral candidate at Yale Law School.

Digital Dystopias: How Michael Crichton Taught Me To Start Worrying And Fear The Future

Speaker: Joanna Radin
Date recorded: Jun 16, 2017
Joanna Radin speaks about the techno-scientific subjectivity of thriller author/fear-mongerer Michael Crichton.

Joanna Radin discusses the writing of Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton. Although Crichton is most famous for imagining an island of dinosaurs, metaphors in his non-fiction articles about computers that are even more terrifying.

This talk was presented for the event Future Perfect. In a moment when the future increasingly feels like a foregone conclusion, Future Perfect brought actors from a variety of world-building disciplines (from art and fiction, to law and science) together to explore the uses, abuses, and paradoxes of speculative futures. Curated by Data & Society artist-in-residence Ingrid Burrington, Future Perfect was an experimental one-day, invitation-only conference originating from insights of the institute’s regular Speculative Fiction Reading Group.

Joanna Radin is Assistant Professor of the History of Science and Medicine at Yale where she teaches feminist and indigenous STS and the history of biomedicine and anthropology. Before receiving her PhD in History and Sociology of Science at UPenn she studied science communication at Cornell and worked as a risk communication specialist. She is the author of Life on Ice: A History of New Uses for Cold Blood, (University of Chicago Press, 2017) and a co-editor of Cyropolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World (MIT Press, 2017). Radin is currently writing a book about science fiction, subjectivity, and biomedicine.

Future Perfect: Designer and Discarded Genomes

Speaker: Ruha Benjamin
Date recorded: Jun 16, 2017
Ruha Benjamin presents her talk ‘Designer and Discarded Genomes: Experimenting with sociological imagination through speculative methods,’ a series of speculative field notes on the possibility of human prototrophy.

Ruha Benjamin’s presentation entitled “designer and discarded genomes: experimenting with sociological imagination through speculative methods” uses speculative field notes to explore the antecedents and implications of the current era of genetic engineering.

This talk was presented for the event Future Perfect. In a moment when the future increasingly feels like a foregone conclusion, Future Perfect brought actors from a variety of world-building disciplines (from art and fiction, to law and science) together to explore the uses, abuses, and paradoxes of speculative futures. Curated by Data & Society artist-in-residence Ingrid Burrington, Future Perfect was an experimental one-day, invitation-only conference originating from insights of the institute’s regular Speculative Fiction Reading Group.

Ruha Benjamin is Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, author of People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (Stanford University Press), and 2016-17 fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study. Her work examines the social dimensions of science, technology, and medicine with a particular focus on the relationship between innovation and inequity. She earned her PhD in Sociology from UC Berkeley, completed fellowships at UCLA’s Institute for Genetics and Society and Harvard’s Science, Technology, and Society Program, and has received grants and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, National Science Foundation, Ford Foundation, and California Institute for Regenerative Medicine among others. Her work is published in numerous journals including Science, Technology, and Human Values; Ethnicity & Health; and Annals of the American Academy of Social and Political Science.

Databites 100 Series: Machine Learning: What’s Fair and How Do We Decide?

Speaker: Suchana Seth
Date recorded: Jun 14, 2017
Suchana Seth speaks about different definitions of fairness in the context of machine learning.

Suchana Seth speaks about different definitions of fairness in the context of machine learning. Suchana Seth is a physicist-turned-data scientist from India. She has built scalable data science solutions for startups and industry research labs, and holds patents in text mining and natural language processing. Suchana believes in the power of data to drive positive change, volunteers with DataKind, mentors data-for-good projects, and advises research on IoT ethics. She is also passionate about closing the gender gap in data science, and leads data science workshops with organizations like Women Who Code.