Jonathan Ong on the Politics and Ethics of Representing ‘The Trolls’

April 21, 2022

Thursday, April 21 at 3:30pm
Freedom Forum Conference Center, Carroll Hall

How should disinformation researchers represent perpetrators and social media bad actors? Drawing from two ongoing ethnographic projects–1) exploring the hierarchy of disinformation producers in the Philippines and 2) investigating conspirituality in tarot and astrology online communities–Dr. Jonathan Ong argues for the social significance of telling "human stories" of disinformation entrepreneurs that emphasize complicity, ordinariness, and uncanny ritual. Ethnographic approaches can indeed powerfully account for the many costs of disinformation to businesses and governments. But in this highly politicized research area, ethnographers can also do the important work of troubling hero-villain binaries, challenging expectations of victimhood performances, and revealing people's complex entanglements in the work of disinformation.

Jonathan Corpus Ong is Associate Professor of Global Digital Media in the University of Massachusetts - Amherst. He is the author of two books and over 25 journal articles in the areas of media ethics, digital politics, and humanitarian communication. He is currently Co-Principal Investigator on a National Science Foundation Accelerator Grant (2021-2022), which investigates racially targeted misinformation against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. He is also currently Research Fellow at the Shorenstein Center of Harvard Kennedy School, leading the project stream "The True Costs of Misinformation". He was previously Co-Editor-in-Chief of the 20+year old media studies journal Television & New Media.

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