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At CITAP, we study the intersection of politics and digital technology, researching technologies in the context of the people who design, use, and govern them. Our work unites multiple fields of study and methodological approaches with a shared Southern, public-institutional view and commitments to equality and justice.

For our spring 2022 lecture series, CITAP is proud to host speakers whose work exemplifies our own commitments to holistic research grounded in social differences and conscious of the roles of power and institutions.

These researchers’ work explores political processes, democracy and equality, mis- and disinformation, and platforms, networks, and infrastructure. We hope that you’ll join us for the full series!

Next speaker: Catherine Knight Steele

Thursday, May 5 at 3:30pm
Freedom Forum Conference Center, Carroll Hall

Catherine Knight Steele is an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland – College Park and the author of Digital Black Feminism. Dr. Steele directs the Black Communication and Technology lab (BCaT) as a part of the Digital Inquiry, Speculation, Collaboration, & Optimism (DISCO) Network funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Her research focuses on race, gender, and media, with a specific emphasis on African American culture and discourse in traditional and new media. She examines representations of marginalized communities in the media and how groups resist oppression and practice joy using online technology to create spaces of community.

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Past speakers in this series:

Mary Anne Franks

The Free Speech Industry: How the Internet Commodifies Freedom

From the earliest days of the commercial Internet, techno-libertarians asserted that cyberspace was the true home of free speech, an assertion inevitably wrapped in antiregulatory sentiment. Tech companies invoked laissez-faire First Amendment principles to justify their failure to address extremism and abuse, elevating passivity into a virtue. Tech companies appeared to provide “free speech” in a dual sense: free from censorship and free from cost. But there is nothing free about what the tech industry offers. Multi-billion-dollar corporations extract labor and data from individuals for marketing, advertising, and surveillance purposes. Online speech is filtered, arranged, promoted, altered, and labeled in accordance with elitist interests. The relentless pursuit of “engagement” places a premium on harassment, sexual exploitation, dangerous disinformation, and other extreme content that chills rather than promotes the expressive freedom of vulnerable groups.

Dr. Mary Anne Franks, Professor of Law and Michael R. Klein Distinguished Scholar Chair at the University of Miami, is an internationally recognized expert on the intersection of civil rights and technology. She serves as the President and Legislative & Tech Policy Director of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating online abuse and discrimination, and is the author of the award-winning book, The Cult of the Constitution: Our Deadly Devotion to Guns and Free Speech (2019).

Jessa Lingel

The craigslist ethic: A web 1.0 vision of online democracy

A growing number of tech insiders are raising doubts about the long-term consequences of the mainstream internet, in terms of individual mental health as well as national democracy. The need for a more ethical internet has led some to embrace sci fi imaginings and others to reject digital media altogether. This talk considers the vision of a single platform as instructive for thinking about the future of the web: craigslist. Over its 25-year history, craigslist has grown into a multi-faceted website for local exchanges, which can include buying, selling, hiring, apartment seeking, dating or simply ranting about the neighborhood. At once outdated and highly relevant, easy to use and easy to overlook, craigslist has mostly stayed the same while the web around it has changed, becoming less open and more profit driven. The design decisions and user policies governing craigslist give shape to particular a form of politics, and examining these rules and norms reveals what we stand to lose if the web continues to become less open and more gentrified, where platforms are pushed towards sleek professionalism over messy serendipity.

Jessa Lingel is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, where she studies digital culture, looking for the ways that relationships to technology can show us gaps in power or possibilities for social change. Dr. Lingel’s research focuses on three key areas: alterity and appropriation, and investigations of how information and technology is altered, tinkered with, subverted, and articulated by marginalized groups; politics of infrastructure, where systems of categorization, organization, and design can reveal underlying ideologies and logics; and technological activism as a way of exploring how socio-technical practices can contribute to projects of social justice. She is the author of An Internet for the People: The Politics and Promise of craigslist.

André Brock

On Race and Technoculture

André Brock (@docdre) is an Associate Professor in the School of Literature, Media & Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Brock is one of the preeminent scholars of Black Cyberculture. His work bridges Science and Technology Studies and Critical Discourse Analysis, showing how the communicative affordances of online media align with those of Black communication practices. His scholarship includes published articles on racial representations in videogames, black women and weblogs, whiteness, blackness, and digital technoculture, as well as groundbreaking research on Black Twitter. He is the author of Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures.


Jonathan Ong

The Politics and Ethics of Representing ‘the Trolls’: Disinformation Research in the Shadows

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.