STeMiS theme seminar: Algorithm as propaganda, repression and paranoiabookcover

Emiliano Treré, School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University

15th of May 2019, 4-5pm, room G18, Elmfield Building, University of Sheffield 

This talk is based on the findings of my recently published book Hybrid Media Activism: Ecologies, Imaginaries, Algorithms (Routledge 2019). It represents a journey through the digital strategies of Mexican politicians and the state in the last decade, and the ways in which they were able to bend social media algorithms in order to spread propaganda, enact repression, and generate paranoia. I commence by unravelling the complexity of the phenomenon of algorithmically manufactured consent, documenting the various opaque strategies adopted by politicians to spread disinformation and propaganda, and artificially boost political popularity. Then, I illustrate how the #YoSoy132 movement was caught in an ‘algorithmic trap’ when an infiltrated agent of the Mexican Secret Services was able to appropriate their main online platform to steal data, monitor protest activities, and discredit the reputation of the movement. Further, I show that in the Mexican scenario, various strategies of algorithmic repression have progressively become more treacherous, broadly deployed to limit, silence, confuse, defame, threaten, and attack activists, civil society actors, and journalists. Issues of control and surveillance had serious consequences on activists who developed a ‘social media paranoia’ around digital platforms and mobile devices. I conclude reflecting on the possibilities and the challenges of algorithmic resistance in the Mexican political context and in the broader global scenario.

Emiliano Treré is a Lecturer at the School of Journalism, Media and Culture at Cardiff University, UK. Between 2011 and 2017, he worked as an Associate Professor at the Autonomous University of Querétaro, Mexico. He is also a Research Fellow within the Cosmos Center on Social Movement Studies of the Scuola Normale Superiore in Italy and serve as the vice-chair of the 'Communication and Democracy' section of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA). His research interests include: protest movements and activism, media ecologies, citizen media, practice theory and critical approaches to data and algorithms. He is the author of Hybrid Media Activism: Ecologies, Imaginaries, Algorithms (Routledge 2019), coeditor of Citizen Media and Practice: Currents, Connections, Challenges (Routledge 2019), and has published widely in international journals including New Media and Society, Information Communication and Society, Communication Theory, Social Movement Studies and International Journal of Communication. He is a member of the Data Justice Lab that examines the relationship between datafication and social justice, and the cofounder of the Big Data from the South Initiative that interrogates the practices subverting the dominant narratives of datafication as narrated by the Global North.