Hello, editorial board: Meet Zeynep Tufekci

A tale of revolutions and revelations

Earlier this year we held the first meeting of the MATTER Editorial Board. Most editorial boards are stuffy, invisible, and unaccountable. They might write those unattributed leading articles you see. Or they might sit in the background and steer the broad direction of a magazine.

We like to do things a little differently.

MATTER’s board is an experimental project that gives our readers the chance to shape the sort of stories we cover. It allows anyone who is committed to our product a voice. That means right now it numbers in the thousands.

The inaugural meeting was a wild success. We asked for board members to throw their thoughts into a cunning voting system, and got nearly 100 great ideas and thousands upon thousands of votes.

Since then, we’ve been working on how to turn those votes into one of our award-winning long-form stories. And it’s been too long since we updated you on what’s happening.

Here goes.

Say hello to Zeynep Tufekci.

Zeynep is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton. She writes a terrific blog called Technosociology. The name probably gives you a clue as to the subject.

When the votes came in from the Editorial Board, we looked at them and Zeynep immediately sprang to mind. Take a look at four of the top 10 ideas:

1. How has increased access to a great variety of information affected the average person’s ability to engage with and accept complexity?
2. What can we do about the huge gap between technology and it’s ethical implementation?
5. How much information has been lost since the development of the industrial and digital ages?
6. How can technology influence or improve the democratic process?

Those all seemed sort of linked together — at the place where technology and sociology meet. And while our usual approach to narrative reporting means that we tend to employ journalists rather than academics, the subjects were so squarely in Zeynep’s territory that we got in touch and signed her up.

Not so long afterwards, this happened.

Gezi Park Müdahale. Used under CC BY-NC 2.0 license courtesy of Flickr user mburaksu

After the brutal eviction of peaceful protesters in Gezi Park in Istanbul, there was a huge popular uprising in Turkey, which was organized in part by online platforms.

Zeynep is a native of Istanbul and has spent the last few years studying the Arab Spring and the role technology plays in revolutions. You can imagine that this was a pretty big deal for her.

She jumped on a plane and went to spend time in and around Taksim Square, researching in the field (that’s a picture of her at the protests further up the page).

Oh yes, and then this happened.

Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker.

After the revelations about the activities of the NSA, leaked to The Guardian and others by intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, there was a huge debate over the friction between online privacy and preventing terrorism.

Zeynep is a sociologist, who has spent the last few years studying role that technology plays in the relationship between governments and citizens. You can imagine that this was a pretty big deal for her, too.

These two events gripped us all, but they also threw our timeline out a little. The good news for MATTER, and for you, is that they weren’t just distractions.

Now Zeynep is hard at work on a long-form piece that not only addresses some of the important questions brought up by the editorial board, but draws these two threads together — both of them, after all, are clashes between the government and the people that have been mediated partly by technology. We think that understanding what happened in both cases is a great way to address some of the questions raised by the Editorial Board.

We’ll be developing the story further over the coming weeks, and we hope to publish it in the coming months.

In the meantime, we hope to run another Editorial Board meeting soon: suggestions on how to improve it from the last time are always welcome (just leave a note by clicking the grey + sign).

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