On July 22, 2019, Knight made a $50 million investment to develop a new field of research around technology’s impact on democracy, including a $5 million investment to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) to create the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life. Zeynep Tufekçi of UNC shares details below.

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Credit Daria Shevtsova, via Pexels

The digital age has certainly brought about many wonders, and with it, great challenges. …


To understand how digital technologies went from instruments for spreading democracy to weapons for attacking it, you have to look beyond the technologies themselves

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Egyptian protesters asserted that as long as they had the internet and the smartphone, they would prevail. Photo: Ed Giles/Getty Images

1. The euphoria of discovery

As the Arab Spring convulsed the Middle East in 2011 and authoritarian leaders toppled one after another, I traveled the region to try to understand the role that technology was playing. I chatted with protesters in cafés near Tahrir Square in Cairo, and many asserted that as long as they had the internet and the smartphone, they would prevail. In Tunisia, emboldened activists showed me how they had used open-source tools to track the shopping trips to Paris that their autocratic president’s wife had taken on government planes. Even Syrians I met in Beirut were still optimistic; their country had…


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A speculative tour inside the coming social media crackdown on terrorism

“What’s the chatter”?

“It’s great. I mean, it’s awful. For them. They’re considering dropping Twitter. Too much time, too little return. They haven’t recruited a single person willing to fly to Europe or try the Turkey border route in the last month.”

“Did anyone on our end notice the official account being switched to private?”

“Nope, or if they did, they aren’t saying anything.”

Phil stopped rocking in his chair. One of these days he was going to fall backwards, the way he leaned way, way back. …


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“It’s true. All of it. The dark side, the Jedi, they’re real,” Han said for the eight time that day.

Or so thought Rey. She’d heard him repeat this tale so many times that she didn’t even bother rolling her eyes. “Uh-huh”, she mumbled.

“Dad, why don’t we talk about our horoscope instead? Or, tell Finn about the time Uncle-Luke triple backward somersaults to catch a lightsaber with his eyelashes to fight a dozen Stormtroopers with his pinkie and beat them all without breaking a sweat.”

Finn visibly flinched at the mention of Stormtroopers. He looked pained, and cast his…


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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pUYda59wcQ

You’ve heard about the long tail that digital connectivity helps generate. Hobbies or interests that previously did not have a sufficent (geographical) base to thrive can now survive and flourish as people find community on the Internet.

That’s true. But the opposite is also true: in some ways, mass culture is even more widespread than before. Niches prosper at the same time as the reach of mass culture grows.

I stumbled onto science fiction as a teenager; but I don’t think I met another living, breathing peer who also read the genre till college. Very few science fiction books were…


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https://www.flickr.com/photos/littlestars/769704177/

Since 2010, when Google unveiled a crisis communication tool, People Finder, there have been many acts of terrorism around the world but only one instance where People Finder was mobilized: terrorism in Boston in 2013.

Last week, Facebook activated its own “Safety Check” feature for an act of terrorism for the Paris attacks, but not for Beirut last week or Ankara last month. In the future, they will, Facebook said.

These are not easy decisions with immediate right answers. In this case, the questions almost matter more than the answers. …


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Luca Cerabona

A war documented in detail through all its atrocities has been going on for years now in Syria. A truism about war is this: war is hell. I understand new things now. I understand why people who flee war-torn lands want to forget their past. I understand the hushed tones in which older people I knew who had survived war speak of it, almost wanting not to conjure its ghost.

There’s been a lot of discussion about “vicarious trauma” — trauma experienced by those who report on wars from afar. With the advent of social media, this group of traumatized…


A Proposal for the Future of News and Publishing

There is a lot of worry from publishers and writers around ad blockers, which some studies show being employed by around 20% of users and rising. Now that Apple seems to be considering integrating ad blockers into its iOS ecology as well, I’ve little doubt that their use will rise even further. (You can see that the ad industry confirms this trend).

Some see an arms-race between ad-blockers and ad-block blockers. I (and many others) see a business model that is not sustainable. Even the New York Times acknowledges this: On the Wall, the Writing.

I suggest that the current…


Hint: Don’t Arrest Ninth Graders Showing the Way

Two stories crossed in my attention today, seemingly unrelated but in fact, one holds the key to the other. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all NYC public schools should offer computer science to all students in 10 years. And police in Irving, Texas, handcuffed and arrested a ninth-grader for bringing a digital clock he had whipped up himself to school, to show to his teachers.

Being geek while brown and named Ahmed Mohammed brought out the racism and police overreaction in Texas.

As I pondered de Blasio’s announcement, I considered the ways this well-meaning initiative could just…


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https://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako/6060029551/

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg shared some happy news with the world. He and his wife are expecting a baby girl. Congratulations! Here’s how the New York Times described it:

Mr. Zuckerberg, chief executive of the social networking giant, wrote in an uncharacteristically personal post that he and Ms. Chan had had three miscarriages before this pregnancy — at once demonstrating a personal desire to break the stigma associated with women who miscarry and his business-related belief in Facebook as an ideal place for users to record life events.

Here’s how Mark continued:

Most people don’t discuss miscarriages because you worry your…

Zeynep Tufekci

Thinking about our tools, ourselves. Assistant prof at UNC iSchool. Princeton CITP fellow, Harvard Berkman faculty associate, Sociology.

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