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WashingTECH Tech Policy Podcast with Joe Miller

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Sep 3, 2019

Examining "Social Media Bias" with Jen Schradie

Jen Schradie joined Joe Miller on the WashingTECH Tech Policy Podcast to discuss her work challenging the alleged "social media bias" that has been claimed by conservatives.

Bio

Jen Schradie is an Assistant Professor at the Observatoire sociologique du changement (OSC) at Sciences Po in Paris. Previously, she was a Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, based at the Toulouse School of Economics, as well as at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme et de la Société, Université de Toulouse. She received her PhD from the Department of Sociology at the University of California-Berkeley with a designated emphasis in New Media from the Berkeley Center for New Media. She also has a master’s degree from the Harvard Kennedy School. Her broad research agenda is to interrogate digital democracy claims with empirical data. Despite recent panic about digital threats to democracy, many theorists have still suggested that the Internet can enable a more participatory, pluralist society, but her research challenges these claims, spanning three areas: the digital divide, digital activism, and digital labor. Schradie has found that inequalities, ideologies, and institutions shape participation in our new information society.

Released in May of 2019 by Harvard University Press, The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives, traces what she calls the Digital Activism Gap. Rather than early utopian claims of Facebook and Twitter Revolutions or more recent dystopian ones of Russian bots, state-sponsored hacking, or fake news farms, she reveals a more insidious problem. Instead of the internet spawning democracy or then taking it away, it does not have a life of its own. A Digital Activism Gap is driven by social class inequalities, organizational hierarchies, and reformist conservatism. The prototype of the radical left digital protester did not fit the mold of the 34 groups she studied in North Carolina. Digital activists were much more likely to be Tea Party members than student anarchists. These findings challenge the view of the internet as a pluralist space for social movements. This research, funded by the National Science Foundation, has also generated three journal articles in The International Journal of CommunicationSocial Problems and Social Media + Society.

She has published four articles on what she coined as “digital production inequality.” After articles on this topic were published in Poetics and Information, Communication and Society, the publicity she garnered from these publications earned her the 2012 Public Sociology Alumni Prize at UC Berkeley. Currently, she is examining egalitarian claims of tech start-up entrepreneurs in a comparative research project between France and the United States.

Her current projects are on the digital economy – a comparative study between France and the United States and the role of the state in mediating risk with start-ups, with a focus on gender and class inequality. She is also working on a European Commission funded project with partners in the UK and Italy to analyze online hate speech against Muslims.

Before entering academia, Schradie directed six documentary films, including, “The Golf War – a story of land, golf and revolution in the Philippines.” Most of her films, however, focused on social movements confronting corporate power in the American rural South. Schradie’s documentaries have screened at more than 25 film festivals and 100 universities. She is also a beginning banjo player and an occasional yoga teacher.

Resources

The Revolution that Wasn't: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives by Jen Schradie (Harvard University Press, 2019)

News Roundup

AOC says it’s OK to block Twitter users

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says that public officials should be able to block certain Twitter users for harassment. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that she blocks only a tiny percentage of users. She also tweeted that users are free to speak their minds, even if others find that speech offensive, but that no one should have to require themselves to be subjected to harassing or abusive speech. Interestingly, a federal appeals court found that the president, because he uses Twitter in his official capacity, can’t constitutionally block users.  

FCC activates disaster reporting for Dorian

The Federal Communications Commission activated disaster reporting for Hurricane Dorian as the hurricane moved up the east coast over the weekend. The FCC wants communications providers in affected areas to provide updates on outages via The Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) at https://www.fcc.gov/nors/disaster/.

Tariffs on China begin to take effect

The tariffs that Trump promised to impose on China as part of his trade war against the country went into effect on Sunday. The tariffs will affect some $110 billion worth of Chinese imports across a broad range of goods. Another tranche of tariffs on $160 billion worth of Chinese goods like laptop computers and other consumer devices is set to take effect on December 15th.

Google announces hacking attempt

Google publicly announced a hacking attempt that it found and reported to Apple back in February that targeted iPhones. The company said that going to certain websites using your iPhone gave hackers access to your data by installing malware that would run in the background without your knowledge. Hackers were then able to do things like copy your photos or even access encrypted messages sent via apps like Facebook Messenger or Telegraph. Google representative Ian Beer advised consumers to continue to be wary of the possibility of being hacked, even on devices with robust security features.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s account hacked

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s Twitter accounted was hacked last week. The hackers commenced to tweet racial slurs and other offensive messages until the posts were deleted within the hour, the Hill reports. Twitter says the hackers gained access to the account due to a security oversight by the wireless carrier that exposed Dorsey’s phone number.

Report: Google to pay up to $200 million to FTC

Politico reported Friday that Google will have to pay up to $200 million to settle allegations that YouTube violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits companies from collecting data from children under 13 without parental consent.  Some were disappointed by the news, including Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, who said the penalty wouldn’t be high enough.

Google contract workers vote to unionize

A group of ninety or so contract workers at Google voted to unionize last week, challenging how the company treats them compared to their full-time employees with whom they, in many cases, work side-by-side. With the help of the United Steelworkers union, about 2/3rds of the data analysts and other white collar professionals voted to unionize. The petition now heads up to the National Labor Relations Board which may formally authorize a union vote.

Fort Collins launches municipal broadband

The city of Fort Collins, Colorado is launching its own municipal broadband network offering up to 1GB of broadband for $60/month. Right now, the service targets 20-30 households but the city’s looking to ramp up. Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica reported that the cable industry vigorously opposed the effort. But voters approved the build out anyway.

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