Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Keynote talk for the Oromo Studies Association, Oslo

Been an amazing few days in Oslo. I was there to deliver my keynote speech at the Oromo Studies Association mid-year conference. When I was invited for this event, I have to admit that my knowledge of the Oromo movement was rather basic. Since then, I immersed myself in the decades of research and news that has emerged regarding the Oromo people. Of course, I didn't pretend to be an expert but rather, gave the talk from an outsider point of view, putting into perspective the role of social media in social movements, comparing the Oromo movement to other struggles across the world and how they use the internet to further their cause.

It shocks me that human rights violations of about 40 million people in Ethiopia are relatively invisible in the mainstream media. Generations of Oromo people have struggled to claim their identity, their culture and their right to self-proclamation and yet, have been unable to gain that right in spite of their ongoing protest and lobby work among the Oromo diaspora around the world.

I was impressed by the fact that the audience came from diverse professional fields, few linked to the social sciences and yet they were able to engage deeply and passionately. I met surgeons, biochemists, travel agents, chefs and others who came from across Europe and even the US to be part of this event. Clearly, you can see this is not just a theoretical exercise but a forum to reconnect and further their pledge to the cause.

What was more impressive was the online presence of the Oromo people, as they viewed and commented on the talks including mine on the Oromia Media Network. In just the weekend, there were about 30,000 views, 400 comments and about 1200 shares of the keynote talk. This is a humbling reminder that sometimes we academics are not just pontificating but shaping real narratives that can affect the lives of people around the world.

Click here for the full video of the talk

https://www3lmantra.blogspot.com/b/post-preview?token=vdcuO1sBAAA.QjoSLfkF71Ldc3eKHq-ZgOWZ398sqw6mHloj4nbiF1OYS4MQ5wT6aYO4h-NPGnccIzg9MhSUERk8LGJHFU3IbA.09LZB_On94AsaxJrs_qzSw&postId=7401790715108038381&type=POST

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Speaking on Digital Cultures at Collège des Bernardins in Paris


This international conference at the Collège des Bernardins was on the topic of "L’humain au défi du numérique". Basically, it focused on digital & cultural diversity. Following the work of Milad Doueihi, the Chair of the Collège des Bernardins on "The human being with the digital challenge", the study day "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" proposes to examine the digital experience in other regions of the world and the possibility of thinking differently, using different methodologies and categories of thought. Can we still study digital culture, or produce an audible discourse on it, without systematically discussing the issue of digitization, encoding, mapping, data and usage? The meeting of computer science with the human and social sciences seems to have tightened the perimeter of the latter. The suspicion that weighs since their origins on their scientificity and their social utility is thus based, at a time when public funding is always demanding more "results" applicable.

Faced with an institutional restructuring in progress, which imposes laboratories a hard model of scientificity, the colloquium "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" draws from diverse voices. What should a number of academic disciplines (anthropology, communication, etc.) and actors (artists, engineers), usually little understood, have to tell us about digital culture? How does the latter, for example, work our perception of ethnic groups? What relationships do we have with these "non-human" robots? What are the alternatives to western platforms, such as Google or Facebook, and what new culture do they create? Etc. The notion of "diversity" is thus to be understood in two ways: diversity of approaches to studying digital culture; Diversity of its "inhabitants", which deserve our attention.

To respond to this program, the colloquium "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" of the Collège des Bernardins brought together international actors whose work focuses on several issues (activism, robotics, standardization of Internet standards, etc.) and Other parts of the world, such as Asia, the Middle East or India.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

New article out on Facebook love and digital privacy

My article is out with Laura Scheiber in the Media, Culture and Society Journal on Facebook love and digital privacy. The open access paper is titled, “Slumdogromance: Facebook love and digital privacy at the margins.” This article is about  how Facebook has consolidated its position as the one-stop-shop for social activity among the poor in the global South. Sex, romance, and love are key motivations for mobile and Internet technology usage among this demographic, much like the West. Digital romance is a critical context through which we gain fresh perspectives on Internet governance for an emerging digital and globalizing public. Revenge porn, slut-shaming, and Internet romance scams are a common and growing malady worldwide. Focusing on how it manifests in diverse digital cultures will aid in the shaping of new Internet laws for a more inclusive cross-cultural public. In specific, this article examines how low-income youth in two of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations – Brazil and India – exercise and express their notions on digital privacy, surveillance, and trust through the lens of romance. This allows for a more thorough investigation of the relationship between sexuality, morality, and governance within the larger Facebook ecology. As Facebook becomes the dominant virtual public sphere for the world’s poor, we are compelled to ask whether inclusivity of the digital users comes at the price of diversity of digital platforms.
This article can be accessed here

An additional treat came from responses to the article by Catalina Toma, Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ramina Sotoudeh (Princeton University), Roger Friedland (New York University) and Janet Afary (University of California, Santa Barbara).

Toma in her paper titled, “Developing online deception literacy while looking for love" argues with the following:

Payal Arora and her colleagues argue that Facebook has become a widely-used tool for finding romance in the global south, especially among marginalized youth. Yet this reliance on Facebook opens users up to the possibility of deception, forcing many to develop a dynamic online deception literacy. In this response paper, I unpack the notion of online deception literacy by reviewing the existing social scientific literature on this topic. I discuss (1) the prevalence of deception in online romance: (2) people’s ability to detect online deception; (3) the cues people use to detect online deception; and (4)
the usefulness of those cues in accurately gauging deception. I highlight avenues for future research, especially those inspired by the experience of marginalized users in the global south.


Sotoudeh, Friedland and Afary in their paper titled "Digital romance: the sources of online love in the Muslim world" summarizes the following:

Arora et al. find that young Indians use Facebook to find romantic partners and interact with the opposite sex outside of the circle of people they know, while Brazilians more commonly use it as a tool to keep in touch with friends whom they know offline. The authors attribute this to the more conservative nature of Indian society, especially its widespread disapproval of ‘immoral’ courtship behaviors in public spaces. Facebook, they argue, and social online platforms, in general, create an alternate public sphere that allows for the recalibration and regendering of norms and interactions. In such places, the digital space becomes an alternative public arena for young people to interact, court and love. They argue that the Internet creates an alternative public space in
conservative countries where physical public sphere is too restrictive and does not allow for young men and women to meet, interact and engage in courtship practices



Thursday, January 12, 2017

My TEDx video out on 'Who is in charge of the future of the Internet?'



Brief Description of the talk 
What do we really know about half of the world’s population who live on 2 dollars a day? How does their digital usage shape the future of the internet? If we have been paying attention in the last five years, we will see that much of what the poor are doing online are far from our traditional understandings fed to us over the decades. Instead of the much celebrated media stories of farmers checking crop prices, rural women searching for health information and the deprived youth learning math through mobile apps, Arora will take you on a different journey, one infused with sex, romance, socializing, and gaming. She pushes us to move past our preconceptions of the poor if we are to understand what the digital future will look like.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New Release: My UN Commissioned Report on Innovation in the ICT's in Education sector

In February of 2016, I was approached by UNESCO to come up with a report to advise the UN Education Commission on the role of prizes in shaping innovation in the education sector. After months of research, and evaluation, I was thrilled to learn that the report made its way into the policy pathway. This paper was prepared for the International Commission on Financing Global Education.

Basically, here is the executive summary for the report. If interested, click here to get access to the final report.

The use of prizes to stimulate innovation in education has dramatically increased in recent
years, but, to date, no organization has attempted to critically examine the impact these
prizes have had on education. This report attempts to fill this gap by conducting a landscape
review of education prizes with a focus on technology innovation in developing countries.
This report critically analyses the diversity of education prizes to gauge the extent to which
these new funding mechanisms lead to innovative solutions in this sector. This is
supplemented with interviews with sponsors and prize participants to gain the muchneeded
practitioner’s perspective. We address important questions that pervade as prizes
are being implemented in this sector: What seems to be working and why? How do prizes
compare to other funding mechanisms to stimulate technology innovations? How is
sustainability achieved? What can be learned that can inform the design of future prizes?

We structure our recommendations along the Doblin framework, which entails analyzing
the design of prizes along the criteria of Resources (sponsorships & partnerships), Structure (types of prizes, eligibility criteria, scope, types of ICT projects, phases, & intellectual property rights), Motivators (monetary & non-monetary Incentives, Communications (marketing), and, Evaluation (measuring impact and long-term sustainability). 

Through this process, a number of important assumptions are re-examined, namely, that technology innovation is central to educational reform, prizes stimulate innovation, scalability is a proxy for sustainability, and prizes are the most efficient funding mechanism to stimulate innovation. We re-calibrate expectations of technology innovation prizes in the educational field against empirical evidence. We reveal key trends through the deploying of prizes in this field and offer case studies as good practices for sponsors to consider when designing future prizes. The report makes recommendations along each of the given criteria to enhance the impact of prizes, drawing from interdisciplinary sources. The intent of this report is to enable sponsors to distinguish the hype surrounding these prizes and proceed to design prizes that can best serve the education sector.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Keynote Talk at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland

I will be giving a Keynote talk at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland on November 30th 2016 on the topic “Databased democracies in the Global South.” This is a development studies symposium to explore contemporary themes and approaches in development studies with the advent of big data. The symposium is intended to draw scholars doing cutting-edge work on the intersection of digitized databases and democracy in the Global South. This is vital in the field of development studies today (and in the social sciences more generally), but which has not received much attention.
So, in a nutshell, my talk is about how democracy is being shaped today in emerging economies through digital media. Here is an abstract of my talk:
Democracy is an aspiration and a continuous struggle, particularly in post-colonial contexts. The instrument of datafication, the documentation of social life, has been used for the longest time to control subjects during the colonial days. Today, these instruments in the form of big data, algorithmic infrastructures, and social bots, promise empowerment. It gives us an alternative vision in how we can use data to improve the well-being of the vast poor in such emerging economies through the expansion of socio-political participation and citizenship. This talk will grapple with the trade-offs that ensue as the global South enters the digital age. Here, identity, locality, and value gain new meanings in this digitization of information.
For more information about the event, click here.