Monday, July 16, 2018

New advisory position for Facebook

I have been invited to be on the new advisory committee by Facebook to help scholars independently assess Facebook’s impact on elections, misinformation, privacy and other contemporary and critical issues regarding its usage.
 In April, Facebook announced it would be working with a group of academics to establish an independent research commission to look into issues of social and political significance using the company’s own extensive data collection. That commission, called Social Science One has just launched in early July. I will be on the Asian regional committee and partake in collaborations to assess the impact of Facebook in this region.

In the last two years, Facebook tools have not just helped politicians connect with their constituents — and different communities to debate the issues but as we have witnessed, it can be misused to manipulate and deceive. 

To keep this independent, it will be funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

At the heart of this initiative will be a group of prominent and global scholars who will:
-          Define the research agenda;
-          Solicit proposals for independent research on a range of different topics; and
-          Manage a peer review process to select scholars who will receive funding for their research, as well as access to privacy-protected datasets from Facebook which they can analyze.

Facebook will not have any right to review or approve their research findings prior to publication. In consultation with the foundations funding the initiative, Facebook has invited respected academic experts to form a commission which will then develop a research agenda about the impact of social media on society — starting with elections. I am excited to be part of the commission to closely examine Facebook activities and its implications on democracy to help in constructing future policy decisions on platform transparency and accountability.

The issues to be addressed range across diverse research areas, namely Political Advertising, Civic Engagement, Election Integrity, Polarization and Disinformation. The regional advisory committees include Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the United States.

Along with a team of other academic experts, I will assist in surfacing research questions and variable requests for the datasets that will be shared as part of the project.  Scholars serving on these committees can apply for grants and data access as part of these processes.

The advisory committee will provide critical advice on how the project might be best tailored to deal with concerns and issues specific to different regions.  For example, as specific elections occur in the respective regions, country-specific datasets are developed for analysis. Moreover, certain academic surveys are region-specific and these committees may help facilitate the joining of Facebook data with such surveys. Finally, because different countries’ legal regulations, concerning privacy and research such as this, differ greatly, the advisory committee will assist the project in working with regulators to understand the limits and opportunities for the project in the respective regions. 

Anyway, a new adventure awaits with this unique opportunity! 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Invited to talk on privacy at the EuroScience Open Forum

I have been invited to talk on a EuroScience Open Forum panel that focuses on how big data affects travel behavior, transport planning and autonomous transport, while accounting for data quality, privacy and pan European standardization aspects. This is part of the COST initiative, an EU-funded programme that enables researchers to set up their interdisciplinary research networks in Europe and beyond.

ESOF (EuroScience Open Forum) is the largest interdisciplinary science meeting in Europe. It is dedicated to scientific research and innovation and offers a unique framework for interaction and debate for scientists, innovators, policy makers, business people and the general public.

Created in 2004 by EuroScience, this biennial European forum brings together over 4 000 researchers, educators, business actors, policy makers and journalists from all over the world to discuss breakthroughs in science.

My talk will cover the ethical implications on automating movement across society in public space, considering notions of anonymity, data aggregation, privacy harms and concerns and other factors that help us consider the future of our transport economy.

I think this will be a fascinating discussion in a very policy oriented setting!



Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Talk on Talent at the Transfer of Rectorship

Dutch academia takes their ceremonies seriously! I was invited to speak on talent at the transfer of rectorship event, where the outgoing rector of Erasmus University Rotterdam, Professor Huibert Pols handed over the position of Rector Magnificus to incoming Rector Professor Rutger Engels.

Each faculty wore their robes in their distinct colors marching in, the stage looked rather Oscar like than a setting at a university and there was the right mix of humor and emotion fitting to this occasion. 

I spoke on 'the pursuit of the extraordinary' drawing from my experiences and life choices, be it at an alternative commune in the South of India to being a struggling artist in San Francisco. Was fun to go down this path as I have a policy of not looking back. But sometimes, our past can give you perspective and maybe even courage to take on the ongoing and future battles ahead.








Sunday, June 17, 2018

Social media campaign on diversity launched with students

The diversity discourse at Erasmus University Rotterdam has been polarizing and is now tremendously heated. While these discussions go ahead, few students appear to be participating or driving these conversations. Hence, my organization Catalyst Lab alongside a group of highly driven masters students from the Erasmus Faculty of History Culture and Communication (ESHCC) have come up with a social media campaign to engage students on this very topic, supported by the faculty.

After all, we know so little about what diversity means to the youth. Working closely with young student film makers, comedians and with targeted mentoring and guidance by professional media people,this week ‘Diversify,’ this student led initiative has now gone live!

Click here to follow the campaign and see what youth think about diversity through their own narratives, personal experiences and identities. What is astonishing is how honest these students have been on topics that are very sensitive and way under-discussed like bullying, sexual harassment, self worth, body perceptions, racism, religion and more.

  

Thursday, May 31, 2018

EM Opinion Piece: The academic frontier

The academic frontier

By acknowledging that the academic frontier isn’t as fair as it would like to appear, maybe we will be kinder to one another as we plod ahead.

Payal AroraAcademia is all about marking territory. Grab hold of a trending topic and make it yours. Invent a term, coin a concept and hope it sticks. Knowledge is propertied. Sometimes the game gets vicious. Predatory. Perhaps a senior scholar in need of renewal may prey on the work of their doctoral student or younger colleagues. A ‘rock star’ academic can encroach on well established and poorly marketed scholarship and brand it around him or her. A major grant can buy an emerging scholar a ‘reputation’ overnight that others have spent years struggling to build through the long road of committed research.
This is no free market. Scholars from less wealthy institutions and countries struggle to be visible, to be heard and often to hold on to the ownership of their ideas. In desperation, they may put their work on ResearchGate or Academia.edu, hoping that this new digital frontier plays to a different set of rules. In reality, they may be read but not cited due to their relatively unknown status. Worse yet, their ideas may be appropriated by others and published with the right kind of dressing up.
Click here for the rest of the opinion piece.

New article out in the International Journal of Communication

I am thrilled by this new article with my former Master's student Linnea Thompson, one of the brightest students I have come across over these years. A dream collaboration which went smoothly and resulted in a publication with a top tier journal in the Communications field - the International Journal of Communication

We got to present this in Manchester for the Digital Economies workshop organized by Richard Heeks, a fantastic platform for sharing this work.

The article, Crowdsourcing as a Platform for Digital Labor Unions is about how crowdsourcing is used as a tool to reconfigure relations between outsourced factory workers and corporations through innovative platform designs and the challenges that ensue. Below is the full abstract and link to the full paper:


Global complex supply chains have made it difficult to know the realities in factories.
This structure obfuscates the networks, channels, and flows of communication between
employers, workers, nongovernmental organizations and other vested intermediaries,
creating a lack of transparency. Factories operate far from the brands themselves, often
in developing countries where labor is cheap and regulations are weak. However, the
emergence of social media and mobile technology has drawn the world closer together.
Specifically, crowdsourcing is being used in an innovative way to gather feedback from
outsourced laborers with access to digital platforms. This article examines how
crowdsourcing platforms are used for both gathering and sharing information to foster
accountability. We critically assess how these tools enable dialogue between brands and
factory workers, making workers part of the greater conversation. We argue that
although there are challenges in designing and implementing these new monitoring
systems, these platforms can pave the path for new forms of unionization and corporate
social responsibility beyond just rebranding. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Interview on Internet Romance Fraud on BBC's Why Factor


I was interviewed for this BBC podcast some weeks ago  on internet romance scams in India. I am around 11:18 min onward.The topic for this podcast is ‘Romance Frauds.’ I was invited to share my research on internet romance scams in low income communities in India where young males are being scammed by fake profiles of attractive women as they get on Facebook through their mobile phones. In contexts such as these where dating is forbidden to the extent that even talking to a girl can impact her reputation, Facebook promises romance for these teens as well as new ways to being deceived and even exploited.

Basically, this is the synopsis of the episodeWhy do people fall for online romance frauds? With false online profiles, doctored photographs, and convincing background stories, online fraudsters target people who are looking for love and online relationships. Once they have hooked their victims, they set about stealing money from them. But what convinces people that their new relationship is so realistic that they become willing to hand over large amounts of money to someone who they may never meet. Shari Vahl explores why people fall for such frauds, hearing the stories of two women and the online relationship they believed would bring them a new future – and which turned out to be an costly false hope. Shari hears from cyber-psychology expert Monica Whitty and people hacker Jennifer Radcliffe, as well as from police in the UK and USA. What are the hooks that these international criminal gangs use to defraud their victims and what happens when victims discover that the truth about their online relationship.