Friday, October 26, 2018

My paper 'Decolonizing Privacy Studies' is out in the TV & New Media Journal

My paper 'Decolonizing Privacy Studies' is out in the Television & New Media Journal ! This is part of Stefania Milan and Emiliano Trere's Special issue, ‘Big Data from the South: Beyond Data Universalism.' I presented this earlier at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference in October 2018 so thrilled its out in time.

Basically, this paper calls for an epistemic disobedience in privacy studies by decolonizing the approach to privacy. As technology companies expand their reach worldwide, the notion of privacy continues to be viewed through an ethnocentric lens. It disproportionately draws from empirical evidence on Western-based, white, and middle-class demographics. We need to break away from the market-driven neoliberal ideology and the Development paradigm long dictating media studies if we are to foster more inclusive privacy policies. This paper offers a set of propositions to de-naturalize and estrange data from demographic generalizations and cultural assumptions, namely, (1) predicting privacy harms through the history of social practice, (2) recalibrating the core-periphery as evolving and moving targets, and (3) de-exoticizing “natives” by situating privacy in ludic digital cultures. In essence, decolonizing privacy studies is as much an act of reimagining people and place as it is of dismantling essentialisms that are regurgitated through scholarship.

This is part of a growing call for decolonizing the university, curriculum, the internet, and many more other critical realms. In other words, let's question the power structures that are normative and dictating our practice and seek to change it together so we can move forward with a more progressive and fairer science. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Starting my fellowship at the University of Bremen this November


The ZeMKI, Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research is an interdisciplinary research environment in the areas of media, communication and information. Involved disciplines include communication and media studies, computer science, cultural studies, educational science, studies in religion, and history. Since mid-2017, the ZeMKI has been inviting applications from researchers in the field of media, communication, and information around the world to participate in their program. 
During the Fellowship, I will be giving a talk on 'Benign dataveillance: a new kind of democracy? Examining the emerging data-based governance systems in India and China' as part of the ZEMKI lecture series. 

While I am there, I will also be heading to Hamburg to give a public talk under the 'Taming the machines' theme organized by Judith Simon and her team from the University of Hamburg. This is part of The Ethics in Information Technology – Public Lecture Series. The theme emerges due to the increasing dependency of society on information technology. Algorithms are now used in making decisions for and about people. Intelligent machines are supplementing or replacing humans at home or in the workplace. Personal data are being collected, processed, and readied for commercial and civil purposes. Tech optimists and evangelists think that artificial intelligence, robots, and other gadgets can only make life and society better, but their convictions should be taken with a grain of salt. My talk here, "Regulated Data - Regulated Activism? Digital Activism in the GDPR Era is about flipping the script on privacy through the light of activism in the global south. My abstract for the talk is as follows:
In a favela ruled by the drug lords in Rio de Janeiro, an activist uses Facebook Live to capture the dealings in his neighborhood, putting himself and some of his community members at risk. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a few teenage girls instagram the fashions of the week, unveiled, an act that can be persecuted by the morality police. In Jammu and Kashmir, some activists through the hashtag #justiceforkathua draw attention to the case of an eight-year old nomadic girl who was gang raped, defying the privacy law on revealing identities of minors. These are just some of the many cases that shed light on the gray area between privacy and protest. Contrary to seeking to be protected through anonymity as the bulk of the current research alludes to, some of those at the margins may choose to put themselves at high risk by being visible and heard. The GDPR, rooted in the Western ideology of individual choice and rights, may have created a privacy universalism, begging the question of whether privacy is a privilege and a luxury. This talk draws from a decade of fieldwork and activism among vulnerable communities beyond the West to grapple with the question of whether privacy and activism are after all compatible. 

Overall, should be fun! Lots of talking, thinking and turning thoughts around :) 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

First pre-launch book talk in Finland

I delivered my first pre-launch book talk on 'The global poor need less innovation: A critique of Silicon Valley’s human laboratories.' This is drawn from one of my chapters on innovation from below from the upcoming book with Harvard University Press 'The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West.' This was at the Faculty of Communication Sciences at the University of Tampere.

Here is the gist of the talk
The twenty-first century is the age of innovation. Technology pundits are working hard to make innovation serve the common good. Ryan Allis—the current chairperson of Connect and Hive in San Francisco and an angel investor in twenty-five companies, provides a startup guide to ease us into this new era. All we need to do is reimagine “everything,” says Allis. With just “a laptop, a smartphone, and the cloud,” we can access any service anytime—including, of course, education. In the last decade, much has been written on the long-awaited disruption of that archaic institution—the school. The educational system in low-income communities in developing countries is regarded as a market “failure.” Fortunately, the market “success” of new technology will step in and take its place. Smart technology will replace not-so-smart teachers. Educational technology entrepreneurs are busy making all-inclusive, self-contained schooling apps for the global poor. Self-help is the foundation of the innovation age. Centralized schooling should be discarded for personalized play-driven learning. Playlists take precedence over playgrounds. This gospel seeks to do away with the school, the teacher, the community. This talk will delve deeper into the contemporary ideologies and initiatives that drive technology innovation for the social good and brings to question whether what constitutes as innovation today serves the global poor.

The next day, I got to serve as an Opponent for a Phd Defense where an external scholar interrogates a Phd student in public for hours before nominating the dissertation for approval. Landed up being a fascinating process and dialogue between the candidate and myself. It is interesting how different these rituals are across contexts - I have so far participated in the Dutch, American, and Belgian context so this made for a whole new level of experience of Finnish defenses.

Overall great experience as usual in Finland. Always nice to go back there!


Friday, October 5, 2018

Speaking on panels at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference

Amsterdam Privacy conference kicks off this weekend. Am doing a number of presentations at this conference which makes this quite a hectic few days to come. To start with, I am presenting with my co-author René König on "Imagining the “diversity algorithm: Alternatives in ideological governance and their challenges." Basically, we bring together two discourses and fields of study that have rarely intersected – sociology of diversity and computing studies to arrive at new understandings of the challenges that we face in the embedding of ‘diversity’ as a value in the design of net-based technologies. Our paper maps tensions among different diversity-driven cultures alongside the challenges that come with operationalizing them through technological design. This demands a re-examining of what constitutes as exclusion and inclusion, what is boundary-making for fair representation, is visibility empowering, and other such critical questions.  The fact is that diversity is a rising concern, with the demand for re-examining boundaries of representation, perspectives and voices that shape society. Silicon Valley, for instance, is under fire for their homogenous programming teams inscribing their biases into the algorithms that influence our behaviour (Crawford 2016). Universities, boardrooms, and political parties are working at restructuring their organizational cultures and systems given their abysmal record on diversity (Ferreira 2015; Abbott, Green, and Keohane 2016). While this is a growing momentum, it is worth asking how this diversity movement will influence our digital infrastructures. Will the diversity-driven models lead to strengthening democracy? How do we situate meritocracy within these proposed digital configurations? As we play these specific imaginaries out, we present possible outcomes, begging the question of the kind of digital future that awaits with each of these ideological turns.

I also organized a panel on Data and the Global South alongside Linnet Taylor and her data justice team. Today, we see how a select number of Western-based technology companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have achieved the monopolization of entire publics. Under the banner of ‘connecting the unconnected’, corporate social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp justify their growing expansion in the Global South. While harvesting our attention for profit is the global template, technology companies’ control over Global South nations has a far more powerful impact as they rule these lands with few laws and regulations impeding them. At times, they collude with the state by adhering to and even strengthening their surveillance practices, possibly fostering an even more fragile civic liberty. This process is complicated with the rise of privacy and data protection laws in many countries in the Global South. This panel brings together scholars working on the rising datafication within diverse regions such as Asia, Africa and Latin America. We will jointly investigate how contemporary global configurations of digital technology impact social inequalities and possibly create new forms of discrimination as well as opportunities for data justice. We will touch upon privacy rights in the Global South, surveillance of data subjects, global digital economies of exploitation, extraction and extension, decolonial computing and colonization of internets, algorithms and discrimination and data justice and resistance.

Lastly, will be on a group privacy panel to explore how to take this discourse forward. My paper argues that popular contemporary approaches to the digital privacy culture of the global poor is at risk of falling along a long reproduced socio-political continuum. Specifically, three dominant templates make the round concerning privacy values of the global poor: privacy is a luxury for this disadvantaged group, they dont care about their privacy and that privacy to them is utility driven.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Delivered a keynote on Automating Culture


A few days ago, I delivered a keynote on ‘Automating culture: How Digital Platforms are Shaping the Art World’ for an international conference organized by Prof. Filip Vermeylen. For about a decade now, we both have been working on the democratization possibilities of the art world through the rise of social media and globalization through the new cultural commons project.

The talk was about how the art world has entered the platform economy. The art industry is being subjected to similar fears and possible opportunities of automation as other cultural industries such as the music, film and the publishing business. Hence, it asks some key questions: Can the traditional art intermediaries still compete in the platform economy as data mining companies enter the fray? Has the divide between the high and the popular culture collapsed as user behavior, platform design and engineering staff circulate between these worlds? Do customers no longer care about the aura of the art piece before buying it online? In other words,

...do algorithms rule today and are they making the art world more democratic?

With the rise of automation and platformization, the International Art Market Studies Association (TIAMSA) second international conference organized itself around the theme and key question of, “Art for the People? Questioning the Democratization of the Art Market.”

The call reflects some of the contemporary issues and debates taking place in the art world nowadays. The art world and the market have traditionally been the domain of the elites and have thrived on exclusivity. However, the art world has arguably become much more democratic in recent years thanks to the digital revolution, the inclusion of emerging economies in the world art market system, and the vastly improved access to art and information. The price histories of works of art can nowadays easily be reconstructed using online databases; the threshold for art buying is significantly lowered by online sales platforms; and new buyers in emerging economies are making the art market much less Western-oriented. Moreover, an ever broader range of artworks in different price categories has put (fine) art within reach of the middle classes across the globe. At the same time, art institutions such as museums are under tremendous pressure to be less exclusive. Some of these democratizing tendencies are of course not new. For instance, publishing houses in Europe started disseminating prints on a massive scale already in the sixteenth century, thereby enabling larger segments of the population to acquire images. Whether or not the internet and globalization are genuine game changers in the contemporary art world, we can assume that new platforms through which art is mediated – both offline and online – are reconstituting the manner in which art is being viewed, valorized, acquired and enjoyed. These developments could have far reaching implications.

TIAMSA’s second annual conference explored to what extent the art market was affected by comparable developments in the past, how it is embracing today’s democratic potential, and at what cost. Are digital innovations, from search engines and big data analytics to virtual auctions, transforming the long-existing modus operandi of the art world and the traditional structure of the art market? And if the art market is indeed living up to its democratic promise, is it also becoming less opaque and therefore more transparent?

This event was held in Vienna from Thursday 27 Sept –  Saturday 29 Sept 2018. It was the result of a joint collaboration of the Belvedere ResearchCenter, the Dorotheum and the Department of Art History at Vienna University. The conference presented a selection of papers approaching the theme from different, fascinating viewpoints, and combined it with two special events, namely a guided tour of Viennacontemporary, Austria’s international art fair, and a tour of the Belvedere Research Center. There was also a round table on the art market and the internet. 



Friday, September 14, 2018

Appointed Editor for the Communication and Media Section in the new University of California Press Journal-Global Perspectives


Global Perspectives (GP) is an online-only, peer-reviewed, transdisciplinary journal seeking to advance social science research and debates in a globalizing world, specifically in terms of concepts, theories, methodologies, and evidence bases. GP is devoted to the study of global patterns and developments across a wide range of topics and fields, among them trade and markets, security and sustainability, communication and media, justice and law, governance and regulation, culture and value systems, identities, environmental interfaces, technology-society interfaces, shifting geographies and migration.

I will be leading the Communication and media section with Helmut K. Anheier from the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Germany serving as the Editor-in-Chief. 

GP sets out to help overcome national and disciplinary fragmentation and isolation.  GP starts from the premise that the world that gave rise to the social sciences in their present form is no more. The national and disciplinary approaches that developed over the last century are increasingly insufficient to capture the complexities of the global realities of a world that has changed significantly in a relatively short period of time.  New concepts, approaches and forms of academic discourse may be called for. GP has been organized by subject sections carrying equal weight, which are informed by major conceptual or empirical issues or grounded in traditional disciplines, while always inviting significant interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches.

I have an amazing board of global and renowned scholars to work with for the launch of this new endeavor. The members are as follows:

-          Lina Dencik, Cardiff University, UK
-          Terry Flew, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
-          Mark Graham, University of Oxford, UK
-          MinJiang, UNC Charlotte, USA
-          KoenLeurs, Utrecht University, Netherlands
-          Cornelius Puschmann, Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research, Germany
-          Nimmi Rangaswamy, IIIT Hyderabad, India
-          Anita Say Chan, University of Illinois, USA
-          Fabro Steibel, Institute for Technology and Society, Brazil
-          Wendy Willems, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
-          Guobin Yang, University of Pennsylvania, USA

I have written a brief theoretical launching point for this section:

The ‘global turn’ in media and communication demands new ways of conceptualizing relations and boundaries between the local, the national and the transnational. In recent years, ubiquitous computing, mobile technologies and social media have amplified the urgency to unpack the globalizing of media platforms, communication patterns and processes as well as their underlying politics and policies.
While the media continues to be implicated in the “disjunctures between economy, culture, and politics” as Arjun Appadurai astutely observed a quarter century ago, their digital cultures have created new opportunities and discontinuities at a global scale that require a prolonged and thoughtful investigation.
Speculations about the fate of traditional mass media like print, radio and television continue to be of rising concern in academic and industrial research. The rise of user-generated content has challenged conventional framings of media producers and audiences bound by the nation state. For example, bloggers, podcasters, online celebrities, digital activists and citizen journalists can shape global public opinion and the media landscape at large.

As a few digital platforms control the vast amount of data generated through everyday communicative practices worldwide, scholars across disciplines are rightfully concerned about who gets to collect, curate, store and moderate such media content. What is driving the expansions in media infrastructures and policies and is there a unified and shared logic to their organization? What are the implications of new media technologies for politics and governance at national and international levels?  

We have witnessed a significant shift in discourses surrounding globalization and media, from a celebratory to a more critical stance. Only a decade ago, studies were tethered to the notion of the “networked society” of collective intelligence, participatory knowledge-making, community-building and activism. Today, we appear less optimistic, as scholars sound the alarm on new forms of discrimination, alienation, and victimization through uninterrupted datafication, predictive analytics and automation of the “surveillance society.”
While big data did not reify into an “end of theory” as prematurely envisioned, we hesitate to ask the big questions that can best encapsulate the interconnectedness of information flows and the intersectionality of their datasets. It remains a challenge to “decenter” and “decolonize” the global to stay clear of a singular and universal logic to explain the social order of global media. This endeavour beseeches a re-examination of past formulations of information/media systems, as well as a critical assessment with the velocity, variety and volume and other such rubrics posited to define new media architectures and practices.

Global Perspectives invite scholars across disciplines and fields to submit their empirical and theoretical studies that are at the fulcrum of deliberations on the “global” in media and communication networks. We find ourselves at an important juncture that requires moving beyond staid dualities, traditional framings, and descriptive media comparative work.

How do we transcend the binaries of the online-offline, the public-private media sphere, “data rich” and “data poor,” producer and consumer, homogenization and heterogenization, media convergence and divergence, disembodiments and the situated materiality of media imaginaries to the contextual integrity of the media event? What alternative frameworks, systems, etymologies and ontologies are on offer to reconfigure our understandings of how global media are organizing the power relations in society?

In this context, we invite papers to propose methodological innovations and conceptual alternatives to the approach of the dialect between media and the global. Should we continue to use the nation state as a central unit of analysis or push for a provincializing or translocating of the global in Media studies? Are we giving too much primacy to data in untangling global digital cultures and overestimating their influence? How do we conceptualize the global transformations of the traditional media without being too medium or user centric? These are some of the many issues contributor to the Global Perspectives are welcome to address.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Invited to the Advisory Commission initiative by 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.




Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Internet academic scams: why do scholars fall for them?

The open access initiative, whilst being a worthwhile alternative to exploitative publishing models, has also opened the doors to bogus journals and other predators.
Last year I received an email from someone who claimed to be part of a foundation that  tackles romance scams. It started like this:
“To Dr Payal Arora,
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is X. I am also a victim of a cyber crime, a romance scam stemming from Nigeria. The reason I am contacting you is to bring attention to cyber crime, more specifically romance scams. Cyber exploits of this nature target mostly women, to lure them emotionally. Exploiting that vulnerability is what the con artists know best…As we speak, I am preparing for a trial to be heard in Abuja Nigeria…”
What did this person want from me?
She wanted me to be on the board of her cybercrime foundation to raise money. She shared the names of prominent academics and professionals already on the board.
While this email appeared legitimate, what struck me was how closely the text of the email resembled a paper my colleague and I had just published a week before on Internet romance scams. To be sure, I contacted one of the board members and got this as part of his reply:
“…I should say I do not know the person you are talking about and I have yet to be contacted for anything related to such. As it sounds, I think it is not legitimate since this is an obvious lie.”
Admittedly, this email was not an instant delete for me.
In retrospect, this was an impressive feat by what I call the “Internet academic scammer.” To use the language from my publication and customise the email accordingly, invoking real experts for the board for the purpose of credibility, was altogether brilliant. Not to forget, how could we miss the irony here on ‘scams?’
Click here for the full article

Monday, April 23, 2018

Opinion Piece: EM Magazine

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Keynote talk at the University of Saltzburg


I have been invited to deliver a keynote address for the Democracy and (Des-) Information Society: On the Function and Dissemination of Big Data, Fake News and Conspiracy Theories” Conference to be held at the University of Salzburg on April 26th, 2018. This conference investigates "fake news" and the growing influence of social media and search engine technologies on political life. Among other things, the conference will focus on the following questions: Which forms of disinformation exist and how do they differ? Is there actually a new quality of manipulation? What opportunities, challenges and limitations are associated with big data analysis? How do digital technologies and the practices they facilitate change the culture of communication and knowledge production in democratic societies? Which forms of foreign and self-regulation are meaningful and desirable in order to put a stop to disinformational tendencies but at the same time make use of progressive potentials of new communication technologies?




I will speak about the major fault lines in worldviews between groups of people to a point where entire publics have become incomprehensible to one another. By going beyond the usual Western examples and worldviews, I will situate common conversations on hate speech, fake information, trolling and other hostile activities within the Global South. This talk will examine closely the “fringe,” “authentic,” and “safe” digital cultures, drawing on contemporary examples like the media circulation on Rohingas by Buddhist extremists in Myanmar, lynching by cow digital vigilantes in India, favela rebranding and the pacification campaign in Brazil to the building and global circulation of the “Nigerian” romance scammer.

This conference is timely as there is much hype in the media on fake news without actually qualifying what constitutes as fake and real and who gets to narrate these framings.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Opinion Piece: EM magazine

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Invited talks in Delhi, Manchester and Paris

What a packed but exciting month. Just came back from New Delhi after a stimulating workshop with a group of interdisciplinary scholars and activists at the IIIT Delhi campus. This international Symposium on Digital Politics in Millennial India is part of a larger project on politics in digital India by Sahana Udupa at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. Here, I spoke about the impact of datafication and bots in the political life of low-income communities in India. While these talks were going on, the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University staff and students were on strike due to policies from the government that was infringing on their academic autonomy. There were also a number of scholars from the United Kingdom who were also in the midst of the largest academic strike over pensions and the growing privatization and commodification of education. This was a humble reminder about how knowledge is deeply political and how we need to continuously struggle to keep it protected from such infringements.

After which, I am giving a talk at the EHESS seminar "Etudier les cultures du numérique" (Studying Digital Cultures) on 'mobilizing the ludic underclass in the digital age.' 

Lastly, I will be heading shortly to Manchester with Linnea Thompson to present our paper on crowdsourcing as a potential tool to reorganize and reformulate global unions and transparent communicative practices between laborers and brands. This workshop Development Implications of Digital Economies: Findings and Next Steps is the last of the Development Implications of Digital Economies (DIODE) Strategic Research Network.




Thursday, March 1, 2018

Selected to be a ZeMKI Visiting Research Fellow

I just got news that I have been selected for the ZeMKI Visiting Research Fellowship in Media, Communication and Information. My application was selected out of a received 107 applications in total for 2018. The duration of this fellowship will be a month in the Fall 2018.

The ZeMKI, Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research, University of Bremen, offers a thriving interdisciplinary research environment in the areas of media, communication and information. Involved disciplines include communication and media studies, computer science, cultural studies, educational science, studies in religion, and history.

As a ZeMKI Visiting Research Fellow, I will be involved with the research activities at the interdisciplinary centre with over 60 members. I plan on contributing to these research activities in the area of media change and transforming communications in the form of a research paper for the“Communicative Figurations” working paper series as well as a lecture in the ZeMKI Research Seminar.

Really looking forward to this new adventure with some cool people.

Besides, given the timing, would be a wonderful finale to go to the Christmas market here :)




Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Name politics

Whilst there are good arguments for re-examine naming in academic citations, making specific allowances for certain scholars over others reminds us that academia continues to be elitist, thinks Payal Arora.

It was a typical academic workshop. “Madhu Madhu” was the next presenter. This Indian female academic came on stage and started to explain the politics behind her name and how it went wrong. Her name was just “Madhu.” Not “Madhu Madhu.”
In India, you can tell a person’s caste by his/her last name. There is pervasive discrimination based on the caste to which you belong. Since you are born into a caste, there is absolute immobility. This is a barrier to social equality, also in academia.
For these reasons, she was politically motivated to drop her last name.
When she applied to do this workshop in the United Kingdom, she explained her name change multiple times to the organisers. However, columns needed to be filled and this diverged from academic protocol. Hence, the organisers gave her the name “Madhu Madhu.”
One might argue that whilst her politics are relevant and convincing in her local context, academic standardisation exists to avoid exceptionalism. It would be a privilege for Madhu to change bibliographic standards. It would emphasise her social capital against all those who do not have power to enforce their own name politics. A worthwhile case for academic democracy.
Meanwhile, an accomplished American academic Danah Boyd has succeeded in establishing her name in small letters.
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