New Year, Fresh Threats

FRI, JAN 29, 2021 (00:00)

What can mis- and disinformation scholars learn from the security studies field? What happens when security threats are inflated by governments? And how do security scholars analyze and account for civil liberties against the rise of digital search tools and surveillance?

The beginning of 2021 brings with it both new and old vulnerabilities and uncertainties: the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, cybersecurity data breaches and hacks, openings to expand state power, and opportunities for resistance. As we embrace the unsettled state of things, governments and media manipulators may capitalize on a fragile media ecosystem and shifting political landscapes. For many security studies scholars, it is important to understand how advanced information technologies create national vulnerabilities, increase instabilities in international relations, exploit and stockpile user data, and allow unauthorized people to intercept and infiltrate communications.

Joan Donovan, Director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, hosts cyber security experts Susan Landau, Erik Lin-Greenberg, and Gabrielle Lim to discuss what this means for mis- and disinformation campaigns, and how interdisciplinary collaboration can unmask new strategies for pushing back against government overreach.

Photo: Pexels/Christina Morillo

+ BIO: Susan Landau

Susan Landau is a professor in cyber security and policy, and splits her time between Fletcher and Tufts University’s School of Engineering (as a professor of Computer Science).

Susan works at the intersection of cybersecurity, national security, law, and policy. She has testified before Congress, written for the Washington Post, Science, and Scientific American, and frequently appears on NPR and BBC. Her previous positions include senior staff privacy analyst at Google, distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems, and faculty member at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Wesleyan University.

+ BIO: Erik Lin-Greenberg

Erik Lin-Greenberg is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at MIT. His research examines how emerging military technology affects conflict dynamics and the regulation and use of force. Lin-Greenberg’s current book project leverages experimental methods, archival research, elite interviews, and surveys to study how remote warfighting technologies – like drones and cyber warfare – shape crisis escalation. In other ongoing projects, he explores how technology influences alliance relationships and public attitudes toward the use of force, and is interested in the role of food in international politics. His research has been supported by the Eisenhower Institute, the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, the Smith Richardson Foundation, Tobin Project, and Columbia University. He previously worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, and as a Carnegie Pre-doctoral Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

+ BIO: Gabrielle Lim

Gabrielle Lim is a researcher with the Technology and Social Change (TaSC) Research Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, as well as a fellow with Citizen Lab. She researches information controls and security, with a focus on disinformation and media manipulation.

In 2019, she was an Open Technology Fund Information Controls fellow at Data & Society. She also was an Open Society Foundations grantee in 2017, completing a research project on far-right activity on Twitter. In 2018, she received a Masters of Global Affairs from the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

+ BIO: Joan Donovan

Dr. Donovan is a leading public scholar and disinformation researcher, specializing in media manipulation, political movements, critical internet studies, and online extremism. She is the Research Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy and the Director of the Technology and Social Change project (TaSC). Through TaSC, Dr. Donovan explores how media manipulation is a means to control public conversation, derail democracy, and disrupt society. TaSC conducts research, develops methods, and facilitates workshops for journalists, policy makers, technologists, and civil society organizations on how to detect, document, and debunk media manipulation campaigns.

Dr. Donovan is co-founder of Harvard Kennedy School’s Misinformation Review. Her research can be found in academic peer-reviewed journals such as Social Media + Society, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Information, Communication & Society, and Social Studies of Science. She is a columnist at MIT Technology Review, a regular contributor to the New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, and PBS, and is quoted often on radio and in print.

Dr. Donovan has laid out the philosophical frameworks for how to research, report on, and understand this moment in internet history and American politics. Her conceptualizations of strategic silence, meme wars, and media manipulation campaigns provide crucial frameworks for understanding how the US got to this point. She coined many of the terms that the disinformation research field and mainstream media use to understand technology’s impact on society.

Dr. Donovan is the co-creator of the beaver emoji.

Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy
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