Book Talk: Black Skinhead & Meme Wars
On Monday, October 3rd, at the Berkman Klein Center, there was a unique hybrid book talk with Brandi Collins-Dexter, author of Black Skinhead: Reflections on Blackness and Our Political Future and Joan Donovan and Brian Friedberg, authors of Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America.
Moderated by Berkman Klein faculty associate Biella Coleman–author of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous (2014)–this event was held in partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
“Sociotechnical security” provides a lens for understanding complex issues in cybersecurity that require a deeper, multi-disciplinary, and intersectional analysis of technical systems that takes into account all those implicated in them. As we grapple with the twin threats of disinformation and violence toward marginalized tech users, those seeking holistic governance solutions will need an expanded concept of safety that engages with paradigms of harm and accountability. This talk is a unique pairing of perspectives from the intersection of research and practice, inviting engagement from technologists who wish to expand their knowledge of traditional cybersecurity to anticipate complex risks that have evolving implications for rights, freedoms, and civic inclusion.
Selected by the New York Times as one of "15 Works of Nonfiction to Read This Fall," Black Skinhead reveals decades of simmering disaffection in Black America, using statistics and personal verve to tell a broader story of Black engagement with, and disengagement from, politics and technology–-including, notably, a “fragile alliance” with the Democratic Party. As campaign director for leading civil society organization Color of Change, Collins-Dexter testified in front of US Congress on disinformation, privacy, and economics and was a leader in persuading Facebook to undergo an unprecedented civil rights audit to address the platform’s negative impact on marginalized communities.
Called “clear-eyed and persuasive” by Publishers Weekly, Meme Wars is a groundbreaking investigation into a digital underworld where far-right operatives leveraged technology to wage a new form of information war against mainstream American institutions, from reporting to democratic elections, thus propagating real-world violent incitement. Written by guests Donovan and Friedberg alongside journalist Emily Dreyfuss, the book uses case studies to show the chilling evolution of memes from mischief to malice. With a sociotechnical security framework for tech and policy debates that pushes well beyond the boundaries of networked disinformation scholarship, Meme Wars illuminates the unexpected vulnerabilities of unleashing platform information networks at scale that bypass critical protections and cannibalize the commons.
Brandi Collins-Dexter is the former Senior Campaign Director at Color Of Change. She is a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
Joan Donovan, PhD, is the research director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center and one of the foremost experts on media and disinformation in the world.
Brian Friedberg is an ethnographer at Harvard Kennedy School, who researches far-right and political communities online and published definitive Qanon explainers in WIRED and The Hill.
Moderator: Biella Coleman
Gabriella (Biella) Coleman is a full professor in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University and is a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Trained as an anthropologist, her scholarship covers the politics, cultures, and ethics of hacking. She is the author of two books on computer hackers and the founder and editor of Hack_Curio, a video portal into the cultures of hacking.
Black Skinhead: Reflections on Blackness and Our Political Future
Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America