Sara Bannerman – Algorithmic imperialism and fake news

Photo by Hayden Walker on Unsplash

Friday, 7 September 2018 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

KG-Z9-607 Seminar Room

This paper will critique the responses of platforms and governments to fake news by drawing on the concept of ‘algorithmic imperialism’. In part one of the paper, I define algorithmic imperialism, drawing on Jin’s (2015) notion of ‘platform imperialism.’ The notion of platform imperialism builds on concepts of cultural imperialism (Schiller, 1969) as evidenced in an international communication system “characterized by imbalances and inequalities between rich and poor nations (UNESCO, 1980, 111-115) that were “the outcome of fundamental historical inequalities” (Jin, 2015, 40). Second, I note that algorithmic imperialism, like platform imperialism, can be seen as the fusion of nation-state political interests with capitalist expansion. Used by multinational corporations and nation states alike, algorithmic tools and techniques help to lay the groundwork for deepening and intersecting global inequalities (Barbrook and Cameron, 1996; Crenshaw 1991; Eubanks, 2011).  Third, I argue that algorithmic imperialism, in the context of fake news, fuses the problems associated with both imperialism and algorithmic governance. Algorithms are posed as a tool of governance that responds to the problematization of fake news. However, as with any form of imperialism, this approach produces results that are both ineffective and unjust. Further, as with many forms of algorithmic governance, this approach incorporates algorithmic bias and problems of algorithmic speed. The global context of the algorithmic governance of fake news means that the problems of political interference (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017), alienation (Conroy, Rubin & Chen, 2015), and repression (Miles, 2018; Shepherd, 2018), among others, are compounded globally, while the benefits (of advertising revenues and data services) accrue to a relative few. This analysis suggests that media education must confront algorithmic power as it addresses problematizations of fake news. Drawing Roio (2018), I suggest that participatory design research can produce ways forward towards algorithmic sovereignty.

Sara Bannerman is Canada Research Chair in Communication Policy and Governance | Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University. Shae has published articles and book chapters on international copyright, crowdfunding, historical institutionalism, and Canadian media coverage of same-sex marriage.  Her research area is the networked governance of communication, including copyright and intellectual property, communications law & policy, the international governance of communications, and communications policy history.  She the author of International Copyright and Access to Knowledge(CambridgeUP) and The Struggle for Canadian Copyright: Imperialism to Internationalism, 1842-1971 (UBC Press, 2013).