In today’s globalized — and, during the pandemic, often virtual — world, communities rely on technology to stay connected. But technology also weaves a worldwide web of digital disparities. To encourage equitable practices, the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry is exploring the intersection of technology, power, and society with the help of a major philanthropic partner.
The interdisciplinary center based at UCLA School of Education & Information Studies received $2.9 million from Australia-based Minderoo Foundation to establish the Minderoo Initiative on Technology and Power. Its scholars will study how digital technologies affect communities; create new paradigms for understanding the harms of different platforms, predictive technologies, and other tools; and translate research into graphic novels, art installations, public policy handbooks, and public events. Their goal is to encourage technologies that are equitable, just, and in service to the public interest.
Going for Global Good
UCLA’s initiative is part of an international network committed to rebalancing power in the tech ecosystem and re-envisioning technology in a pro-public way. With the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Western Australia; New York University; and Minderoo Foundation, UCLA will collaborate on three objectives: tackling lawlessness, empowering workers, and reimagining tech.
“The new Minderoo Initiative situates us as part of a global network of scholars, journalists, makers, and artists who care deeply about the issues of technology and power,” says information studies professor Safiya Umoja Noble, who will co-direct the new initiative with fellow professor Sarah T. Roberts. “We are at a critical juncture where abolitionist and restorative interventions must be considered in the face of mounting social harms from internet-based technologies. Now is the time to support scholars addressing the most pressing harms stemming from digital technologies.”
Longtime Commitment Meets Timely Moment
Noble and Roberts have been shining light on these issues for years. Noble highlights structural racism in commercial search and ad-driven algorithmic content, while Roberts’ work uncovers the low-paid and precarious labor sustaining the industry. Co-founders of the Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, they and their colleagues are committed to advancing racial justice, strengthening accountability and democracy, and protecting human rights in their field.
“This moment is critical in terms of the need to coalesce and consolidate the incredible work of academics and their partners in journalism and civil society and to shine a bright light on the risks we collectively run if the powers of big technology continue unabated,” says Roberts. “At a time when there is a social reckoning toward justice and equity for all people and a deep concern for the health of democracy, we believe this work is more relevant than ever.”
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Published November 2020