manipulation | medium | message

Drawing on my research on Chinese media politics, this project aims to challenge some of the underlying assumptions driving recent debates, which increasingly locate the conditions for media manipulation in digital media. From a Euro-American perspective, the threat appears both as external and internal one. While accounts of Russian election-meddling articulate a vision in which “the West” is attacked from without, supposedly unwitting social media users who share “pathological” content and “fake news” appear to present an internal vulnerability. Ambiguously external and internal, I suggest, the specter of media manipulation offers a unique opportunity to explore circuits of manipulation that challenge Western visions of sovereignty, purity, and autonomy. To address these issues, I draw on my research on Chinese online media to bring an alternative perspective to discussions of “media manipulation.” Investigating media manipulation as practice and narrative, I explore how media manipulation is not just about false media content or disinformation in online media but also about the framing of possibilities and dangers of digital media technologies themselves. How do we deal with a politics of manipulation that is not just about manipulating media content, but about making the medium the message?

workshop | media manipulation: ideologies and political economies of intervention in a digital world

Together with Taras Fedirko, I am currently organizing a workshop on the topic of "media manipulation" The event is co-convened by the StoryLab Research Institute at Anglia Ruskin University and the ERC-funded “Risking Speech” project at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. Manipulation—of attention, opinion, action—has been a salient concern in the recent Euro-American takes on digital media and their role in politics. While the question of media and power is by no means new, attending to how manipulation is imagined and organised at various scales in diverse historical and geographical contexts promises a fresh perspective. The workshop, therefore, explores the relationship between vernacular ideologies of mediated influence and political economies of manipulative interventions both in and beyond Western democracies. The event will take place at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, 29th June 2018.