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CISI Speaker - Dr. Emma L. Briant, Researcher, School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University

Monday, March 4, 2019 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Emma L. Briant, Researcher, George Washington University
Date: Monday, March 4, 2019 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Location: 142 Wilson Hall
Co-Sponsors: Department of Media Studies

Talk Title:  Propaganda Machine: The Hidden Story of Cambridge Analytica and the Digital Influence Industry

Abstract:  Dr. Briant will talk about her ongoing book project, Propaganda Machine, which will tell the untold story of Cambridge Analytica (CA) in the words and documents of those who built it, and the voices of those who exposed it. It is a book about the rise and continuing threat of a new breed of influence firm who brought dirty tricks and propaganda into a digital age. CA’s parent company SCL drew on military and intelligence methodologies, and growing access to social media data, to develop a surveillant and coercive influence capability for commercial expansion, while providing unique methods for Western governments' national security. Explosive growth of social media like Facebook opened the door to big data analytics, psychographics, and the techniques of surveillant advertising. This talk will analyze the global expansion of a model of surveillant, data-driven and extreme propaganda which ultimately enabled a uniquely contemporary crisis during the Brexit and Trump campaigns. Dr. Briant describes the incentivization of a business model that undermines human rights efforts, heightens inequality and makes Western governments’ security and elections vulnerable. The book draws case studies from many exclusive interviews and documents. Dr. Briant argues that media and political debates as they focused on the Facebook data scandal, systematically underestimated the scale and implications of this crisis. This book will consider data ethics within wider context of other dimensions of CA's unethical practice. Dr. Briant argues that CA was an extreme but logical product of an economic, security and communication policy environment that enables and incentivizes unethical behaviour from a rapidly developing and unaccountable industry.

Biography: A researcher at George Washington University, Dr. Briant specializes in researching political communication and propaganda both in international security and political campaigns, she gained unparalleled access to Senior Executives at SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica and her work has since aided multiple important investigations. Her widely reported evidence to the UK Fake News Inquiry and Senate Judiciary Committee was discussed by UK Parliament, Canadian Parliament, European Parliament and US Congress.