Digital Media and the Future(s) of Democracy Lecture by Kelly Gates

"Big Data and State Transparency: What the Absence of Data on Police Killings Reveals"
Lights on Police Car Annenberg School for Communication ASC UPenn University of Pennsylvania
Date: 
10 Dec 2015 - 4:30pm
Location: 
Silverstein Forum, Stiteler Hall, First Floor
Audience: 
Open to the Public
Type: 
Lecture

Title: "Big Data and State Transparency: What the Absence of Data on Police Killings Reveals"

IN THE AFTERMATH OF A SPATE OF POLICE KILLINGS THAT BEGAN with the June 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, an issue emerged as a newly apparent "matter of concern": the alarming number of killings of unarmed people by the police, of course, but also the glaring absence of data on those killings. This paper analyzes the absence of data on police killings from the combined perspectives of digital media studies and science and technology studies, considering what this absence reveals about the promise and problems of data analytics for democratic governance.

Excerpt: "In the aftermath of a spate of police killings that began with the June 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, an issue emerged as a newly apparent matter of concern: the alarming number of killings of unarmed people by the police, of course, but also the glaring absence of data on those killings. From August 2014 through March 2015, news stories and commentary specifically addressing the absence of an official accounting of police killings appeared in places like Mother Jones, Gawker and Deadspin, and in major news media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal,and The Guardian. When journalists and other interested parties went looking for official statistics on the number of people who get killed by the police in the United States, they came up empty."

All attendees are encouraged to read Professor Gates' paper, available here.

About the Speaker:

Kelly Gates is an Associate Professor in Communication and Science Studies at UC San Diego. Her research focuses on the critical analysis of digital media technologies. Her main emphasis has been the politics and social implications of computerization, and particularly the automation of surveillance, in the United States from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Her 2011 book, Our Biometric Future: Facial Recognition Technology and the Culture of Surveillance, explores the effort underway since the 1960s to teach computers to see the human face. She is currently working on a new project that investigates the emerging professional field of video forensics and its attendant technologies. Professor Gates is currently a Fall 2015 Visiting Scholar with the Scholars Program in Culture and Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication.


Penn School of Arts and Sciences Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism and the Annenberg School for Communication presents the Digital Media and the Future(s) of Democracy Lecture Series.

The long-term impacts of disruptive new technologies are always difficult to predict. This is particularly true for the emergence, spread and evolution of digital media over the last several decades. Do web-based, mobile, and social media provide unprecedented opportunities to democratize the production of news and public information, or do they only weaken the authority and legitimacy of professional journalists? Do they improve the efficiency and accountability of governments and businesses, or do they provide new tools for government and corporate surveillance? Do they enable democratic movements against repressive regimes, or do they provide these regimes greater means of repression? Do they facilitate and even redefine the nature of civic and political engagement, or do they divert attention from public life and issues? Do they contribute to new forms of citizenship and identity that cross national and social boundaries, or do they harden national, ethnic, religious and social divides?  Do they serve as public spaces for deliberation and rational discourse, or do they amplify extreme voices that contribute to the fracturing of societies along ideological lines? 

As it devotes its 2015-16 year to the theme, “Digital Media and the Future(s) of Democracy,” Penn DCC seeks to assess the complex impact of the radically evolving media landscape on democratic politics, as well as on the closely related issues of citizenship and constitutional government, both in the United States and around the globe. In our faculty workshops and annual conference, we will enlist the help of an interdisciplinary group of scholars to shed light on these issues, in the hope of providing a clearer vision of future promise and peril.

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