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Accepted Paper:

The information sanctuary? Dealing with conspiracy theories, strategic actors and platforms in a technologically infused media ecosystem.  

Author:

Jaron Harambam (KU Leuven)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the Dutch conspiracy milieu, I show how the internet is both the information sanctuary for hidden knowledge and a complex warzone where the manipulation of people's minds is central. I critically review the anthropologist's position amidst these battles.

Paper long abstract:

Conspiracy theories - in all their variety - are attractive for many different people for similarly varying reasons. As my ethnographic fieldwork in the Dutch conspiracy milieu made clear, the internet proved for many people the information sanctuary where they could learn about facets of life that, in their eyes, have been hidden or obscured before, but what is now open for everybody to see. In recent years, it has become clear that the internet is no longer the emancipatory open space in which information freely travels, but is increasingly structured and manipulated by various strategic actors and platform infrastructures alike. What does this mean for the circulation and popularity of conspiracy theories? And what role do anthropologists play here to keep the internet a free space where quality information thrives and people are in control over the information they get to see. In this paper, I document this historical shift in the way information circulates on the internet, and based on my research, critically review current efforts to deal with this new but precarious situation. These boil down to 1) educating or empowering people, 2) platform (self) regulation, which both have potentials but serious limitations. I conclude by proposing alternative options for anthropologists to engage with various publics and the information they hold dear to foster deliberation instead of manipulation. These are inspired by STS efforts to include laymen in epistemic controversies and here take form as citizen knowledge platforms assessing the quality and credibility of online knowledge.

Panel P015
Engaged media anthropology in the digital age [Media Anthropology Network]