Department of Philosophy

AI and the Future of Protest Discourse

This is the second of two events this fall from "Boston-Bergen Forum on Digital Futures".

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Boston-Bergen Forum on Digital Futures

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Panel Two: “AI and the Future of Protest Discourse”

Wednesday, November 24th / 12:00 PM (EDT) 18:00 PM (CET) / Virtual Event

1) “Citizen agency in the age of AI"
Stefania Milan (Associate Professor of New Media and Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam)

2) “Can digital disobedience be civil?”
Robin Celikates (Professor of Practical and Social Philosophy, Freie Universität Berlin)

3) “In search of proportionality: nonsense and meaning in the digital public sphere"
Will Davies (Professor of Political Economy, Goldsmith University London)

Main moderation: Christopher Senf


1) Event Series Description

Over the past decade, we have witnessed astonishing protest events, with activists using socialmedia platforms to mobilize masses and bring about change. Occupy’s Facebook Movement or MeToo’s hashtag activism shifted the public’s attention to urgent matters, politicized everyday life, and supercharged democratic participation. However, there is increasing debate about the flipside of these forms of joint action. The ever growing datafication (i.e., tracking, monitoring, and assessing) of our media behavior for profit purpose, raises the question of how new digital technology is not only enabling, but likewise challenging and restricting movement’s protests, and what it means to be an activist.

For instance, what is the impact of government and corporate surveillance technologies on activism? Also, how should we evaluate a movement’s goals and individuals’ participation, when the business model driving their means of communications aims at driving up engagement and grow network interaction? In fact, how should we understand citizens’ political engagement on social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook shaped by AI-driven echo chambers, esteem feedback loops, fake news and web cultures of polarization, and the fear of missing out? These platforms provide more than mere tools of communication for spreading info and mobilizing. Instead, they offer entire realms of experiences of protest, where one can enjoy the feeling of being part of a group of like-minded fellows fighting a just cause through tweeting and liking. 

Given that movements require communal space where individuals share experiences of injustice and form collective agency, how do these virtual realms change how protesters justify actions, reflect social problems, or identify political foes? Digital capitalism confronts activists
and democracy with novel conditions that might entirely change what we value about protest. What, for instance, about protesters’ political responsibility if they rise up as they expect group confirmation and infotainment, rather than an open, public dialog that requires serious attention, sustained claim making and long-term commitment? Furthermore, how can we form critical and meaningful political conversations necessary to bring about positive societal change and overcome crises that are not bound by platform companies’ commodification, outrageification and gamification of protest? Ultimately, how will the future of protest and political activism in the age of digital capitalism look like? 

These pressing conceptual and normative problems are picked up in our Boston-Bergen Forum on Digital Futures by bringing together philosophers, media scientists, and economists. Our event series will involve two virtual panel debates based on a collaboration between UMass Boston’s Applied Ethics Center (AIEX Project) and Media Futures Bergen (Research Centre for Responsible Media Technology and Innovation at the University of Bergen).