The Fifth round of the ACRPS International Winter School on the theme of “Social Media, Surveillance, and Societies of Control” concluded on 11 January 2024. This year’s IWS, which ran from 6-11 January 2024, looked at social media and surveillance in different regions and examined it in relation to a variety of social and political issues. The second half of the Winter School included two lectures, a workshop, and seven participant presentations.
The two lectures covered a diverse range of issues related to surveillance and social media. The fifth day of the Winter School included a lecture by Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, Rebecca L Stein, titled “War, Social Media, Visual Politics”. Drawing on her earlier writings on “digital militarism”, Stein focused on the attempts of the Israeli state and its supporters to manage the visual evidentiary field, and the state-anxiety generated by the proliferation of Palestinian smartphone witnesses in Gaza, with their ability to generate images of Israeli state aggression in real time.
The sixth day of the school began with a lecture by Taha Yasseri, Professor at the School of Sociology and a Geary Fellow at the Geary Institute for Public Policy at University College Dublin, on “Can Crowdsourcing Rescue the Social Marketplace of Ideas?”. Yasseri discussed the potential advantages and drawbacks of community-based approaches to content moderation on social media, based on past research and initial analysis of Twitter’s Birdwatch data. Yasseri’s analysis generally supported a community-based approach to content moderation, but also warned against potential pitfalls.
On the fifth day, Deborah Dike and Guendalina Simoncini presented their papers. Deborah Dike’s paper “Surveillance and Counter Surveillance in Nigerian Social Media Activism: 2020 #EndSARS, Twitter and VPNs” focused on Nigerian state surveillance during the 2020 #EndSARS campaign. Guendalina Simoncini’s paper “Overcoming Digital Insecurity, Rethinking Safety: Feminist Tunisian Cyberactivism in Times of Democratic Regression” discussed how digital security is conceived and perceived by feminist cyberactivists in Tunisia and what strategies they implement to protect themselves in online and offline political activism. This was followed by presentations by two other participants, M M Waseem and Hiba El Bayed. M M Waseem examined digital authoritarianism in the context of India. Hiba El Bayed’s paper examined whether MENA countries have succeeded in adopting sufficient legal provisions that balance effective surveillance of social networks and effective protection of populations by reducing their vulnerabilities.
On the sixth day, Amin Naeni, Amin Majidifard, and Elaheh Eslami presented their papers, discussing disinformation, labeling, and women’s online businesses in Iran. Naeni’s paper “Securitizing Public Protests: Exploring the Role of State-led Online Disinformation Campaigns in Iran” examined how the Iranian government has employed online disinformation campaigns to securitize street protests and frame the suppression as a measure to protect public safety. Majidifard discussed the social media labeling strategies within the “Women, Life, Freedom” Movement in Iran. Eslami’s paper “Governing through Empowering: Women’s Online Home-Based Businesses and Competing Value Regimes in Post-Revolutionary Iran” examined women’s entrepreneurial activities in the context of modernity and development in Iran.
The last day of the school ended with a workshop “Using Social Media and AI for Community Safety: Tools, and Case Studies” by Hamdy Mubarak, Principal Software Engineer at Qatar Computing Research Institute. The workshop explored tools that can be used to increase community safety. Using social media and AI, Mubarak presented case studies to better understand political conflicts, rumours and opinions about COVID-19 vaccinations, attacks on Qatar before the World Cup, biases, and propaganda.
Concluding the International Winter School Program, the organizers thanked the Winter School participants, lecturers, discussants, chairs, and volunteers. Building on the notable success of the five rounds of the IWS, the ACRPS seeks to continue with this academic tradition, which provides researchers around the world the opportunity to connect and exchange ideas with scholars and researchers in the Arab region.