The Open Society vs Social Media
5.45 PM – Registration begins
5.50 PM – Introduction to the Nightwatchman Society
6.00 – 7.00 PM – Insights by Sanjana Hattotuwa
7.00 PM – 7.30 PM – Q&A and open discussion
7.45 PM – Closing remarks
About the talk
The more social media takes root in our country, the more it is used for ‘constant campaigns’, where politics is defined or debated through the insidious cultivation of misinformation, fear and anxiety. What really does an ‘open society’ mean given this new, yet already entrenched reality?
What to bring
A couple of interested friends who’d enjoy some thought-provoking insights – and an open mind!
About the speaker
He is an Ashoka, Rotary World Peace and TED Fellow. Since 2002, Sanjana has worked at the intersection of technology, peacebuilding, culture & civic media. In 2006 Sanjana founded, and for 11 years, curated the award-winning Groundviews platform – Sri Lanka’s first citizen journalism website. Sanjana specialises in, advises and trains on new media literacy, web-based activism and advocacy. For over a decade, he has also leveraged theater, art and design to interrogate inconvenient truths, explore constitutionalism, unpack the nature of violence and interrogate the timbre of democracy. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand on social media and socio-political dynamics in post-war Sri Lanka.
Deeper Overview of the talk
My doctoral research focuses on the role, reach and relevance of social media around political developments, terrorism, communal violence and democratic gains during the yahapalayana years. Studying Facebook and Twitter at scale – embracing millions of interactions to drill down into more granular details at specific moments in time – reveals fascinating patterns that unearth a sustained symbiosis between what is produced, promoted or engaged with digitally, and more physical or kinetic reactions and responses. Several questions easily present themselves as a result. What is the ‘real world’? What if any is the distinction between mainstream, traditional and social media? Who are the arbiters of truth on Facebook –algorithms, old media, civil society, individuals or collectives? These are, in fact, the easy questions, even though answers are often complicated. The harder ones are anchored to how sophisticated, pervasive communications strategies and content, anchored or partial to specific political ideologies or individuals, are changing mindsets and public discourse. The more social media takes root in our country, the more it is used for ‘constant campaigns’, where politics is defined or debated not through substance, principle or reason, but the insidious cultivation of fear and anxiety leading to polarisation. What really does an ‘open society’ mean given this new yet already entrenched reality? If pervasive black-box algorithms primarily serve to erode agentive citizenship, is social media (in our country) more biased towards the captive and colonising than emancipatory or democratic? And, perhaps more selfishly given the current political dispensation, how free are we to discuss these issues central to Sri Lanka’s democracy, if it primarily invites vitriol or violence from populist political authority and powerful proxies? Indubitably disappointing all who attend, the talk will offer no viable solutions or meaningful answers to any of the questions raised. And yet, snapshots of research presented may kindle interest in more robust and sustained debate on around how and to what degree Sri Lanka captures its democratic potential, given dark patterns on social media that silently hold us all hostage.