October 19 | ‘Data Magic and Democracy: Privacy, Politics, and Transmedia Storytelling’

'Data Magic and Democracy: Privacy, Politics, and Transmedia Storytelling'
ACT at MIT

ACT invites you to attend a panel discussion from the Transmedia Storytelling Initiative (TSI).

On Monday, October 19, join Caroline A. Jones, Daniel J. Wietzner, Patricia Williams, and Ethan Zuckerman for ‘Data Magic and Democracy: Privacy, Politics, and Transmedia Storytelling’ from 5:30-7:30pm EST.

Just weeks before the US presidential election, we invite you to an online public conversation central to our embattled democracy. Join leading scholars who will address internet policy, infrastructure, and ethics as, together with MIT’s Transmedia Storytelling Initiative, we examine the role of documentary and fiction films in shaping how we think about our data. Learn more and register.

Caroline A. Jones, MIT, moderator; Director, Transmedia Storytelling Initiative
Daniel J. Weitzner, MIT, Director, MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative
Patricia Williams, Director of Northeastern University’s Law, Technology and Ethics Initiatives
Ethan Zuckerman, Director, Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure, UMass Amherst

Documentaries and fiction films are among the most powerful cultural tools we have for stimulating important public conversations around data, privacy, and democracy. Urgent concerns with justice intensify the question: who owns our data, what algorithms sift it, and who decides what decisions it drives? This online event (postponed owing to the closure of MIT’s campus last Spring) is made even more timely by recent revelations of the continued harvesting of data and foreign scams on social media, attempting to sway the upcoming US elections and sow doubt in the democratic process. How do we understand the interplay between our data and these social media? The “magic” of data is often evoked in cinema by swirling bits that vent from bodies and machines (“data sweat”), flowing numerals, bodies made of code, or massive diagrams of how it all connects. Are these visual tropes effective for helping the public understand the infrastructures of data gathering, our personal roles as data producers, how industries deploy our data, and the need for privacy controls? The Great Hack joins The Fifth Estate, Citizen 4, For Everyone, and The Inventor as recent films posing questions about how information and technology circulate, how they attract financial backing, and how data becomes a commodified product in our economy, often fueled by venture capital and extravagant promises of political impact or public good.

About TSI: The goal of the Transmedia Storytelling Initiative (TSI) is to create new partnerships among faculty across schools, offer pioneering pedagogy to students at the graduate and undergraduate levels, convene conversations among makers and theorists of time-based media, and encourage shared debate and public knowledge about pressing social issues, aesthetic theories, and technologies of the moving image. The three-year initiative is generously supported by Nina and David Fialkow.

TSI draws on MIT’s long commitment to provocative work produced at the intersection of art​ and technology.

In 1967, the Department of Architecture established the Film Section and founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS). Over time, CAVS brought scores of important video, computer, and “systems” artists to campus. In parallel, the Film Section trained generations of filmmakers as part of Architecture’s Visual Arts Program (VAP). The Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) is the successor to VAP and CAVS. The School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P) that houses ACT and Architecture is uniquely committed to bringing making together with theorizing, as the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) and Architecture departments fostered sections such as History, Theory, and Criticism (HTC), and the Architecture Machine group that became the Media Lab in 1985.

ACT currently includes three faculty who are renowned as artist/thinkers and for producing innovative forms of what has long been theorized as “expanded cinema”: Judith Barry (filmic installations and media theory); Renée Green (“Free Agent Media” and “Cinematic Migrations”); and Nida Sinnokrot (“Horizontal Cinema”). In these artists’ works, the historical “new media” of cinema is reanimated, deconstructed, and reassembled to address wholly contemporary concerns.