Dax D’Orazio

Dax D’Orazio spoke 10 times across 1 day of testimony.

  1. Dax D’Orazio, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Political Science – Queen’s University)

    Thank you very much, Wayne, and pleasure to be here with you all for a very exciting conversation.


  2. Dax D’Orazio, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Political Science – Queen’s University)

    I want to get the conversation kicked off by speaking specifically about three major consequences of the advent of social media for public discourse, understood in a very broad sense; and also for possibilities for debate, dissent, and activism. So the first major consequence, I think, is it’s fair to say the traditional gatekeepers of information can be bypassed. If we’re understanding social media and communication historically for a moment, traditionally information was filtered through very few hands. And every time we see a revolution in communication technology, we see some commensurate friction related to who controls the flow and circulation of information and also meaning. At the same time that we see the advent of social media, we also see some almost mutually reinforcing trends in the field of journalism, and some of that traditional circulation of information. I think it’s fair to say that there is a crisis in journalism, not just in North America but also around the world, where traditional outlets of information are struggling to keep the doors open, and there is also a waning of traditional forms of journalistic content. We also see a fracturing of audiences that consume information as well. And so the advent of social media doesn’t take place in isolation from these other political, economic changes in journalistic field. There are costs and benefits with this advent of social media, and a huge one on this front, as it relates to traditional gatekeepers, is that we have potentially more access to accurate and also more valued information. That said, we also see potentialities for a greater influence of things like conspiracy, rumour, hate, and also propaganda. The second major consequence of social media is that the delivery and circulation of our messages is both instantaneous and global. I’m thinking historically again. Our means of communication was traditionally conditioned by proximity to others with which to communicate and also the type of technology that we would be able to use. Social media has completely shattered those -- that conditioning, and we’re able to, at the touch of our fingertips, communicate with literally the whole world and also instantaneously. That led to what we might call techno-optimism, which was we could communicate with others across difference, and that would be a net positive for global society. We now, unfortunately, speak of digital detoxes, having a healthy distance between ourselves and digital spaces, about echo chambers being mostly privy to communication that confirms our own biases or beliefs, and so the friction or the cost and benefits on this front are that we have access to drastically more information, but that there are increased technological technical means of limiting and correcting falsehoods. They often spread much faster than truth might spread. Lastly, social media means that public discourse has arguably become more democratic and also accessible. Although we have these really lofty goals for what we could call the marketplace of ideas, it’s typically the case that those with the deepest pockets have historically had the loudest voices, and social media allows average people to contribute very substantially to public discourse to see themselves seen in public discourse and also register contributions and also complaints. Our public discourse as well is already saturated with information that is persuasive in one way or another or has some goal or idea already attached to it, and so social media has allowed individuals to eschew some of that purposeful information that’s in the public sphere and also create greater opportunities for dissent. The cost and benefit here is that social media often can lead to greater surveillance in a sense it’s been a godsend for the state security apparatus in some ways. It also can increase to -- or sorry, lead to increases in social conformity and also social control. And so we see a tension between making public discourse more accessible while also having some pitfalls associated with that, including surveillance and control. Speaking very specifically about how and why social media was impactful in the convoy, we -- Emily very helpfully mentioned in her paper that social media was the central nervous system of the convoy. I would definitely reiterate that. That’s a nice way of describing how social media was integral. Social media’s a way of creating and circulating meaning, and so before the convoy protest, some of the same messaging garnered momentum and public attention because of social media. It was a way of creating meaning, finding community and building eventually momentum for social and a political movement. It was also integral in mobilizing and organizing specific meetings and events, so it’s a way of people finding themselves together in something very, very specific and tangible. It’s also a way to publicize and, in another sense, memorialize specific events. It’s a way of capturing reality and signalling solidarity by consuming meaning together. It’s also a way to contest what you might describe as official sources and accounts and also to shape public perception, so sometimes it’s a way to go around what’s considered the mainstream or the dominant forms of information in society. It was also integral to fundraising activities, so it wasn’t passing around envelopes or hats to collect money. It left open fundraising to a large swath of individuals, even all over the world. It’s also a way to monitor opposition, to do something akin to counter-intelligence, and sometimes even target opponents. Not speaking specifically of the convoy protest, although that could also be the case, but social media’s a way to monitor those who might be in opposition to a specific movement or a specific idea. And lastly, we see social media used for real- time communication for coordination, so social media sites have communication modes often attached to them that are instantaneous, so people can text and coordinate with each other. They can also use encrypted radio chats as well, so social media’s also impactful in real-time communication. I’ll leave it there as an opener. I look forward to more discussion. Thank you.


  3. Dax D’Orazio, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Political Science – Queen’s University)



  4. Dax D’Orazio, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Political Science – Queen’s University)

    Sure. I can be very brief and then we can pass it along. I think perhaps a way to understand it is to think about it as layers. So some social media sites are more public facing than others. For instance, a Twitter or a Facebook or an Instagram, it is very public facing and is about publicizing very broadly a specific message or an idea or a concept or an argument, but there are other layers of communication within different social media sites where you might have different levels of encryption so that monitoring or surveilling is a bit more difficult. Only the participants see the end-to-end of that communication method. And so that more not necessarily surreptitious, but closely guarded form of communication or information sharing, I think, forms different layers. You have a more public-facing layer, which is garnering support in memorializing, in conveying details that are comfortable to be shared publicly, and then you have more subsequent layers that are perhaps more closely guarded for the insiders of the movement, let’s say.


  5. Dax D’Orazio, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Political Science – Queen’s University)

    I'd like to pick up on some of the insightful comments from my colleagues and speak specifically for a moment about some of the practical and also moral tensions in drawing the lines of free expression in online spaces and specifically on social media. So the first one is practical, and that is built on millennia of histories of censorship. Censorship or content moderation, however you'd like to describe it, has several millennia of history and there's always a tension between having restrictions or content moderation that is either too broad or too narrow. If restrictions are too broad, we can get chilling, for example. We constrict public discourse in ways that are unmerited, and that is a problem, not just for self-realization or the pursuit of truth, but democracy itself, us being able to have something akin to a marketplace of ideas is a pillar of liberal democracy. On the other side, if our content moderation, if our restrictions are too narrow, they might be ineffective. They might only capture, for example, the outer margins of expression. And so the problem there is that they're not actually making our online spaces safe and accessible for everyone. And so that tension between regulations being either too broad or too narrow is seen throughout the history of censorship and also freedom of expression. The other thing or the other tension is practical, but also in a sense moral, and it is presently, because social media platforms for the most part are considered intermediaries or platforms rather than publishers, there's a disjuncture between the protections for expression citizens have in the public sphere, understood in a very big and broad sense, and the protections for expression that they have in online spaces. And so if we believe in free expression, if we think that it is the lifeblood of democracy, it may be the case that it is a problem that citizens have less protections for their expression on private platforms that are nonetheless have become the default public sphere. I think it's -- it is the case that people increasingly, if they want to be apprised of current or public affairs, are opening Facebook or Instagram rather than opening a newspaper or reading a periodical. And so that distinction between public and private on these platforms is really important and lurking below the surface of how we devise meaningful regulations related to content restrictions or potential conflict restrictions.


  6. Dax D’Orazio, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Political Science – Queen’s University)

    Thank you. Hopefully just two quick points. I think it's vitally important to build upon what's already been said to take a peek behind the curtains and actually look at what motivates social media companies, so what the algorithms look like and what the infrastructure of those companies actually look like. The algorithm itself or the architecture itself essentially has two impulses. One impulse is to maximize engagement, and that is just keeping eyeballs on the apps, on the devices as much as possible, using any means necessary. In that broad sense, the content itself is a derivative problem of a much larger algorithmic problem which is engagement is strategized at any cost, and sometimes to the detriment of the wellbeing of the actual users themselves. We're only now catching up to in the public sphere having an important conversation about the social, political and psychological effects of social media engagement. We've talked at length about the positives and also some of the negatives, and so getting that balance right is very important. The business model too of some of big data is to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. And so they're often engaging in grand social experiments in commodifying the human experience and our own personal and private data for their own self interests, sometimes completely surreptitiously, or at least on, you know, a contractual basis that can easily be questioned. Eventually, we have a very large public scandal that gives us a peek behind the curtains like a Cambridge Analytica, like an Edward Snowden. But for the most part, people are blissfully unaware of the way that their experiences are commodified, repackaged and sold when they engage on social media sites. The other thing that I'd like to mention is that when we're trying to understand the problem and the risks of extremism that's specifically online in the sense that it comes about and it's nourished in online spaces, I think we need to make a really important distinction between the people that we might say are the useful ignorance, who as a result of the pandemic especially might be incredibly isolated, incredibly lonely. It's been a time in which we've had some social isolation and detachment. It's also true that in the last few decades we could say that most people consume the mental equivalent of junk food. And so our informational literacy is not -- doesn't conform to some of these big, lofty goals that we have for the citizen in the theory of liberal democracy. So we need to make a distinction between those who get swept up in these movements, these ideas, these arguments online and those who actually pose some real legitimate danger to the public sphere, those that are explicit manipulators, those that are motivated by sometimes very dangerous ideologies, and also those that are just shameless entrepreneurs at the end of the day. So again, making a distinction between those who might harbour some good faith and engage in online content, sometimes extremist content, say, unknowingly, in a sense, or at least out of a desire for creating meaning and also creating community and those who are the propagators explicitly of misleading information for profit and also for ideology.


  7. Dax D’Orazio, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Political Science – Queen’s University)

    Thank you. Yes, indeed, a lot of generative conversations, so thanks to all my interlocutors. I want to pick up on something that was just mentioned by David that we hadn't quite mentioned yet, and that is that policy responses are always laden with unintended consequences. And if we're thinking about free expression specifically, that is definitely the case as well. One of the things that's notable with online extremism is that even though we might develop meaningful regulations, the speed and the pace of technological innovation means that policy and government in a sense is always sprinting to try to catch up. Extremists often get ditched from one platform and pop up on another, and it is definitely the case that we've not yet seen the full, broad scale of what social media will actually look like. We will actually probably see within the next decade another complete rehauling or evolution in communication technology that facilitates new forms of engagements in meaning making and also extremism. Getting that balance right and speaking again of those unintended consequences, we want to make sure that we are not completely driving extremism underground. There's also a case to be made that we want extremists out in the open, that it's much easier to context extremism when it's out in the open and not lurking in the dark corners of the internet. We also want to be mindful that part of the impetus and the personal and also collective identity making that happens in extremist movements is based on this idea of being antithetical to the mainstream of the dominance of the normal. And so in a sense, being pushed to the margins is almost worn as a badge. It's a way to symbol authenticity and belonging. And I think the policy also needs to grapple with that paradox, that if one's identity creation is based in opposition to the mainstream, policy shouldn't further that division. We need to think about shoring up trust in public institutions and also the public sphere. So again, a very difficult balance to be had. Speaking specifically and very quickly about social media regulations, I really think what needs to happen among policy makers and public intellectuals, among journalists, et cetera, is to think about social media in the framework of consumer protection. As I mentioned before, we're just now catching up to some of those ramifications, some of which are deeply personal, about how social media is changing our social and political world. It's not the case that social media needs to be a punitive and venomous hellscape. It is possible to make the online space safe and accessible for everyone to expand the public sphere, to improve it, to increase public participation and debate and deliberation at a time when trust and confidence in public institutions -- trust in public institutions is waning, sometimes precipitously, or at least it seems. And so getting that balance just right is just important, and I appreciate conversations to that effect.


  8. Dax D’Orazio, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Political Science – Queen’s University)



  9. Dax D’Orazio, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Political Science – Queen’s University)

    Okay. I actually want to rewind, if I may, to make some really quick points for the ---


  10. Dax D’Orazio, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Political Science – Queen’s University)

    Thank you. Parallel to the rise of social media, we've seen a really intense fragmentation within the field of journalism, and so what that means and why it's consequential for our discussion today is that journalistic information is increasingly tailored for specific audiences rather than a big and a broad audience. And so the consequences of that are that there are declining incentives for journalistic curiosity for intellectual humility, for example. And one of the things that's notable in the contemporary period is that the was often an anxiety or a hesitance to provide a platform or legitimacy to ideas that are quite easily discredited, but it's still important for the public to be able to understand why specific ideas come to the floor, and also why people might attach themselves to a specific movement, even if we might intersubjectively agree that it has some harmful elements attached to it. And so there needs to be an explicit understanding that trying to understand one's motivations, whether that's on an individual basis or a collective basis, is not the same as providing unearned legitimacy. And so the role of the media is really crucial in trying to explain to a broad public why somebody might come to a specific position, even if we might in the aggregate disagree with it. On the point about anonymity, I'd echo what Jonathon mentioned already. It essentially is a double-edged sword. If we want to expand the ambit of public discourse to make it more accessible, to improve democracy, we need to have opportunities for people to blow the whistle, and anonymity is a huge shield for whistleblowers who often have not a great experience in blowing the whistle, be able to do so anonymously. And so if platforms increasingly make requirements that your identity is tethered to your profile or your engagement, for example, there needs to be some commensurate thinking about what the disclosure of wrongdoing can look like that still remains anonymous because that is definitely one of the positive impacts of social media, if we're thinking about the broad contours of democratic participation. To circle back around to the psychological, the sociological effects of social media, we now have a relatively substantial and growing by the day, body of literature that's interdisciplinary, that's showing that perhaps left to its own devices, social media has in a way surreptitiously confirming our own biases, leading to negative personal habits and traits, and essentially allowing individuals and groups to lean into some of their most unsavoury predilections. We're now starting to think about social media engagement as an addiction, for example. We're talking about having a digital detox. And so the conversation that desperately needs to be had is how to salvage and repair some of the positive elements of social media, while thinking comprehensively through some of the negative externalities of engagement online, which we've discussed relatively at length today.