Biography

Techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci is an internationally recognized authority on the interactions between technology and social, cultural, and political dynamics. She has special expertise in how social change movements are using social media and on the social and moral implications of how we use big data and algorithms to make decisions. The author of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protests, Zeynep Tufekci is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a monthly contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. Zeynep is also a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and an affiliate appointment in the Department of Sociology at UNC.

Social science trifecta. Zeynep brings a unique combination of gifts to her audiences. She is a technologist, having begun her career as a computer programmer. She is a brilliant and creative social science researcher and analyst. And finally, she speaks from direct experience as a participator in a number of the most important social movements in the last couple of decades, from the first to use social media as an organizing tool (the Zapatista movement in Mexico) to the Arab Spring and Tahrir Square in Egypt.

Twitter and Tear Gas. Zeynep has witnessed firsthand the power of social media as a tool for organizing large numbers of people — and she’s seen the weaknesses unfold when this is how you organize. In her presentations, as in her landmark book, she takes you inside these movements as no one else can and at the same time offers an essential critique, not just of these new tools and their impact, but more broadly, of the emerging intersections between authority, technology, and culture.

Privacy, security, and big data. In more and more areas of business and society, we are relying on big data analysis and algorithms, on machine learning and artificial intelligence, to make our decisions. We do this in the belief that they are better and more “objective” than those made by humans. Zeynep challenges these trends and the assumptions on which they are based with hard evidence and careful analysis of the results — which do not support the faith we put in these technologies.

Credentials. Zeynep Tufekci is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in the School of Information and Library Science, with an affiliate appointment in the Department of Sociology. She contributes Op-Ed pieces monthly to the New York Times and is a regular contributor to The Atlantic. She has given two TED talks and is an Andrew Carnegie Fellow. She is a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society and has been a fellow at Princeton University Center for Information Technology.

Topics

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  • Twitter and Tear Gas

    The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest


    A firsthand account and incisive analysis of modern protest, revealing internet-fueled social movements’ greatest strengths and frequent challenges


    To understand a thwarted Turkish coup, an anti–Wall Street encampment, and a packed Tahrir Square, we must first comprehend the power and the weaknesses of using new technologies to mobilize large numbers of people. An incisive observer, writer, and participant in today’s social movements, Zeynep Tufekci explains in this accessible and compelling book the nuanced trajectories of modern protests — how they form, how they operate differently from past protests, and why they have difficulty persisting in their long-term quests for change.

    Tufekci speaks from direct experience, combining on-the-ground interviews with insightful analysis. She describes how the internet helped the Zapatista uprisings in Mexico, the necessity of remote Twitter users to organize medical supplies during Arab Spring, the refusal to use bullhorns in the Occupy Movement that started in New York, and the empowering effect of tear gas in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. These details from life inside social movements complete a moving investigation of authority, technology, and culture — and offer essential insights into the future of governance.

    Yale University Press (May 16, 2017)


    Praise

    "This comprehensive, thought-provoking work makes a valuable contribution to understanding recent political developments and provides a clear path by which grassroots organizers can improve future efforts."
    Publishers Weekly

    Twitter and Tear Gas is packed with evidence on how social media has changed social movements, based on rigorous research and placed in historical context.”
    — Hannah Kuchler, Financial Times

    “A striking and original conclusion: today’s low barrier for organizing a movement can also lead to its long-term frustrations. Tufekci’s superb book will define the debate on social protest for years to come.”
    — Dani Rodrik, author of Economic Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science

    “Tufekci is undoubtedly the most qualified person in the world to explain the meaning of political collective actions catalyzed and coordinated by social media. She knows the technology, the social science, and the politics — and she is the rare academic observer who was at the scene, from Istanbul to Cairo to New York.”
    — Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution

    “Incisive and illuminating, Tufekci’s book arrives at the perfect moment, right when we desperately need our activism to become smarter and more effective than ever before, or else.”
    — Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age and co-founder of the Debt Collective

    "There have been many lessons for social movements since I spoke to crowds in Tahrir Square who had gathered after a call on a Facebook page I had launched. This incisive, unique, and timely book — brimming with stories and insightful analyses of protest movements — offers a much-needed perspective on politics and protest in the digital age."
    — Wael Ghonim, activist and author of Revolution 2.0

    “Tufekci understands 21st-century protest movements both as a scholar and as a participant, from the Arab Spring to Zucotti Park. In Twitter and Tear Gas, she merges her experiences into a singularly brilliant examination of how movements work and when they don't.”
    — Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus

    “Informative and exciting read! Tufekci is in the perfect spot between activist and researcher to provide insights that only few can. This book sets new grounds for the analysis of social media and political mobilization.”
    — Rasha Abdulla, author of The Internet in the Arab World: Egypt and Beyond

    “Many have asked why people rebel, but few describe how. Here, Tufekci uses firsthand observation to offer an intelligent and informed examination of the tools and nature of today’s political protests.”
    — Vali Nasr, author of The Dispensable Nation and The Shia Revival

    "A brilliant work. In a world of tweet-sized summary judgments, Tufekci provides readers with a depth of analysis and important insights that ought to be read by every diplomat and activist."
    — Alec Ross, former Senior Advisor for Innovation, U.S. Department of State

    “For all the claims that new technologies afford grassroots movements new power, research on the topic is rare. Tufekci's book provides just that — and a cautionary conclusion.”
    — Doug McAdam, author of Deeply Divided: Racial Politics and Social Movements in Postwar America

  • We're building a dystopia just to make people click on ads | TEDGlobal
  • Machine intelligence makes human morals more important | TED
  • Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win | TED

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