Meet Zeynep Tufekci, the technology critic who warned us about Facebook and politics back in 2012

Meet Zeynep Tufekci, the technology critic who warned us about Facebook and politics back in 2012

She tried to tell us in November 2012, just after Barack Obama beat out Mitt Romney for a second term as president of the United States. Obama's win was credited in part to a sophisticated online campaign that used heaps of data on millions of Americans to target digital efforts for maximum impact—something that happened out of sight of government regulators and the public eye. She tried to tell us that this was a bad precedent. "They take persuasion into a private, invisible realm. Misleading TV ads can be countered and fact-checked. Now, Tufekci has emerged as one of the strongest voices pushing Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the tech industry at large to reckon with what they've built and how it's used. A revealing exchange featuring a sociologist (Zeynep) & the head of Facebook's News Feed (Adam). And with all three companies starting to admit that, yes, they do have a responsibility for what happens on their platforms, Tufekci's work is getting the broader attention it deserves. When it happens Zeynep's name will figure prominently — Tressie Mc (@tressiemcphd) October 28, 2017 Tufekci isn't done issuing warnings. Maybe this time we'll listen.

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Zeynep TufekciPersonalDemocracy
Zeynep Tufekci

Zeynep Tufekci tried to tell us.

She tried to tell us in November 2012, just after Barack Obama beat out Mitt Romney for a second term as president of the United States. Obama’s win was credited in part to a sophisticated online campaign that used heaps of data on millions of Americans to target digital efforts for maximum impact—something that happened out of sight of government regulators and the public eye.

She tried to tell us that this was a bad precedent.

“The scalpels, on the other hand, can be precise and effective in a quiet, un-public way,” Tufekci wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “They take persuasion into a private, invisible realm. Misleading TV ads can be countered and fact-checked. A misleading message sent in just the kind of e-mail you will open or ad you will click on remains hidden from challenge by the other campaign or the media.”

Almost five years later, that paragraph in particular stands out. A growing pile of evidence shows that Russia saw what Tufekci saw—and acted on it. Now, Tufekci has emerged as one of the strongest voices pushing Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the tech industry at large to reckon with what they’ve built and how it’s used.

Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science, refers to herself as a “technosociologist,” studying how technology affects social movements around the world. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Tufekci started out as a computer programmer before she became fascinated with how technology impacts society. Her recent book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, is required reading for people trying to understand how social media went from fueling the Arab Spring to muddying a U.S. election.

Tufekci has written for the New…

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