This month marks the end of my directorship of CITS, a position that’s been a joy to have had. CITS is entering a period of exploration—a committee (soon to be named) will lead a yearlong visioning exercise to consider what greater aspirations we can strive to achieve and what new leadership can best help to achieve them. In the interim, I encourage you to continue to confer, collaborate, and create as you always have. The need for, and value of research on technology and society grows greater at every moment.
At the same time, sociotechnical researchers are being threatened for their efforts to discern and disseminate our truth-telling work. When I came to UC Santa Barbara in 2017, “fake news” was a hot topic; researchers here and everywhere endeavored to learn its shapes and its impacts. CITS convened a symposium on the topic
, and our students developed public educational material in the form of a Citizen’s Guide to fake news
. Now, research efforts on the topic are under siege: The Washington Post reports
this month that the House Judiciary Committee has begun “demanding documents from and meetings with leading academics who study disinformation, increasing pressure on a group they accuse of colluding with government officials to suppress conservative speech.” This means that research on the conspiracy theories that suppress vaccination efforts, on the lies that are promulgated about events and opponents, and the development of honest and sophisticated understandings about deliberate attempts to undermining democracy, are imperiled.
Good research doesn’t take sides. Despite politicians’ myth-making to the contrary, academics are not beholden to politics. If facts reveal different patterns of deception from different quarters, it’s our obligation to reveal them and to produce the evidence. In his 2018 address at UCSB, Dean Michael X. Delli Carpini of the Annenberg School for Communication said that there are two professions dedicated to finding and telling the truth: journalism and academic research. CITS stands with our academic colleagues and their scholarly investigations, and we re-commit ourselves to discovery of the impacts of technology on society, and the betterment of humanity through those efforts.
Joe Walther, Director of CITS