Research Seminar: Digital (de)-colonialism: An intellectual history of the global movement for tech accountability

This paper proposes an intellectual history of the movement to decolonize digital technology.

Our societies are in the process of grappling with the harmful impact of a wide range of data-driven technologies. Conversations about the oppressive dimensions of predictive algorithms, facial recognition technology, NLP models and automated content moderation are increasingly widespread in tech policy and civil society communities, as well as in academia and the tech industry itself. Driving this reckoning, a growing community of scholars and civil society voices call for challenging what they see as harmful instances of ‘digital colonialism’. This paper explores the origins and meaning of these calls to resist digital colonialism and decolonize digital ecosystems, and examines their implications for research, tech design, regulation, and advocacy. A primary goal of the paper is to relocate the movement to decolonize tech within a broader history of decolonialism - and to clarify the conceptual promises and limits, potential and blind spots as well as possible contradictions in current calls to decolonize technology.

Toussaint Nothias is Associate Director of Research at the Stanford University Digital Civil Society Lab, and a Social Science Research Scholar at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

Location: Clothworkers’ North Building LT (G.12)

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