Ideas

2020 Massey Lectures: Renowned tech expert Ronald J. Deibert to explore disturbing impact of social media

Citizen Lab director Ronald J. Deibert will deliver this year's Massey Lectures, arguing that the internet, especially social media, has an increasingly toxic influence in every aspect of life.

Lecture series titled Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society

Ron Deibert is the founder and director of Citizen Lab, a research centre based at the University of Toronto, which studies technology, surveillance and censorship. His 2020 Massey Lectures will focus on the societal impact of the internet and social media. (House of Anansi Press)

In the midst of a global pandemic when many of us are spending an increasing amount of time online, this year's Massey Lectures argues that the internet, especially social media, has an increasingly toxic influence in every aspect of life.

Technology and security expert Ron Deibert will deliver the series of lectures, titled Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society. The six lectures are also now available as a book by House of Anansi Press.

Drawing from his work as the director of Citizen Lab, which has made headlines for its cyber espionage research, Deibert will talk about the personal, social, political, economic and ecological implications of social media.

This year's Massey Lectures will be delivered remotely, and will feature a lineup of guest commentators, including journalists Misha Glenny and John Naughton and academics Tamsin Shaw and Chinmayi Arun.  As usual, the lectures will be broadcast on CBC Radio's IDEAS and the CBC Listen App

Each of the six lectures will air every weekday starting Monday, Nov. 9 until Monday, Nov. 16.

In the first lecture, Deibert will lay out some of the problems we are facing because of our always-on, always-connected digital society.

In the second, he will explore how the economic model of social media is organized around personal data surveillance.

In the third lecture, he will discuss how social media platforms are engineered to be "addiction machines." 

In lecture four, he will examine the role social media has played in the rise and spread of authoritarian practices worldwide. 

In lecture five, he will review the negative environmental impacts associated with social media, from electronic mining to cloud computing's contributions to CO2 emissions and the growing problem of electronic waste. 

In the final lecture, he will explore what can be done to imagine a better world.

The Massey Lectures is an annual series of lectures delivered by distinguished writers, thinkers and scholars. Past lecturers include Margaret Atwood, Thomas King, Noam Chomsky and Northrop Frye.

The series is co-sponsored by CBC Radio, House of Anansi Press and Massey College in the University of Toronto.

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