Black Heroes of the Internet – Deen Freelon
One of my personal heroes and an undeniable ‘force for good’ in making the web and digital media a better place is Deen Freelon. Deen, currently an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s Hussmann School of Journalism and Media, has not only been at the forefront of using data science and computational social science methods to advance our understanding of how people express themselves on and through digital media, his public scholarship has also enriched debates beyond the sometimes all-too cloistered halls of academia, pushing topics that are vital for democracy out into the open.
His recent work, particularly around disinformation and political social-media campaigns and movements—from the Russian ‘Internet Research Agency’ to Black Lives Matter—belongs to a growing body of work that counters sometimes panic-infused punditry with rigorous and nuanced scientific analysis. His public commentary for outlets such as the Washington Post and the BBC helps to translate these findings into a language and format that is accessible to those who don’t have to spend most of their days immersed in academic debates (so probably 95% of the population). Both is immensely valuable in times when major social and political ruptures concur with a rapidly transforming information and communication landscape, making us question some of our core assumptions about how things work—and should work—in this ‘brave new world’.