It’s exciting as it is daunting to be taking the reins at CASM. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on what exactly our centre is for, as well as say thank you to all the support and wisdom that Jamie, Carl, Josh and everyone else I work with everyday whose ongoing support makes me feel we’re in safe hands.
I’ve been at Demos for six years which makes me a dinosaur by think-tank standards. Over that time our centre has evolved. From Carl and Jamie’s first report – a 2010 piece on conspiracy thinking that seems to ring truer every day – our work has covered everything from digital populism (2012!) to Bitcoin (2013!), online hate, counter-speech, gambling, digital politics and more. CASM has always been ahead of the curve, and it will continue to be.
CASM is a mediator. We sit somewhere between technology, academia, government, the public and the media with a mission to measure, understand and provide guidance on the challenges and opportunities of tech.
Technology is at the heart of the work we do, and our work with social, data and computer scientists, led by our team of groundbreaking researchers at Sussex University has allowed us to build and develop the tools essential to unpicking online spaces. Working with noisy, human datasets forces you to think creatively about how you’re going to tackle research, and we have often innovated new approaches where none previously existed. Over 2019, CASM will continue to find new ways of looking at and understanding the online world, as well as applying this experimental approach to the ways in which we release and discuss our research.
All this is in vain without an audience. At one point or another, members of our team have presented our work to governments and politicians around the world, to NATO, the UN and the EU, to technology giants, academic conferences and festival audiences, as well as in the pages or on the screens of dozens of international media outlets. Getting the message out will be central to our efforts next year.
We have a lot planned for 2019. CASM is already working on projects looking at digital policing, on misinformation and conspiracy, on the digitally ‘left behind’, and on digital democracy and politics. It’s also vital we review how think tanks communicate: there’s an irony in writing about social media in a PDF. That needs to change.
Digital channels have allowed new voices to be heard, new forms of politics and political organisation to emerge, but have also been exposed as vectors of misinformation and harm. We will investigate the ways in which the web is being exploited at the expense of the most vulnerable, both in the UK and abroad, and push for tech companies and governments to recognise this and respond. To do this effectively, we will need to be interpreters – between politicians, tech companies and the people they both serve – as much as researchers. As such, expect work on regulation, on the health of digital spaces and communities, on state-sponsored disinformation, and on digital populism.
On a personal note, I hope to lead work treating different online spaces with care and attention to what makes them good, and what makes them bad. It’s never been sufficient to think of ‘the internet’ as a monolith, and it certainly isn’t good enough now.
Our team is growing, and not all of them have man-buns. Jamie and Carl will take our thinking to new audiences. Josh, our CTO, Elliot and Hettie will lead our research, and at Sussex, Jeremy, David and Simon will lead further tech development. I’m excited to watch CASM grow still further in the years to come.
2019 will see further seismic changes in the relationship between us and technology, and I hope you’ll work with us to ensure those changes are for the good of society.