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From culture wars to misinformation: why social media is not the problem

Thursday 15 February @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


Quarry Whitehouse Auditorium, Selwyn College, University of Cambridge

The event is free but please register via Eventbrite.

Living Freedom ‘University Salons’ are for all students keen to explore and debate ideas on the past, present and future of freedom. A short, accessible talk is followed by plenty of time for questions and discussion.  Everyone is welcome to come along.

From Culture Wars to Misinformation: Why Social Media is Not The Problem

With digital culture and myriad forms of social media, each of us can now share more information and opinions more widely than ever before. Unlike the era of mass media, today every individual has a personalised news channel, edited by their own choices, social network and algorithms that shape what they want to see next.

But many worry that while our facility to communicate has improved, productive exchanges of ideas have diminished, as has the potential to develop a shared worldview or even shared reality. What’s more, new identity-driven forms of polarisation, online harms and fake news have fuelled fears that the very technologies that transformed communications are in fact responsible for our descent into echo chambers, toxic filter-bubbles or attention traps.

But to what extent is new technology really the problem? After all, just over a decade ago, social media was celebrated for the power to share ideas and drive political change in the Arab Spring.

In this talk followed by open discussion, Timandra Harkness explores both the new digital technologies and the new identity-driven forms of culture and politics, and asks: how did we get here, why does it matter and where do we go from here? She concludes that instead of pointing the finger at the smartphone and new technologies, we instead need to understand our own our shrinking sense of who we are and obsession with how others see us.


Journalist, writer and broadcaster; author, Technology is Not the Problem (2024)

Timandra Harkness is author of Technology is Not the Problem (forthcoming, Harper Collins). She is also author of Big Data: does size matter?

Timandra is a regular on BBC Radio, writing and presenting BBC Radio 4’s FutureProofing and other series including How To Disagree, Steelmanning and Political School. BBC documentaries include Data, Data Everywhere, Divided Nation, What Has Sat-Nav Done To Our Brains, and Five Knots. She was also resident reporter on all eight seasons of social psychology series The Human Zoo. Timandra is a graduate fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, and a founder member of their Data Ethics and Governance Section. She has written for publications including the Telegraph, Guardian, The Sunday TimesMen’s Health and Significance (the journal of the Royal Statistical Society).

Master of Selwyn College and a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.


Thursday 15 February
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Event Category:


Quarry Whitehouse Auditorium, Selwyn College, University of Cambridge
Grange Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DQ United Kingdom
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