Etic Lab

Digital Communications

For the first few years of Etic Lab’s existence, much of our work was in the field of digital communications. We investigated digital propaganda and Twitter bots, analysed the online behaviour of the alt-right and the platforms that enable them, developed strategies for political campaigning through social media and exposed the cruelty of computational reason. We’ve spoken at events and conferences all around the world, provided consultancy to political parties, collaborated with academics from Oxford and West Virginia and been featured in an exhibit at the V&A.

During this period, we gradually developed an unerring knack for listening to the stuttering engine-sounds of the present, then putting our eye to the coughing exhaust pipe of the future. We were studying fake news, disinformation campaigns, bot armies and the unintended violence of algorithms long before these became common media parlance. Looking back through our archive, you can read our still-sizzling takes on Cambridge Analytica, Donald Trump and the alt-right, Jordan Peterson, and Brexit. Through this work we shaped the worldview and sharpened the methodology which still serve us today.

What have we learned from our adventures in digital comms? It’s impossible to sum up such a variety of experiences in so small a space, but we can still offer a few general principles:

The importance of taking a whole-system perspective. The most common cause of misinterpretation and delusion in the study of digital comms is the failure to account for the full range of factors acting upon the phenomenon in question. Hence, for example, the myopia of attempts to explain events such as Trump and Brexit through the prism of disinformation and foreign influence. Etic Lab always begins by addressing the matter at hand in the broadest possible political and social frame.

Even the most complex technological apparatuses are still reducible to human relationships. At the root of every technological question (or at least, every question that matters) is an all-too-human tangle of preconceptions, fixations, frailties and needs. We don’t view this fact as something to be coped with or worked around; on the contrary, whatever we make is built with and for the people who will be using it. We begin with the goals and values of our collaborators and clients, and then seek to design the technical apparatus which will make these ideals effective in their particular context.

It isn’t enough simply to understand the world. The point is to change it.Our aim is always to provide ways for our collaborators and clients to act decisively within the system of which they are a part. This means first understanding the social, political and economic dynamics which drive that system, then locating the point at which we can provide the most effective intervention at the lowest cost. The ultimate aim in any situation is to give people the power to act upon their sense of the way the world ought to be.

To get started, why not check out “Tech Won’t Save Us: Why Computational Propaganda Is the Wrong Problem”, which seeks to situate the problem of online disinformation in the broader context of the digital economy as a whole and in relation to our ongoing political and social crises.

If you’re interested in having a conversation about any of the issues raised above, or you have an idea for a Digital Communications project you think we might be able to help with, please get in touch!


Looking for where to start? Here’s a snippet from one of our articles relating to our work with Digital Communications:

Tech Won't Save Us: Why Computational Propaganda is the Wrong Problem
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Tech Won’t Save Us: Why Computational Propaganda is the Wrong Problem

This is the text of a talk given by Alex at the Technical University of Dresden in Summer 2019, covering the political economy of computational propaganda, the emergent properties of digital communications networks, the possibility of predicting and tracking social change in the 21st century, and the contemporary crisis of subjectivity and citizenship.

“Many thanks to our friends at the Technical University of Dresden for the invitation to speak on this subject. I only hope it didn’t make you too pessimistic!

Thank you for having me. I’m going to assume that if you haven’t found our website yet and read into some of the projects I’ve worked on over the last couple of years, then you can soon…”

Got a Digital Comms project you’d like to discuss?