Ben Smith: ‘How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right’

Speaking of Zeynep Tufekci, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith has a great profile on her this week:

In recent years, many public voices have gotten the big things wrong — election forecasts, the effects of digital media on American politics, the risk of a pandemic. Dr. Tufekci, a 40-something who speaks a mile a minute with a light Turkish accent, has none of the trappings of the celebrity academic or the professional pundit. But long before she became perhaps the only good amateur epidemiologist, she had quietly made a habit of being right on the big things. […]

While many American thinkers were wide-eyed about the revolutionary potential of social media, she developed a more complex view, one she expressed when she found herself sitting to the left of Teddy Goff, the digital director for President Obama’s re-election campaign, at a South by Southwest panel in Austin in 2012.

Mr. Goff was enthusing about the campaign’s ability to send different messages to individual voters based on the digital data it had gathered about them. Dr. Tufekci quickly objected to the practice, saying that microtargeting would more likely be used to sow division.

More than four years later, after Donald J. Trump won the 2016 election, Mr. Goff sent Dr. Tufekci a note saying she had been right.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020