i’m back

after more than three years at google, i’m finally coming back to academia. i’ve decided to join the school of journalism and communication at the chinese university of hong kong as an assistant professor. i’ll be focusing my future research on free expression and internet policy.

i had an amazing few years at google, where i had the privilege to witness and shape the direction of the company during many key moments in internet history, including the innocence of muslims video and the snowden revelations. i learned a lot in these past few years and am grateful i was in a position to contribute towards building an internet that is more open, transparent and supportive of free expression.

work at google was fascinating and rewarding, but after several years, i also missed teaching, research and writing. i look forward to teaching an undergraduate class on development of mass communication and a graduate seminar on new media policy this semester. and i’m back to working on turning my dissertation into a book. i’m also developing a new research project on the political economy of free expression online (more on this later).

in short, i’m glad to be back!

where is lokman?

i recently quit my facebook, twitter and linkedin in an attempt to quiet my life and focus on what matters.

if you are looking for me, you can find me through email. i’d love to hear from you.

announcement: I’m joining Google’s public policy team

The big news is that I will be joining Google full-time as a policy advisor and the lead for free expression in Asia-Pacific as of June 27th, 2011. I will continue to be based in Hong Kong. But I will no longer serve as an assistant professor of the Department of Media and Communication at the City University of Hong Kong. I leave with a heavy heart: I had a great time and enjoyed working with the wonderful colleagues and terrific staff there. Furthermore, I really enjoyed teaching the students, whom I found very responsive, hard working and intelligent. I will always be grateful to Professor CC Lee for believing in me and City University for giving me my first job fresh out of graduate school.

Having said that, I am very excited about my new job at Google. As most of you probably know, the future of the internet and the networked public sphere is an issue I deeply care about and have dedicated much of my research to. I believe the upcoming period will be a critical juncture in the institutionalization of the internet. Now I am offered the opportunity to translate and apply directly into policy what I have learned over the past few years. Perhaps idealistic, but hopefully also without much illusions, I see it as a chance to “give back” to “the internet”, which has given me so much. In short, I am excited about the opportunities and challenges the policy team and I will be facing, and most of all, I look forward to work with you in my new capacity as policy advisor at Google.

the Gene Burd Urban Journalism Research Prize (Best Dissertation in Journalism Studies)

I’m incredibly honored that my dissertation has recently been awarded the Gene Burd Urban Journalism Research Prize for the Best Dissertation in Journalism Studies. I will receive this award on Friday May 27, at the ICA (International Communication Association) conference, held in Boston this year. If you happen to be around, do drop by and say hi!

my dissertation lives

On July 29, 2010 I defended my dissertation, passed with revisions. The next day I took the plane to Hong Kong, the following Monday I reported duty at the City University of Hong Kong, and in the meantime I was working on those revisions, while trying to adapt to a new life.

But they’re done now, and the dissertation has been deposited and put online.

A big thank you to a lot of people, but to my advisor, Barbie Zelizer, and the incredible folks at Global Voices in particular.

Here is the abstract:

A Journalism of Hospitality

How would a newsroom look if we could build it from scratch, current technologies in hand? My project answers this question through a comparative study of legacy mainstream professional newsrooms that have migrated online, what I call “adaptive newsrooms”, and two “transformative” newsrooms, Indymedia and Global Voices. In particular, it takes up the challenge of rethinking journalism in the face of new technologies, by analyzing the cultures, practices and people of a new kind of news production environment: Global Voices, an international project that collects and translates blogs and citizen media from around the world in order to “aggregate, curate, and amplify the global conversation online – to shine light on places and people other media often ignore.”

An ethnographic study of Global Voices spanning four years reveals that the internet enables a radical shift in several key facets of news production: its political economy, its sociology and its culture. The Global Voices newsroom, for example, demonstrates how the internet allows for different kinds of newsroom routines that are designed to bring attention to underrepresented voices, whereas it was previously thought routines determined the news to be biased towards institutional and authoritative voices. I argue that these changes in news production challenge us to judge journalistic excellence not only in terms of objectivity or intersubjectivity, but increasingly also in terms of hospitality. Roger Silverstone defined hospitality as the “ethical obligation to listen.” Understanding journalism through the lens of hospitality, the internet presents a unique opportunity as well as poses a radical challenge: in a world where everybody can speak, who will listen? I suggest that in a globally networked world, there continues to be a need for journalism to occupy an important position, but that it will require a process of rethinking and renewal, one where journalism transforms itself to an institution for democracy where listening, conversation and hospitality are central values.

You can also download the entire PDF. (300+ pages, 2+ MB)

dear facebook, freedom or friends? that’s not a choice

facebook fail

I finally decided to leave Facebook.

I won’t lie, that was not an easy decision. In fact, it was really hard. See, Facebook is the only place where all my friends are together. Leaving Facebook is not just quitting a website, but it also means saying goodbye to all my friends. I am afraid I will no longer be invited to birthday parties, see cute pictures of their babies, or be able to find out that they have graduated and congratulate them.

But I have also seen Facebook slowly change over the years, for the worse, a decline that is beautifully documented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. There are many good reasons why you might want to consider leaving Facebook. One of them is that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, apparently says that he “doesn’t believe in privacy”. Well, he just happens to be the guy who is in charge of the website where I hang out pretty much all the time with my friends. I compare this to being invited to a house party with all my friends, but where the owner secretly records everything we do and say, and tries hard to sell it to advertisers. When he gets caught, we rage, and he says “oops, sorry”. Again and again, like an abusive partner, he promises to clean up his act. At what point do we say “enough is enough”? Should we trust him never to do it again? Not if it is clearly against his financial interest. Why not leave?

Facebook effectively holds our friends as hostages. The ransom is not our privacy, but our freedom. Let me explain: I do have (some) privacy on Facebook. Most of my information on Facebook was not exactly secret. The problem is not privacy: it is not being in control of your own life. Facebook might give us privacy, but always on their terms. They make it incredibly hard to leave. They make it almost impossible to save your messages, photos and profile. We are talking about them refusing to give back our information, our photos, /our/ life! It is almost impossible to leave, so we stay and they will continue to take whatever privacy they feel they can get away with. How much do they feel they can get away with? Let me ask you: how much privacy are our friends worth to us?

Dear Facebook, freedom or friends? That’s not a choice. So I quit. Instead, I plan to write on this blog, twitter, and longer e-mails to friends. It will not be a perfect replacement, but it will have to do until a better option comes along (psst there was life before Facebook!).

Allow me to make a wild analogy, one I believe is not entirely out of left field. Many people know that there is censorship in China. Many people also tell me that 1) the poor Chinese must feel really repressed or 2) they must be okay with it. But if that’s the case, who in their right mind can be okay with censorship? They must be brainwashed.

Ask yourself this: if I decide not to leave Facebook, yet I know they do not care at all about my privacy, what does that mean? How is that different from the people who continue to use the internet in China day in day out despite the prevalent and prolific practices of censorship? This is not a rhetorical question. Of course I realize Facebook is not the Chinese government, but I do think there are similarities between them, in kind although perhaps not in degree. Are you still on Facebook, and if so, why?