Announcement of keynote speaker at Next Library 2019 // Herman Wasserman

We are excited to announce our 3rd keynote speaker: Herman Wasserman. He is Professor of Media Studies and Director of the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. The keynote at Next Library will be about: Deepening data democracy: potential and pitfalls.


A crucial component of democracy and citizenship is the citizens’ ability to act and improve society in an increasingly mediated world. There has been a great deal of optimism about the potential that digital platforms can offer to enable citizens to participate more actively and meaningfully in democratic debates, policy-making and activism. Several examples worldwide support such an optimistic view: ‘big data’ has enabled investigative journalism on an unprecedented scale from Wikileaks to the Panama Papers; the accessibility of online platforms have created new opportunities for community journalism and empowered citizens to speak back to mainstream and global news agendas; while hashtag activists from the Arab Spring, the #metoo movement and student protests around the world have used social media such as Twitter and Facebook to mobilize for their cause. However, while digital data has proven beneficial for democratic purposes worldwide, it has also created some major pitfalls. Online and mobile platforms have increased the surveillance powers of autocratic governments; facilitated the spread of fake news and disinformation and created ‘filter bubbles’ where populism can thrive. The Digital Divide still impacts on countries in the Global South, while new forms of ‘data colonialism’ have raised concerns.  Deepening data democracy should therefore involve not only individual activism but also structural reforms, it demands nuanced thinking rather than hasty celebration, and requires global perspectives rather than universalizing parochialism.  


Herman Wasserman is Professor of Media Studies and Director of the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He holds a doctorate from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, and worked as a journalist before starting an academic career. He has published widely on media in Africa. His books include Tabloid Journalism in South Africa(Indiana University Press), Media, Geopolitics, and Power(University of Illinois Press, forthcoming) and several edited collections such as Reporting China in Africa(Routledge), Press Freedom in Africa: Comparative Perspectives(Routledge) and Popular Media, Democracy and Development in Africa(Routledge).His awards include a Fulbright fellowship, the Georg Foster Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany and the Neva Prize from St Petersburg State University. Wasserman is Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal African Journalism Studies and Associate Editor of the Annals of the International Communication Association.

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