Alice Thwaite and Lucas Kello Examine Social Media Polarization Over Brexit

On October 30, 2019, the Director of Oxford University's Centre for Technology and Global Affairs, Lucas Kello, and the founder of the Echo Chamber Club, Alice Thwaite, discussed social media polarization over Brexit. Kello began the seminar by discussing initial findings of a Centre research project measuring Brexit-related polarization on Twitter. Alice followed by presenting the Echo Chamber Club as a philosophical research institute focusing on how information environments can be healthy and democratic in a digital age.

Kello began his presentation with an important empirical observation: the emergence of social media, more so than the Internet itself, has correlated with the increasing polarization of political ideologies in the United States. As a result, to further our understanding of this relationship, Kello initiated a study of Twitter "agitators" and their independent effects on social media polarization. Kello then summarized the project’s main premises, methodology, empirical findings, and the broad implications of social media polarization for understandings of public discourse in liberal democracies.

While Kello offered a quantitative method for the study of online polarization, Thwaite’s presentation focused more on the political and philosophical implications of this phenomenon. Particularly, she and her institute aim to study the conditions of a healthy Internet environment, recognizing the co-existence of diverse and at times conflicting ideologies. Thwaite offered theoretical considerations of information environments, positioning the emergence of social media as a new public space in a broader debate among individuals humans, organized groups, and whole societies.

Lucas Kello is Associate Professor of International Relations at Oxford University. He serves as Senior Lecturer/Director of the Centre for Technology and Global Affairs, a major research initiative exploring the impact of modern technology on international relations, government, and society. He is also co-Director of the interdisciplinary Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security at Oxford's Department of Computer Science.

Alice Thwaite is the founder of Hattusia and a technology ethicist. She holds a MSc from Oxford University in the Social Sciences of the Internet, and a MA Cantab from the University of Cambridge in the History and Philosophy of Science. Alice specialises in healthy information environments. She is the founder of the Echo Chamber Club and is the author of philosophical theories relating to technology, conflict and disagreement. She is often called upon to review issues relating to disinformation, polarisation, content moderation, advertising and data ethics.