Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

GRAD WORKSHOP - Disappearing Acts: (Self)-Censorship and the Freedom of Information

Wednesday, January 22, 2020 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Room 350, Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics (133 S. 36th Street)
Food provided / Free and open to the public

Muira McCammon (Annenberg School for Communication)
Tweeting and Deleting: Strategic Narratives and Impression Management by U.S. Federal Agencies

Ayesha Mulla (University of Chicago Dept. of Anthropology)
Marwa Na Dena/Don’t Get Us Killed: Reporting Between the Marginal and the Military in Pakistan (PDF)

WHEN, IF EVER, DO DEMOCRACIES PERMIT AND ENCOURAGE THE DELETION of posts on government social media accounts? In a qualitative study employing Freedom of Information Act requests, MUIRA MCCAMMON traces what different federal agencies removed from their Twitter feeds during the Obama and Trump administrations. By putting the records of deleted tweets in conversation with federal agencies’ internal emails and statements to the U.S. press, she examines the informal decisions made by government social media managers and teases apart the communicative strategies that governmental institutions have employed in their tweeting and deleting. She argues that the Federal Records Act in its ambiguity has begotten an informational environment wherein certain types of governmental deletion are dramatically hyped by journalists, while others remain undocumented and left in the government’s archival backstage. This is ultimately about the challenge of tracing these behaviors over time and the ways in which Freedom of Information Act requests can reveal patterns in information disappearance and erasure on corporate social media platforms.

SEVENTEEN YEARS AFTER THE DEREGULATION OF THE MASS MEDIA in Pakistan, private news channels have established themselves as powerful players on the political spectrum, drawing both awe and disdain for their blistering critiques of politicians combined with their race for ratings. Despite their insistence on the “independent” nature of the electronic media, news media professionals are highly attentive to the ways in which their work remains bounded in general by the state. Based on a series of in-depth interviews, AYESHA MULLA examines the politics of media censorship in democratic Pakistan as the authority of television news journalism becomes increasingly destabilized. She analyzes the ways in which the shadow of the deep state featured in her dissertation fieldwork among news media professionals in Karachi and Islamabad. She focuses on the shifts in tone, the anxious laughter and the lengthy pauses that verbose journalists adopted when they would perform an inarticulate critique of the military. Such enactments rest upon the very real dangers of straying past the limits of investigative inquiry in Pakistan, particularly when presented with the fate of their colleagues pursuing critical leads on military activities.