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Sarah Florini, author of 'Beyond Hashtags,' joins Lincoln Center as new associate director

A woman with shoulder-length chesnut brown hair, fair skin and blue eyes, wearing a white blazer over a blue blouse, smiling.

Sarah Florini

September 08, 2023

The mission of Arizona State University’s Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics is to engage the humanities to shape technologies keyed to human flourishing by empowering students, faculty, entrepreneurs and the community to examine the impact of technologies in our lives. This mission continues to grow with Sarah Florini now joining the Lincoln Center’s team as the new associate director.

Florini, author of "Beyond Hashtags: Racial Politics and Black Digital Networks," has used her research to examine the intersections of race and technology, with special attention to Black American cultural practices.

“I started that project over a decade ago, which is eons in internet time,” she said. “I think the biggest shift has been how successful corporations and bad actors — including domestic extremists and foreign entities — have been in making it much more difficult for historically marginalized groups to use social media platforms effectively for organizing, advocacy and community building.”

"Beyond Hashtags" dives into the creation of closed digital spaces created by marginalized communities — what Florini describes as enclaves — as a form of resistance to algorithmic censorship and coordinated harassment campaigns. “There is more caution about what people share publicly, and people certainly don’t do the kind of public organizing and coordination on open platforms that they did during events like the uprising in Ferguson.”

In addition to her appointment at the Lincoln Center, Florini is an associate professor of film and media studies in the Department of English, where she applies concepts of critical cultural studies to classes on emerging digital media. In her teaching, she has found the melding of the two fields opens conversation on otherwise fraught subjects.

“I’ve found that the more controversial the issues of race, gender identity, class and sexuality become in our public discourse, the hungrier my students are for honest and earnest conversations around these topics," she said. “Rather than having a chilling effect, efforts to delegitimize these areas of inquiry have sparked great intellectual curiosity in my students. So, for me, the classroom has, ironically enough, become an even more productive space.”

As its new associate director, Florini’s background adds a rich layer of research inquiry to the Lincoln Center’s existing work around ethical interventions for emerging technologies and future imaginations. Since her appointment in July, a project team she leads has received a grant from the NEH Dangers and Opportunities of Technology program.

“I’m very excited about (this recent grant award) to investigate the knowledge being created and shared among TikTok content creators,” Florini said. “Creators have deep experiential knowledge, but many of them are also engaging in ad hoc research to figure out how the TikTok algorithms curate and moderate content. I’m excited to talk to TikTok creators and to learn about the creative ways they are gathering information and drawing conclusions about the platform.”

To learn more about Florini and her research, you can read her book "Beyond Hashtags" on NYU Press, or visit her website.

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