Disinformation and the Informal Media Economy in Iran

Thursday, Feb 06, 2020   |   4:00PM - 6:00PM   |  RLP 1.302E

On February 6, 2020, the Middle Eastern Studies Department at the University of Texas will host Professor Blake Atwood, Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the American University of Beirut, for a talk on "Disinformation and the Informal Media Economy in Iran” at the University of Texas.

The last several years have witnessed an abundance of research on disinformation as media and communication scholars contend with the sinister nature of much of the information that circulates online today. This scholarship has largely focused on the threat of disinformation to liberal democracies in the United States and Europe and has underscored the role of formal institutions, including governments, corporations, and media industries. On a global scale, however, informal economies, practices, and media often reign supreme. With this in mind, what might a focus on the informal media economy offer the study of disinformation? How might a discussion of pirating, bootlegging, and jailbreaking globalize our view of this phenomenon? In this presentation, I draw on the case of Iran to theorize the underground circulation of media and its contribution to disinformation campaigns. Scholarly accounts of disinformation often emphasize the role of legacy media like television and radio in amplifying the credibility of disinformation. In Iran, however, traditional broadcast media are controlled by the state and are saturated with its official ideologies. As a result, they hold very little credibility among users. In contrast, the underground network is a valuable part of everyday life in Iran and an essential means of accessing information. By studying this network, I clarify the role of media in the project of disinformation while also challenging some of the underlying assumptions in the existing scholarship.

Blake Atwood is an assistant professor of media studies at the American University of Beirut, where his research explores the intersection of technology, culture, and politics in the Middle East. He has published widely on media in Iran and Lebanon. He is the author of Reform Cinema in Iran: Film and Political Change in the Islamic Republic (Columbia University Press, 2016), and his second book, Underground: The Secret Life of Videocassettes in Iran, is forthcoming with The MIT Press. He previously taught at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Pennsylvania.