"Social media's impact as enablers of political polarization and disinformation woke me up to technology's role in shaping democracy and reinforcing social inequalities."

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Student Profile: Carina Albrecht

Communication PhD Student in the Faculty of Communication, Art & Technology

December 22, 2020
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I am a first-year Ph.D. student at the School of Communication. My background is unusual for a Communication graduate student, as I come from many years in the tech industry back into academia. I first got a Bsc. in Computer Science in 2004. Later on, I decided to study Communication and dedicate my full time to study social issues related to technology. What put me on this academic journey was the start of disinformation campaigns in social media in my home country, Brazil.  Social media's impact as enablers of political polarization and disinformation woke me up to technology's role in shaping democracy and reinforcing social inequalities.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO SFU?

SFU has been my community since I immigrated to Canada in 2010. For many years, I was a staff member at IT Services while also studying Business Administration and Communication. Upon graduating, I needed to decide whether to continue working as a software developer or pursue an academic career to engage with the issues I care about. It was a perfect time for me because in the same year Prof. Wendy Chun, the Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media, moved to the School of Communication and started the Digital Democracies Institute. The research that Prof. Chun and the DDI are engaged with is a perfect fit for my goals and interests. I consider myself very lucky to have this kind of research happening so close to me, in the community I am already part of.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH AND/OR PROGRAM.

I study social network "thinking" from a perspective that engages both technical and social sciences. I attempt to question what digital platforms such as Facebook and Twitter consider to be a social connection and how they imagine social networks should be constructed. My primary research investigates how these imaginations enable software design that polarizes users of social media by design. I hope my research will inform software design and the technical community and serve as a reference for those seeking to build digital environments that enable dialogue.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOYING ABOUT YOUR STUDIES/RESEARCH AT SFU?

Being part of the Digital Democracies Institute has been a fantastic experience. I had the opportunity to work with great people and conduct cutting-edge research. Also, the faculty has been inspiring, and I have received outstanding mentorship and financial support. Despite the pandemic and online classes, my peers are fully engaged with the program and courses. It is always a pleasure to work with everyone.

HAVE YOU BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF ANY MAJOR OR DONOR FUNDED AWARDS?

Yes. In 2020, I was awarded the SSHRC Joseph Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Master's Scholarship. I got this scholarship before being fast-tracked into the Ph.D. program, which recognized the merit of my research proposal. This award gave me confidence that my research will contribute to this country and that I can conduct this research at a doctoral level. The award has been fundamental to my research, as I can now concentrate on my studies without the additional worry of working outside of research to pay my bills.

DESCRIBE YOUR PROGRAM TO THOSE WHO ARE SEARCHING.

The School of Communication's Ph.D. program is very interdisciplinary and accepts people with diverse backgrounds and interests. Faculty are doing varied and exciting research and expanding with new hires in different areas. The School is founded on a tradition of critical approaches and recently is growing in decolonization and postcolonial studies. If you are interested in social justice issues and democracy related to media, technology, and culture, this Ph.D. program is a great place to start.

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