I research the interplay between journalism and political communication across 4 areas:
- Disinformation, propaganda and Emotional AI
- Issues of trust, accuracy and credibility in journalism;
- Media agenda-building struggles;
- The security state and public accountability.
AI, strategic political communication, journalism, civil society, surveillance, sousveillance, social resistance, agenda-building, trust, intelligence agencies, human rights, risk communication, propaganda, persuasion, fake news, disinformation, emotion
Bakir, V. 2018.Intelligence Elites and Public Accountability: Relationships of Influence with Civil Society. London: Routledge.
Bakir, V. 2013. Torture, Intelligence and Sousveillance in the War on Terror: Agenda–Building Struggles.
Bakir, V. 2010. Sousveillance, Media and Strategic Political Communication: Iraq, USA, UK. New York: Continuum.
Bakir, V. & D.Barlow, (eds.) 2007. Communication in the Age of Suspicion: Trust and the Media. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan.
As an inter-disciplinary scholar, I have won awards from diverse funding bodies including AHRC, ESRC, EPSRC. A list of my funded projects are at: 0000-0002-6828-8384
Current grants comprise:
2020 – 2022: £710,000 (comprising £497,710 FEC from ESRC, & 29,645,000 Yen from Japan Science & Technology funds). Part of UKRI-JST Joint Call on Artificial Intelligence and Society, our project is on Emotional AI in Cities: Cross Cultural Lessons from UK and Japan on Designing for An Ethical Life. PI Andrew McStay. Co-I Vian Bakir. Other Investigators: Lachlan Urquhart (Edinburgh Univ.), Diana Miranda (Northumbria Univ.), Peter Mantello (Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific Univ.), Hiromi Tanaka (Meiji Univ.), Nader Ghotbi (Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific Univ.), Hiroshi Miyashita (Chuo Univ.). Grant ref. ES/T00696X/1.
2020-21: £9,696 from EPSRC. Human-Data Interaction - Internet of Things, System Design and the Law. Governing Philosophies in Technology Policy: Permissionless Innovation vs. the Precautionary Principle. Co-I Gilad Rosner (IoT Forum).Grant Ref: EP/R045178/1
Sep 2020-21: £482,838 (total amount), including £79,369 (academic portion). PI Andrew McStay. Co-I Vian Bakir. Innovate UK/ Technology Strategy Board. Taking Back Control of Our Personal Data: An ethical impact assessment of personal data storage apps.
Teaching and Supervision
Undergraduate modules taught:
- Issues in Media & Journalism
- Journalism and Risk
- Global News Agenda
- Digital Journalism
- Dissertation in Journalism & Media Studies
PhD and MRes students:
I am interested in supervising students in a wide range of areas including contemporary political communication, journalism, disinformation, deception, digital media, intelligence elites, discourse, accountability and power.
Current (1st supervisor)
- Aliah Nur Mansor: PhD: Online Fan Communities and Information Marketing Strategy of Japanese Popular Music: A Case of Johnny’s & Associates.
- Michela Cortese:PhD: Defying the role of films in the visual communication of environmental risks: A visual analysis and practice-based research images and visual frames in environmental film productions on Climate Change
- Gehad Ibrahim. PhD. Journalistic Documentary in Post-Truth Dictatorships
- Qi Qi.PhD. Modulating Mediated Emotions During national emergencies: COVID-19.
Position: Professor of Journalism & Political Communication
Phone: +44 (0) 1248 382751
Location: Office 14 (back of the building), John Philips Building
Personal website: Academia.edu ResearchGate
Project Websites: DATA-PSST! Intelligence Elites Emotional AI
Current Administrative Responsibilities:
Co-Director of Network for Study of Media and Persuasive Communication .
School Equalities Officer.
School International Officer.
Task & End Group - Restructuring Media Provision.
Impact and Public Engagement (selected projects)
Vian Bakir (with Andrew McStay) has written and spoken extensively about fake news.
The phrase ‘fake news’ came into popular usage following two political campaigns across 2016 that combined widespread deception with voter profiling and targeting online. These were the American presidential election campaign battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton; and the UK’s European Union (EU) referendum campaign battle over ‘Brexit’ (on whether Britain should leave or remain in the EU). In both cases, fears were expressed that fake news had misled the electorate and undermined confidence in the electoral outcomes (both narrow victories for Leave and Trump). These fears have since generated political inquiries in the UK and USA, and a maelstrom of activity across society in multiple countries, including political, intelligence agency, technological, journalistic and educational sectors.
Responding to this furore, Vian has written about fake news in academic journals (Fake News and The Economy of Emotions), and for two Subject Associations: the Political Studies Association (e.g. ’What Drives Fake News’, and ‘Was it ‘AI wot won it’? Hyper-targeting and profiling emotions online’); and for MeCCSA’s Three-D (Combatting fake news: analysis of submissions to the fake news inquiry). She gave a keynote to journalists and fact-checkers on Fake News in 2019 to FoJo in Kalmar, Sweden, this covered by SVT.
Across 2017, she made three written submissions to the UK Parliament’s Fake News Inquiry. Two, with Andrew McStay, are Fake News: Media Economics and Emotional Button-Pushing; and Summary And Analysis Of All Written Submissions On How To Combat Fake News (Up To April 2017). One (with Miller, Robinson and Simpson) is on Fake News: A Framework for Detecting and Avoiding Propaganda.
In 2018, Vian Bakir was invited to give evidence on misinformation and user targeting to the UK Parliament’s Fake News Inquiry. She told a panel of 11 MPs about the many democratic problems with online ‘filter bubbles’. Bakir also pointed out that politicians themselves are responsible for a significant portion of deception online, and should do more to prevent fake news at source. Televised coverage of the 1.5 hr Fake News panel generated worldwide press coverage. e.g. AOL.
In autumn 2017, Vian was an invited speaker on fake news at Cymru Communications Annual Autumn conference in Cardiff (150 delegates) and Llandudno (25 delegates) and participated in panel discussions. As their conference theme this year was Trust in Government Communications, her talk on Fake News: Lessons from Deception in Political Campaigning not only diagnosed the fake news problem, but addressed what the Public Relations industry could do about it.
Earlier in 2017, Vian was invited to participate in a Pew Internet survey on the future of information ecosystems and reliable facts – a survey that consulted more than 1,100 internet and technology experts. It wanted to know her thoughts on fake news and its implications for democracy. This was published in Oct 2017 as The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online. The survey was nearly split down the middle on the question: can fake news be thwarted in the next 10 years? Pessimistically, Vian predicts: ‘It won’t improve because of the evolving nature of technology - emergent media always catches out those who wish to control it, at least in the initial phase of emergence; online social media and search engine business models favor misinformation spreading; and well-resourced propagandists exploit this mix.’ This survey, and Vian’s quote, was covered by Adweek.
Even earlier in 2017 (Apr.), Vian was an invited speaker for a public talk at the House of Commons, London, on the topic of Fake News & Digital Advertising. This was sponsored by Branded Content Network (AHRC-funded). With Andrew McStay, she discussed the fake news phenomenon. This event was covered by the trade press, Branded Content Marketing Association and the Drum.
Vian Bakir has been involved in a number of public engagement activities around ‘veillance’. ‘Veillance’ is Prof. Steve Mann’s term for ‘mutual watching’. It constitutes surveillance of citizens and consumers by state and commercial enterprises (a form of ‘watching from above’). It also constitutes ‘sousveillance’ of peers and of surveillant entities by ordinary citizens (a form of ‘watching from below’).
Following the leaks by Edward Snowden in 2013 of massive state surveillance of citizen’s digital communication flows, in 2015 Vian Bakir coined the term ‘veillant panoptic assemblage’ to highlight contemporary society’s profoundly unequal arrangements of mutual watching.
Investigating the power flows involved in veillance, across 2015-2017, Vian ran a series of activities as part of an ESRC-funded project, DATA-PSST (Debating and Assessing Transparency Arrangements: Privacy, Security, Sur/Sous/Veillance and Trust). This generated three documentaries (with documentary-maker Dyfrig Jones); 7 policy briefs; a final report summarising the outputs of the project; and a report on public feeling on surveillance and privacy.
Across 2017-18, Vian teamed up with Ronan Devlin (Pontio Artist-in-Residence) to help deliver Veillance - an immersive artwork that makes visible state and commercial surveillance of people’s digital communications. This was funded by Arts Council Wales and The Space. Created by Devlin, with academic input coordinated by Gillian Jein, it involved significant inter-disciplinary input (team members included a data privacy expert (Andrew McStay), software developers (Carwyn Edwards, Jamie Woodruff), a visualiser (Michael Fluckiger) and a sound engineer (Ant Dickinson). Veillance, exhibited at FACT (Liverpool) for a week in 2016 (50 attendees) and at Pontio White Room (Bangor) for three weeks in 2017 (488 attendees). The team launched the Veillance art exhibition at Pontio Arts & Innovation Centre on 24 Feb 2017, with a public panel on the importance of art in public education on complex, abstract issues like data surveillance; and why the public needs to understand these issues.
Vian’s work on the veillant panoptic assemblage, and her Special Issue on Veillance and Transparency (with Andrew McStay and Martina Feilzer), clarified the nature of contemporary data transparency arrangements to engage the creative practice of others. For instance, Evan Light created a mobile installation that allows people to examine the leaked intelligence files from whistle-blower Edward Snowden without being tracked by the veillant panoptic assemblage. Jennifer Gradecki & Derek Curry created a crowd-sourced intelligence agency to highlight the surveillant nature of social media.
Vian’s work on the veillant panoptic assemblage was used by legal scholar, Yvonne McDermott, who applied this concept to a legal context (on data protection and consent in the information age). These insights found their way into a 547-page landmark judgment by the Indian Supreme Court on 24 August 2017. India’s Supreme Court ruled that privacy was a constitutional right, deserving of protection. Its ruling was a response to a constitutional challenge to the Government of India’s Aadhaar card biometrics project – which aimed to see that beneficial Government schemes filter down to persons for whom such schemes are intended. .
Since 2015, Vian’s work on Veillance has led to her being an advisor/network member for Policy Delivery department at the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office.
Intelligence Elites and Public Accountability
Vian Bakir has written several monographs on the relationship between intelligence elites and civil society. Her most recent is Intelligence Elites and Public Accountability (2018), preceded by Torture, Intelligence and Sousveillance in the War on Terror (2013). She defines intelligence elites as comprising that small number of leaders in interlocking political, economic and military domains that make fundamental decisions on policies concerning intelligence that have far-reaching consequences for all citizens. For her, the term evinces the normally close relationship between top politicians and intelligence agencies; the deferential relationship to intelligence agencies from wider politicians; and the secret involvement of private companies. These three factors make parliamentary scrutiny of intelligence elites difficult. The term intelligence elites further highlights the exclusion of civil society in the process of intelligence oversight. Indeed, academic research shows that, with some notable exceptions, civil society largely does a poor job in holding intelligence elites publicly accountable. To address this, Vian has been co-developing with civil society some best practice guidelines to encourage critical researching and reporting in this difficult area. This work has been funded by Bangor University’s ESRC-Impact Accelerator Account.
In related work, in October 2016, Vian was a number of invited academics who independently evaluated advocacy group CAGE’s report, The Science of Pre-Crime: the secret radicalisation study underpinning PREVENT, on the secret research base underpinning Channel’s ERG22+ (extremist risk guidelines). Reflecting on this, and other secret research in the USA, Vian published a piece in Open Democracy about the problems with secret research that informs security policy.
More broadly, Vian has been interviewed, or asked to speak on the relationship between intelligence agencies, national security and surveillance laws. In Dec 2016, she was interviewed for al-Jazeera English to comment on national security and surveillance laws. In October 2015, she was an invited Panelist on Journalism in post-Snowden era for Eurovision’s 10th News Assembly, European Broadcast Union (the largest association of broadcasters in the world),held in Berlin. The News Assembly brought together over 150 Head of News and Editors-in-Chief from more than 60 TV and Radio Member stations in Europe.
In 2018, Vian presented to Groundewd Festival, Ljubljana on Holding Survillant Power to Account. In 2019 she presented to the International Journalism Festival, Perugia, on Covering the Surveillance State, and on How to See in the Wilderness of Mirrors.
In Sep 2015, Vian participated in the Emwazi External Review (held at SOAS, Univ. of London) where she discussed CAGE’s reaction to media coverage of ‘Jihadi John’ and intelligence agencies. In January 2015, Vian published a commentary in Spinwatch on the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report into CIA torture during the Bush administration.
Risk and Trust in a Citizens’ Jury
In 2006, Vian Bakirco-convened (with Prof. Marcus Longley, Welsh Institute for Health & Social Care, Univ. of Glamorgan, and Andrew McStay, Thames Valley Univ.) a 4-day Citizens Jury on Risk, Trust & Preventative Medicine (aspirin). This took place in Cardiff, funded by Pfizer (£47,000). Fifteen citizens from a wide socio-demographic heard expert testimonies from scientist, doctors, regulators and patients on the risks and benefits of aspirin as a preventative medicine against heart attacks and strokes. They debated the risks and benefits, to reach conclusions about the value of aspirin as a preventative medicine. We produced a policy report on the Citizen’s Jury’s verdict, that was fed back to policy-makers.