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Wonks and War Rooms

Author: Elizabeth Dubois

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Where political communication theory meets on the ground strategy. Host, Professor Elizabeth Dubois, picks a political communication theory, explains it to a practitioner, and then they have a chat about whether or not it makes sense at all out in the world of politics and communications. She chats with political staffers, journalists, comms experts, lobbyists, activists and other political actors. Elizabeth quizzes them on pol comm theory and they tell her how ridiculous (or super helpful) that theory actually is.
33 Episodes
This week Elizabeth wraps up season 3! This season was focused on Media and Digital Literacy, and Elizabeth runs through all the concepts we covered to help you gain a greater understanding of how these concepts are interrelated. Elizabeth also takes a look back at some concepts and episodes from previous seasons, and looks to the future for our next season on mis and dis-information.Additional Resources: Remember Season 3, Episode 1 with Matthew from Media Smarts? This excellent resource from Media Smarts provides an overview of digital literacy fundamentals.Check out this report to understand more about the Digital Media Ecosystem.Elizabeth mentions this video on hybridity.Many of the theories discussed on the show are media effects theories. Check out this article that gives an overview of media effects theories.Curious about any of the other theories or episodes mentioned? You can find all Wonks and War Rooms episodes here.Do you have guest ideas? Political communication theories you need explained? Any other feedback for the show? Make sure to reach out to @polcommtech on Twitter and Instagram or @lizdubois on Twitter.
Elizabeth chats with public policy expert Vass Bednar about surveillance capitalism. Taking a few Canadian examples, they talk about how tech companies collect and use data about their users, how privacy policy might be a red herring and how incentive structures in the tech industry contribute to the system of surveillance capitalism.Additional Resources:Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is the key text. There are also a lot of summaries of the book in blog posts, podcasts, and videos. One of my favourite short reviews of the concept comes from the Fortune Magazine YouTube channel, found here.Check out Vass's newsletter, Regs to Riches - of particular interest to this conversation are her pieces on Laying down the Loblaw and Loblaw media.Vass also wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail: Loblaw’s points economy for private-health data follows Big Tech’s playbook.In the episode Vass mentioned a weather app - check out The Weather Network's description of their "precise location forecast" which includes information about user privacy.Vass also mentions that Facebook offers information about why you might see certain ads. Find out more here.Not sure what the bread memories of 2017 Elizabeth is talking about? Here’s the wiki.Also, wondering about GDPR? It’s Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which came into effect in May 2018. Find out more.Vass mentions the Shopify breakup with Mail Chimp, which happened in November 2019. Since this episode originally aired, the two have gotten back together.
This week Elizabeth chats about technological affordances with Rachel Aiello, an online politics producer for and a member of the parliamentary press gallery. They chat about how technology is changing how journalists report and how audiences receive information, from politicians on social media to journalists working from their phones. They also talk about technological determinism in order to highlight why it is important we think about affordances in the first place. Additional ResourcesElizabeth uses this article by Butcher & Helmond and this article by Nagy & Neff to build her definitions of the different types of affordances she discusses in this episode.Rachel discusses how phones have become a key tool for journalism, check out the Mobile Journalism Manual to learn more.Elizabeth mentions Authenticity with Kevin Parent from Season 1, Episode 7.Rachel and Elizabeth talk about the changes to the news cycle and how news is consumed. This study from Verizon shows how often people watch videos on mute. Elizabeth also discusses technological determinism. Here is an overview of the theory.
Former content moderator and current director of the Ada Lovelace Institute, Andrew Strait and Elizabeth chat about what content moderation is, why it is always flawed, and how the way in which platforms are constructed impact the flow of content. They talk about a bunch of related issues including how to (and how not to) regulate tech companies in order to minimize harms.Additional ResourcesAndrew recommended two great books that look at content moderation and content moderators: Behind the Screen by Sarah T. Roberts and Custodians of the Internet by Tarleton Gillespie. This interview with Sarah T. Roberts discusses the psychological impact of being a content moderator. After the interview Andrew also mentioned the work of Daphne Keller and Robyn Caplan.Andrew brings up the landmark “right to be forgotten” case from 2014.The German regulation mentioned in this episode is NetzDG. Here is a primer written by academics Heidi Tworek and Paddy Leerssen in April 2019, just over a year after the regulation came into effect.This episode Andrew mentions the idea of affordances. To learn more about this concept make sure to come back for next week’s episode where we will explore technological affordances!
Tim Fontaine is a former journalist who founded the satirical news website Walking Eagle News. He and Elizabeth chat about the role of political satire in peoples’ information diets. Political satire can provide an audience with a different perspective, help people understand the dominant narratives, and highlight gaps in dominant discourses. Elizabeth and Tim cover everything from the role of political satire, to critiques of political satire, to the difference between political satire and “fake news”.Additional ResourcesElizabeth uses this article from Hill to inform her definition of political satire.Tim uses Canadian Press Style at Walking Eagle News, check out this overview of the style guide to understand what that means.Tim mentions multiple examples and headlines from Walking Eagle News. Here is “man filmed murdering man found guilty” and here is the article “there is only race, the human race”. To see a little more about the difference between satire and fake news check out this short interview.Tim notes the importance of media literacy. To learn more about becoming media literate check out our episode on Critical Digital Literacy with Matthew Johnson.
Erin Gee is a policymaker, specialist in gender-based analysis, and Co-Founder of the Bad + Bitchy Podcast, and this week she discusses safe spaces with Elizabeth. Safe Spaces are online or physical spaces where historically marginalized groups might connect, share information and ideas, and mobilize. How does the idea of safe spaces connect to media and digital literacy? We consume information in social contexts, safe spaces can be one of those contexts. Erin and Elizabeth cover types of safe spaces, critiques of safe spaces, free speech, equity, and intersectionality.Additional ResourcesElizabeth draws on this article from Rosemary Clark-Parsons and this article from Anna Gibson for her academic definition of safe space.Erin uses LGBTQ spaces on campuses as an example of a safe space. This opinion article shows the importance of these kinds of spaces on campus, and the impact on students who lost them during the pandemic.Erin and Elizabeth discuss the tension between safe spaces and free speech, this article demonstrates the type of arguments that may be used against safe spaces.Erin uses this graphic about equity to highlight her point about privilege and free speech.
This week Elizabeth chats with Jen Gerson, a freelance journalist and co-founder of The Line, about selective avoidance. Whether it be blocking someone on Twitter, unfriending someone on Facebook, or just carefully choosing from which sources we get our news, selective avoidance is an everyday occurrence. They discuss topics like the role of emotion in selective avoidance, fragmented media environments, political polarization, and hyper engagement.Additional Resources:Elizabeth uses this article by Parmalee and colleagues to help define selective avoidance.Check out this article to learn more about the role of emotions can play in selective avoidance.Elizabeth mentions this previous episode about the High-Choice Media Environment with Jane Lytvynenko. 
Murad Hemmadi is a reporter for The Logic and this week he talks to Elizabeth about political information repertoires. From party campaign material to policy discussions to political memes, political information repertoires can be a mix of a lot of different things. They chat about what makes up a persons’ repertoire, the idea of Slacktivism, the lack of ‘backstory’ in the news, and Jagmeet Singh’s TikTok.Additional Resources:Elizabeth draws on this article by Wolfsfeld et al. to define political information repertoires.Elizabeth uses The Conversation Canada as an example to show how some outlets are trying to communicate better with the public.Murad and Elizabeth discuss whether they agree with this article by Oh et al. that finds high amounts of political information may actually overwhelm and negatively impact people.Elizabeth mentions the Reuters Digital News Report which breaks down how news is being consumed across a range of countries.If you liked this episode be sure to check out our episode on Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles with Adi Rao and The High-Choice Media Environment with Jane Lytvynenko.**A quick note that in this episode Murad uses “repository” synonymously with “repertoires,” repertoires is the correct term.Want even more? Be sure to check out
Matthew Johnson is the Director of Education for MediaSmarts, and he chats with Elizabeth about critical digital literacy. From house hippos to authenticating information online, Elizabeth and Matthew discuss functional and critical aspects of media and digital literacy. They talk about the skills required to use digital and media tools, and the “key concept approach” to digital literacy, and digital literacy in the context of democratic systems.Additional Resources:Check out Media Smarts’ overview of digital literacy fundamentals here. Matthew also discusses the 5 key concepts for Media Literacy which can be found on this page.This article written by Gianfranco Polizzi addresses the importance of critical digital literacy for democracy.Matthew refers to the Break the Fake campaign which teaches us how to tell what information is true online. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to reminisce over the House Hippo.
This season we are doing things a little bit differently. We are going to spend this season looking at media and digital literacy and a bunch of political communication theories that are related. Next week we kick things off with a run down of what exactly media and digital literacy are. Then we will go week by week talking about things like political information repertoires, selective avoidance, political satire, safe spaces and more. Elizabeth will be chatting with journalists, political campaigners, and folks working in non-profits. Learn more about the podcast and Elizabeth's research team at Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @lizdubois or find the lab on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn @polcommtech.This season is funded in part by a Connections Grant from SSHRC and the Digital Citizen Initiative.
Mini-episode coming at you. Elizabeth closes out season 2 with an update on plans for next season and a request to you listeners!While we are away you can follow Elizabeth's work on Twitter @lizduboisCheck out the Pol Comm Tech Lab website:
Sherry Aske, former CBC multimedia journalist, and Elizabeth chat about the fourth estate and the networked fourth estate. They dive into the origins of theories and the range of information producers that make up the networked fourth estate. Sherry and Elizabeth also reflect on the power dynamics at play between actors in the networked fourth estate and what that means for who gets heard in the current media environment.Additional ResourcesThis open-access academic journal article by Yochai Benkler (2011) introduces the concept of the networked fourth estate. Wikipedia provides a good sketch of the notion of the estates of the realm which is where the idea of the fourth estate comes from. Elizabeth notes that Anonymous and WikiLeaks are groups connected to the networked fourth estate. Here is a recent summary of Anonymous's recent activities. Benkler discusses the role of WikiLeaks in the networked fourth estate in the journal article above.Elizabeth also mentions previous episodes of the podcast on the high-choice media environment and assemblages. Sherry references the Edelman Trust Barometer's gauge of the public's trust in news media. 
Shaaz is a Digital Advisor and Director of Digital Transformation for Microsoft and he chats with Elizabeth about what exactly is digital transformation. They go from academic definition, to business buzz words, to practical applications. Shaaz explains why he puts humanity at the centre of digital transformation and why he always wants to focus on "why" (rather than just what fancy new tech can we use).Additional ResourcesElizabeth uses this academic journal article by Gregory Vial (2019) to define digital transformation. Tip: You can get access to some articles for free by looking for things like "Open Access" or "Download for Free" - in this case you find the free version by clicking the "View Open Manuscript" link at the top-centre of the page. When academic journals don't have a free version on their main website sometimes the authors upload a pre-print version somewhere else so you can also try your favourite search engine.Elizabeth mentions the Rogers Diffusion of Innovation Curve. Here is an example of the curve which is found in this blog post (the blog post focuses on IOTA/cryptocurrency, but the theory is applied much more broadly). Here is a YouTube video that explains the theory in the context of marketing.
Etienne Rainville of The Boys in Short Pants podcast, former Hill staffer, and government relations expert chats with Elizabeth about liquid modernity. They chat about how the fast-paced nature of politics, how political actors learn about the issues, and the role of Twitter in Canadian politics and policy making.Additional ResourcesChapter 4 in the book Political Communication and Social Theory by Davis is a great place to start to understand liquid politics.Etienne also mentions Policy Options, Canada2020, Canada Strong and Free Network and Parliamentary Committees in this episode.
Co-founder of CivicTechTO and self-declared certified nerd, Anowa Quarcoo chats with Elizabeth about the idea of citizenship. They talk about legal and cultural definitions of citizenship before jumping into a discussion of what counts as a citizen in a digital era. From civic leaders, to publics, to users, to citizens - they talk about how some terms can be empowering while others can be exclusionary. Key take-away? Context matters. You need to ask why you are trying to define a group with this kind of term and pick accordingly.Additional ResourcesThere are a lot of definitions of citizenship out there. Elizabeth summarizes legal and cultural definitions quickly in the episode, drawing on what she and Florian Martin-Bariteau wrote in their Introduction to the Citizenship in a Connected Canada book (available open access!).Check out CivicTechTO, one of North America's largest civic hacking communities.
Mor is a self-described data geek, she chats with Elizabeth about what open data actually is, how it can be used, and why it isn't always the perfect fix (but still helpful) for increasing government transparency and accountability. Hear about examples from government and philanthropy in Canada, Israel, and the UK.Additional ResourcesTwo useful websites for defining open data are: and the episode, Mor  mentions a McKinsey report that discusses the potential economic value of open data. The episode also includes lots of examples of open data and its users. Check out:1) GTFS (that thing that helps you catch your buses!)2) City of Ottawa’s open portal3) 360Giving, an organization that uses open data to improve charitable giving.4) IATI, International Aid Transparency Initiative and their standard  Mor also mentions an episode of another podcast called Wind of Change which used freedom of information requests to learn about the CIA's possible role in writing the song Wind of Change. Note, in the episode Mor says FBI but she meant CIA.Last but not least, if you're interested in Digital Government don’t forget to check out Wonks and War Rooms Season 2, Episode 3.
Megan Beretta is a public servant who is dedicated to digital government. She and Elizabeth chat about the evolution from e-government to digital government, where we find digital gov efforts in Canada (also, who can actually get stuff done), and opportunities for increased accessibility.Additional ResourcesWe've mentioned the Citizenship in a Connected Canada book before - it is the one Elizabeth co-edited. It is available open access (that means free!). There are three relevant chapters for today's episode! Links below are to SSRN which is a repository for pre-prints, you can also download or order the full book here. Ch. 4: Elizabeth mentions a model of e-government and transition to digital government in the episode. You can find a good breakdown of that model in the Canadian context in Kent Aitken's chapter: Government in the Connected Era.Ch. 5: Megan mentions Amanda Clarke's work (which is vast) but you can find an accessible overview of some key points in her chapter: Data Governance, The Next Frontier of Digital Government Research and Practice. Ch. 7: While you're at it, check out Megan's own chapter: Influencing the Internet, Lobbyists and Interest Groups’ Impact on Digital Rights in Canada.For more information on how digital government works at the federal level in Canada you can check out the government website and the Minister for Digital Government's mandate letter.
Vass Bednar is a public policy expert who chats with Elizabeth about the idea of surveillance capitalism. Talking about a few Canadian examples, they talk about how tech companies collect and use data from their users, how privacy policy might be a red herring and how incentive structures in the tech industry contribute to the system of surveillance capitalism.Additional Resources:Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is the key text. There are also a lot of summaries of the book in blog posts, podcasts, and videos. One of my favourite short reviews of the concept comes from the Fortune Magazine YouTube channel, found here.Check out Vass's newsletter, Regs to Riches - of particular interest to this conversation are her pieces on Laying down the Loblaw and Loblaw media.Vass also wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail: Loblaw’s points economy for private-health data follows Big Tech’s playbook.In the episode Vass mentioned a weather app - check out The Weather Network's description of their "precise location forecast" which includes information about user privacy. 
Alexander Dirksen, a proud member of Métis Nation BC, researcher and strategist chats with  Elizabeth about what it means to decolonize digital spaces and why it is so crucial to re-centre conversations about tech development through the lens of decolonization.  Additional ResourcesDecolonizing Digital Space (Chapter 1) - this is the chapter written by Alexander Dirksen that is mentioned throughout this episode. The Citizenship in a Connected Canada book is available open access which means anyone can read it for free!In the episode Alexander mentions nation-to-nation relationships. You can learn more about it in this speech:  Realizing a Nation-to-Nation Relationship with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada (Wilson-Raybould).Turtle Island is used in this work to refer to the unceded territories of Indigenous Nations that transcend colonial borders.Decolonizing Digital: The Future is Indigenous from Animikii, an Indigenous-led tech firm. You can also find their podcast by following the link!Digital privacy law is being updated for the first time in decades, and it's imperative we get it right by Vass Bendar and Mark Surman provide relevant additional context about federal policy in this opinion piece.From the People is an online, Indigenous-led marketplace for Indigenous peoples that was established in response to the pandemic.MIT’s Indigenous Digital Delegation is an incredible convening of Indigenous leaders to discuss the digital age.
Introducing Season 2!

Introducing Season 2!


Elizabeth here with a quick update on what you can expect from Season Two of Wonks and War Rooms. The first full episode will drop Wednesday, February 17!
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