Ongoing work on how corporations use individuals’ personal data in exploitative ways has earned communication studies professor Ulises Mejias a prestigious post as a Fulbright Specialist to work on this topic with educators and audiences across the globe.

The program from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and World Learning pairs highly qualified U.S. academics and professionals with host institutions in other countries to share expertise, strengthen institutional links, hone skills, gain international experience and learn about other cultures -- all while building capacity at their overseas host institutions.

It is a multiyear commitment, with Mejias joining the specialist roster from 2021 to 2025. 

“As a Fulbright Specialist, I am interested in helping to create an interdisciplinary dialogue across global North-South divides about the impacts of persistent social data mining,” Mejias said. “By bringing my research on data and Colonialism to host institutions in the public and education sectors, I expect to assist them in advancing their agendas and redesigning their curricula to be more critical, equitable and inclusive.”

His work in this field is best known from “The Costs of Connection,” co-authored by Nick Couldry of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and published by Stanford University Press.

“Colonialism was a global phenomenon, and what I call data colonialism is a global phenomenon as well.  So an important part of my work has been to travel and present the argument abroad” he noted. “The Fulbright Specialist program just seemed like a natural fit as it supports faculty doing these kinds of international research and presenting.”

Mejias noted that the program cultivates dialogues that benefit all involved.

“The program matches top scholars in their field with people who are looking for the opportunity to learn, providing funds to support travel and the exchange of knowledge,” Mejias said. “It’s a way to extend the reach of what I do, and for me to speak with and learn from colleagues around the world.” 

Scholarly activity

A look at Mejias’ output shows he has already been heavily involved in sharing this topic to audiences and readers across the world.

During spring and summer 2021, Mejias was invited to provide written evidence to the Communications and Digital Committee of the UK Parliament on their inquiry into freedom of expression online, and his work was mentioned in The Atlantic, Forbes Advisor and Wired. The BBC Reel series produced a mini documentary about his co-authored work. 

He presented his work at University of Cambridge; London School of Economics and Political Science; the ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability and Transparency (FAccT); Northwestern University's Latinx Digital Media Virtual Seminar Series; and the event Colonialism and Data Dystopias, part of the International Seminar on Internet Governance organized by the Comitê Gestor da Internet no Brasil (CGI.BR). 

Mejias delivered keynotes at Universidade Catolica De Pernambuco in Brazil, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord / Centre d'Analyse et de Recherche Interdisciplinaires sur les Médias, and Centre Internet et Société in France. With Miriyam Aouragh (University of Westminster), Paula Chakravartty (New York University) and Couldry, he participated in Data as an instrument of coloniality: A panel discussion on digital and data colonialism, organized by the UK's Alan Turing Institute

He published the post Alternate Realities and the Logic of Data Colonialism at the Institute of Network Cultures blog (The Netherlands), and was asked to provide an expert review for a grant application to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Mejias was interviewed in podcast episodes for Forum 2000 (Czech Republic), Global Data Justice's Resist and Reboot (The Netherlands), The Academic Minute (U.S.), Tim Arnold’s Superconnected Podcast (UK) and the Cafe Latinx (Northwestern University). He was also interviewed for the Algerian newspaper El Moudjahid (in ArabicEnglish and French). 

He addressed the activist groups Bangladesh Social Justice Action Research Alliance and Alternatives Canada. “The Costs of Connection” was reviewed in the European Journal of CommunicationAnagramas (a Spanish journal of communication), and the Data For Sustainable Development blog.