Article in San Fransisco Chronicle

The following was in the San Fransisco Chronicle, on May 1

Why the U.S. should but won’t partner with hactivists Anonymous

For a barbaric movement grounded in early Islamic apocalyptic prophecies, what is perhaps most striking about the rapid rise of the Islamic State has been its use of modern technology. Leveraging the open nature and global reach of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Islamic State has used social media to recruit young would-be jihadis, to build a global network of sympathetic followers, and to intimidate Western audiences with its brutality.

The scale of this digital propaganda network is vast. A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that in late 2014 there were at least 46,000 Twitter accounts used by Islamic State supporters, with an average of 1,000 followers each.
But why has the United States, which has at its disposal vast cyberwar capabilities, an ever-expanding surveillance state and significant leverage over, and goodwill of, the American companies that are hosting this content, proved unable to quiet the online reach of this network of insurgents?

One answer is that the open nature of the Internet, combined with the constraints that democratic states face engaging effectively within it, has limited the capability of the United States to fight back. And this tells us a tremendous amount about the shifting nature of power in the digital age.

In the absence of effective state action against the Islamic State online, Anonymous has taken up the digital war. Already this ad hoc network of hackers and activists has downed scores of Web pages and hacked into dozens of Twitter accounts that allegedly belong to Islamic State members. Much like in the early days of the Arab Spring, where hackers provided online assistance and offered protection to activists, Anonymous is stepping in where the state has limited capacity.
This has recently led to calls for the United States to partner with Anonymous to launch cyberattacks against the Islamic State, and even paying hactivists in bitcoin. This sounds audacious, but plausible. Western governments have long collaborated with unsavory actors with the aim of larger strategic goals — as it is said, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
In theory, such a partnership could allow the Defense and State departments to overcome the constraints of their slow-moving, hierarchical, command-and-control systems. It could allow them to act more like a nimble startup than a legacy industrial corporation.

And it could be effective — we know that Anonymous hackers have been successful taking on a wide range of both established and emerging powers. In practice, however, there is substantial risk. As the failure of the clandestine USAID program to build a fake version of Twitter in Cuba to foster dissent demonstrates, states often stumble when they step into the murky world of online power.

But I would suggest there are other, more fundamental reasons, why the U.S. will never partner with Anonymous. This is because, at its core, Anonymous is different than the other perceived bad actors that government is more than willing to collaborate with. Anonymous represents a new form of decentralized power that challenges the very foundations of the state system.

First, the power structures that Anonymous embodies represent a fundamental threat to state dominance in the international system. The challenges that the state system were designed to solve — a lack of structure, instability, decentralized governance, loose and evolving ties — are precisely what makes groups like Anonymous powerful.

Legitimizing the type of decentralized, collaborative and anonymous power that Anonymous represents, therefore poses a threat to the hierarchical and state-led international system that the nation state depends on. This new form of power scares governments — so much so that they are willing to exert significant control over the network itself. As was revealed in the Snowden National Security Agency documents, the government wanted to collect it all, process it all, exploit it all, partner it all, sniff it all, know it all.

Second, over the course of modern history, we have placed tremendous power in the state. Whether it be through the justice system, the social welfare state or the military, government has been the primary enabler of collective action in our society. In exchange, we have put in place systems of accountability and laws to hold this power to account. For states seeking to fight new online powers, these norms of behavior make functioning effectively online at best difficult, and at worst counter to the expectations and laws governing their activities.

Third, the state is ultimately faced with a paradox — that the very attributes of the Internet that enable the Islamic State also enable the free enterprise and expression that make it arguably the most liberating technology in human history. The very real risk governments face is that in seeking to stop perceived nefarious actors online, they will also shut down the positive ones. Efforts by the NSA to break encryption, for example, won’t just help it fight illegal crypto-currencies, or Islamic State fighters using secure networking tools, but would also threaten the security of the online commerce sector. These efforts risk breaking the Internet.

For the U.S. government, partnering with Anonymous and legitimizing its structure is simply a bridge too far. And this limitation represents a crisis for state power in the digital age: One that curtails its ability to fight the online propaganda of a barbaric jihadist movement taking to Twitter to build its caliphate.


Why governments must embrace the new global digital reality

The essay below was in the Globe and Mail on April 10th.

On Jan. 28, 2011, in the middle of a popular uprising, the president of Egypt turned off the Internet. This striking display of state power is well known. Less well known is how the Internet was turned back on.

Around the world, hackers and activists who belong to a collective known as Telecomix began to re-establish network connections in Egypt. They arranged with a hacker-friendly French Internet service to provide hundreds of dial-up modem lines, sought out amateur-radio enthusiasts to broadcast short logistical messages, faxed leaflets to university campuses and cyber cafés explaining how to get around the blackouts, and used the same tactic to get news out of Egypt.

Telecomix is one of a new breed of actor taking part in international conflict. When the Arab Spring moved to Syria, this new breed included hackers from Anonymous who took down government infrastructure, crisis mappers who crowd-sourced the analysis of tank locations, citizens who streamed the bombardment of cities to YouTube, and networks of amateur experts who used these videos to trace the origins of munitions.

These groups do not fit comfortably in traditional categories: They are not nation-states, formal institutions or rogue individuals. Instead, they share characteristics and capabilities that are fundamentally technology-enabled.

They are formless. You can’t join them, because they are not organizations; you can’t lead them, because there is no leader; and most engage while cloaked in encryption and pseudonyms. All this stands in direct contrast with the hierarchical structures that give traditional institutions strength.

So how are we to understand those who have strength without structure? First, by realizing that they gain power because of, rather than in spite of, being decentralized and non-hierarchical.

Also, in a networked model, new actors require no one else to attain status – action, not affiliation, produces credibility and authority. Their identities derive from what they do and from the impact they have. As Swedish academic Jenny Sunden puts it, on the Internet, one “types oneself into being.”

We are so used to equating organization with hierarchy that it comes as a surprise that disparate groups are even capable of joint ventures. But new forms of ad hoc governance are emerging to regulate collective behaviour, including the Pirate Party’s notion of liquid democracy and the way in which Anonymous uses chat rooms to mobilize and co-ordinate its members.

In fact, the way power is exercised in the digital space presents a crisis for the state. First, states no longer have a monopoly on the ability to shape the behaviour of large numbers of people.

Second, while governments have all the legacy burdens of other hierarchical 20th-century institutions (lethargy, waste, layers of bureaucracy, slow adaptation), unlike private companies, they cannot simply go bankrupt. When Tesla disrupts Ford, we may end up with better cars, but when governments are challenged, we risk losing the collective social goods they were built to ensure.

Third, because groups like Anonymous are empowered by lack of structure and other “problems” the modern nation state was designed to overcome, the result is a misalignment of the norms and institutions that govern the international system and the mechanisms that increasingly create power.

Finally, what empowers digital players that are perceived to be nefarious is the same as what leads free expression, knowledge creation and economic development to flourish online. By targeting the Internet and digital networks, states also risk shutting down all the positive benefits that they allow: They risk breaking the network itself.

One of the central challenges of this century will be determining whether the norms of behaviour, democratic processes and mechanisms of accountability through which we give the state legitimacy will thrive in this new international ecosystem. This will require leadership from governments themselves.

Our current global institutions were designed by, built for and are run by those who had power in the 20th century. But what would an international organization look like that included those with power in the digital world, such as Anonymous and Telecomix?

States also must work to protect the notion of a single Internet. The social and economic good that comes from an open, secure and free Internet far outweighs the actions of perceived enemies. This means scaling back the rapidly growing surveillance state and rethinking actions that threaten the very capacity of the online system, such as efforts to break encryption. Rather than treating the Internet as a battlefield it must control, the state should be working to support the very technologies that empower and protect so many.

This will entail accepting new norms of self-regulation and network governance and determining effective ways of bringing the values of the democratic nation-state into these new processes, rather than seeking to control them.

There remains an alternate temptation, however: seeking absolute control of the digital ecosystem. This mentality underlies much of the Canadian government’s proposed counterterrorism law, Bill C-51. By giving sweeping new surveillance powers to both security services and domestic police, these policies not only threaten the network infrastructure that benefit so many, but risk suffocating the spaces for dissent on which social and political progress are built.

The Treaty of Westphalia, signed in 1648, ended almost a century of instability and conflict between disparate empires. Once absolute ruling powers, these empires were losing control over both their territory and their citizens. By legitimizing the state rather than the crown as the primary sovereign unit, the treaty created order out of chaos.

We face a similar moment today. Yet to be seen is whether a digitally enabled world can undergo a similar restructuring without the loss of the chaos, messiness and disorder that generate its power.


The promise and peril of digital diplomacy

The following oped was in the Globe and Mail last Friday.  It is a response to the news of a new digital diplomacy initiative at the Munk School of Global Affairs funded by the Canadian Government. While i think the intention of the program and likely many of the initiatives it will produce are to be lauded, it really must be evaluated alongside the wide range of often contradictory digital foreign policy initiatives. The core argument below is drawn from a chapter on Digital Diplomacy in my forthcoming book.


The Promise and Peril of Digital Diplomacy

At 5 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, five Canadian diplomats stationed in Tehran quietly left the country. After years of increasing tensions and rhetoric Canada cut all diplomatic ties with Iran.

But as Canada was cutting its formal diplomatic ties with Iranian officials, a separate team within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade was working with the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto to build an online platform where Iranians could discuss their upcoming election. If Canadian diplomats could not speak to Iranian officials, they were going to help Iranians speak to one another.

This week’s announcement of an expanded digital diplomacy initiative based at the Munk School of Global Affairs is being positioned as an expansion of this “public square” initiative. And as an extension of the traditional public diplomacy once practised on TV and radio (think Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and BBC World Service) onto the Internet.

But it is, in fact, a far more assertive act, one of making foreign policy rather than simply communicating it. Such programs are part of a growing attempt by the state to remain relevant in a world of increasingly decentralized power.

Whereas states were once the primary means of incentivizing collective action and asserting power on the international stage, they are now being challenged by a wide range of individuals and groups who are using digital technology to organize, protest, report, aid each other, trade, and at times attack. Whether they be hackers, digital humanitarians, cryptocurrency innovators, activists, citizen reporters, or terrorists, the Internet allows people to take on the institutions that once held a monopoly on power.

Digital diplomacy is therefore part of the state’s attempt to remain relevant and to assert power in the digital space. And while the goals of any one initiative might be lauded (as this one can), we need to view and ultimately assess it as only one component of a wider suite of digital foreign policy actions. Taken as a whole, digital foreign policy is fraught with challenges and hypocrisies.

First, such seemingly innocuous initiatives often backfire. Take, for example, USAID’s elaborate scheme to create a Cuban version of Twitter with the goal of fostering dissent and promoting regime change. While an innovative and audacious use of digital technology to achieve a (however misguided) State Department objective, the revelation of the program tainted the reputation and hurt the effectiveness of USAID as a whole.

Second, the platforms and tools being built through initiatives like the Iran Dialogues, replicate or use the very anonymizing capabilities that our national intelligence agencies are simultaneously seeking to break and undermine. The ability to communicate anonymously empowers perceived nefarious and legitimate actors alike, whether they be terrorist, black market commerce sites, domestic protesters, or dissidents in Iran. Programs seeking to break encryption will ultimately negate any well-intentioned digital diplomacy initiatives.

Third, digital foreign policy is increasingly being outsourced. Governments distance themselves from acts of hacking or cyberwar through the use of arm’s-length organizations. Whether it be the Syrian Electronic Army, the recent North Korea hack, or the U.S. and Canada using think tanks to build digital tools, it is getting increasingly hard to attribute online action and to hold it accountable.

Finally, the same governments that are seeking to enable free speech in countries like Iran are at the same time rapidly expanding the surveillance state. Thanks to the revelations of Edward Snowden we now know how the state has chosen to respond to this new space of digital empowerment. Like a traditional battlefield, they are seeking to control it. To, as they themselves claim, “know it all.”

And herein lies the central tension in the digital diplomacy initiative. By seeking to control, monitor and undermine the actions of perceived negative actors, the state risks breaking the very system that positively empowers so many. And this will ultimately harm those living under autocratic and democratic regimes alike.

The answer, unfortunately, is not as simple as many critics of digital diplomacy assert. Simply returning to traditional in-person diplomacy ignores the global shift to decentralized digital power. Digital diplomacy is a well-intentioned attempt to participate in this new space. However, it is one that is both ill-suited to the capabilities of the state, and is negated by other digital foreign policy programs.

We are at the start of a reconfiguration of power. Navigating this terrain is one of the principal foreign policy challenges of the 21st century.

Disruptive Power

Disruptive Power

CoverMy forthcoming book, Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Official launch is March 1, and will be touring internationally throughout March and April.  Lots more details soon. Blurb from OUP is below:

Anonymous. WikiLeaks. The Syrian Electronic Army. Edward Snowden. Bitcoin. The Arab Spring. Digital communication technologies have thrust the calculus of global political power into a period of unprecedented complexity.  In every aspect of international affairs, digitally enabled actors are changing the way the world works, and disrupting the institutions that once held a monopoly on power.  No area is immune: Humanitarianism, War, Diplomacy, Finance, Activism, or Journalism.  In each, the government departments, international organizations and corporations who for a century were in charge, are being challenged by a new breed of international actor.  Online, networked and decentralized, these new actors are innovating, for both good and ill, in the austere world of foreign policy. They are representative of a wide range of 21st century global actors and a new form of 21st century power: disruptive power.

In Disruptive Power, Taylor Owen provides a sweeping look at the way that digital technologies are shaking up the workings of the institutions that have traditionally controlled international affairs. What is it that makes for successful digital international action?  What are the tools being used by the actors increasingly controlling international affairs?  How does their rise change the way we understand and act in the world?  What constitutes effective online international action? What are the negative consequences of a radically decentralized international system? What new institutions will be needed to moderate the new power structures and ensure accountability. And how can governments and corporations act to promote positive behaviour in a world of disruptive innovation?  Owen takes on these questions in this survey of the frontier of international affairs, a world enabled by information technology, and increasingly led by disruptive innovators.

With cutting edge analysis of the fast-changing relationship between the declining state and increasingly powerful non-state actors, Disruptive Power is the essential road map for navigating a networked world.


New Virtual Reality Journalism Project

Cross posted on www.towcenter.org

Long a figment of technophile imagination, a confluence of technological advances has finally placed in-home virtual reality on the cusp of mainstream adoption. Media attention and developer interest have surged, powered by the release of the Oculus Rift to developers, the anticipated launch of Samsung’s Gear VR, rumored headsets from Sony and Apple, and a cheeky intervention from Google called Cardboard; a simple VR player made of cardboard, Velcro, magnets, a rubber band, two biconvex lenses and a smartphone.

We now have the computational power, screen resolution and refresh rate to play VR in a small and inexpensive headset. And within a year, VR will be a commercial reality. We know that users will be able to play video games, sit court-side at a basketball game and view porn. But what about watching the news or a documentary? What is the potential for journalism in virtual reality?

Virtual reality is, of course, not new. A generation of media and tech researchers used both cumbersome headsets or VR ‘caves’ to experiment with virtual environments. Research focused mostly on how humans engage with virtual environments when the mind tricked them into thinking they are real.  Do we learn, care, empathize and fear as we do in real life?  Do we feel more?  This research is tremendously important as we enter a new VR age; out of the lab and into peoples’ homes.

In addition to the headsets, a second technology is set to transform the VR experience. While initial uses of the Oculus Rift and similar devices have focused on computer generated imagery (gaming) and static 360° images (such as Google Street View), new experimental cameras are able to capture live motion 360° and 3D virtual reality footage.

The kit is made from 12-16 cameras mounted to a 3D printed brace, and then stitched onto a virtual sphere to form a 360 degree virtual environment. While 360 cameras have been around for years, these new kits are also stereoscopic, adding depth of field. They are not yet commercially available, but several are in production, including one by startup Jaunt and another by NextVR that uses six extremely high resolution Red Epic Dragon cameras. We are working with the media production company Secret Location who have also built a prototype, pictured below.

This new camera technology opens up a tremendous opportunity for journalists to immerse audiences in their story and for audiences to experience and connect to journalism in powerful new ways. And this is the focus of a new Tow Center Research project studying and prototyping live motion virtual reality journalism

The project is a partnership between Frontline, The Secret Location, and the Tow Center.  James Milward, the CEO of the Secret Location is leading the production, Raney Aronson, the Deputy Executive Editor of Frontline is leading the field experiment and shoot, Dan Edge is taking the camera into the field, and I am leading the research.  Together, along with Pietro Galliano, Sarah Moughty and Fergus Pitt, we will be running the demo project and authoring a Tow Brief to be published in partnership with MIT documenting the process and lessons learned.

The project recently won a Knight Foundation Prototype Grant.

In short, this project explores the extension of factual film making onto this new platform. Unlike other journalistic VR work, such as the pioneering project by Nonny de la Pena, which has relied on computer-generated graphics, this project will be centered on live video, delivering an experience that feels more like documentary and photo journalism than a console game. There are few examples of this type of journalism. The one that comes closest would Gannett’s recent project for the Oculus Rift called Harvest of Change.

The first phase of the Tow Center VR project has several components.

First, we are testing the equipment needed to capture live motion virtual reality footage.  This includes a prototype 360/3D camera and surround sound audio recording. We recently held a training session for the camera at the Secret Location Toronto office.


Twelve Go-Pros mounted in a 3D printed brace.

Twelve GoPros mounted in a 3D printed brace.

The 360° stereoscopic camera, with directional microphone.

The 360° stereoscopic camera, with directional microphone.

Second, we are deploying this video and audio equipment to the field on a story about the Ebola outbreak being directed for Frontline by Dan Edge, a renowned documentary film-maker. This phase will test how the camera can be used in challenging environments. But crucially, it will also explore new journalistic conventions. How do you tell a story in VR? What does narrative look like?  Dan is currently in Guinea with the camera and he will be traveling to Liberia and Sierra Leon in early 2015.

Third we will then be testing new post-production VR processes, including the addition of interactivity and multimedia into the VR environment.

The demo will be launched in the spring alongside the release of the feature Frontline documentary and with an accompanying report documenting the experiment and what we have learned. We will also be hosting apanel on VR journalism and this year’s SXSW featuring James Milward, Nonny de la Pena, and head of Vice News, Jason Mojica.

We are all acutely aware that this emerging practice, while exciting, presents some challenging questions.

For the practice of journalism virtual reality presents a new technical and narrative form. It requires new cameras, new editing and shooting processes, new viewing infrastructure, new levels of interactivity, and can leverage distributed networks in new ways. In addition to these technical innovations, an emerging scholarly discourse is exploring how virtual reality also challenges traditional notions of narrative form. Virtual reality, combined with the ability to add interactive elements, changes the positionality of the journalists, breaking down the fourth wall of journalism. Storytelling is pulled from its bound linear form, and moved to a far more fluid space where the audience has new (though still limited) agency in the experience of the story. This changes how journalists must construct their story and their place in it, and challenges core journalistic assumptions of objectivity and observation.  It also changes how audiences engage with journalism, bringing them into stories in a visceral experiential manner not possible in other mediums.

CBC The Current Interview on Virtual Reality Journalism with Taylor Owen and Nonny de la Pena

More conceptually, virtual reality journalism also offers a new window through which to study the relationship between consumers of media and the representation of subjects. Whereas newspapers, radio, television and then social media each brought us closer to being immersed in the experience of others, virtual reality has the potential to further break down this distance. A core question is whether virtual reality can provide similar feelings of empathy and compassion to real life experiences. Recent work has shown that virtual reality can create a feeling of ‘social presence,’ the feeling that a user is really there, which can create far great empathy for the subject than in other media representations. Others have called this experience ‘co-presence,’ and are exploring how it can be used to bridge the distance between those experiencing human rights abuses and those in the position to assist or better understand conflict.

It is our hope that this initial project, as well as a planned larger multiyear research project, will begin to shed light on some of these questions.


Twitter as public space, and related problems

Last weekend, the Globe and Mail published two articles on Twitter, both of which were dismissive of the platform and were written by authors who do not actively use it. In short, “What Twitter is, and isn’t,” and “Will Twitter Change Politics?” by Konrad Yakabuski and Tom Flanagan respectively, informed us that Twitter and its users are trite, and liberal, and that its value should be judged by its ability to “change” elections.

Twitter has real advantages and limitations, but neither were spelled out. While it is encouraging to see public debate about this emerging form, it deserves a more nuanced discussion.

Twitter is used in a vast number of ways. For some it is a means of following friends; for others it is a source of links to news and articles. It increasingly serves as a collective fact checker for traditional media. Many use twitter as a newspaper or magazine, providing links to both breaking news, and longform journalism and reporting. During the Libyan revolution, citizens and revolutionaries used it to communicate with the outside world. The manhunt for the Boston bombers was live-tweeted, and twitter was used to corroborate the police scanner. During sporting events and awards shows it forms a collective second screen community. It is a place for snarky commentary, gossip, and breaking news. Some people tweet all day, others just watch.

The point is, any list of how twitter is used, will itself be trite. Users engage with Twitter in diverse ways for diverse reasons, just as they do with newspapers and TV.

For me, Twitter is a way of actively immersing myself in the communities in which I work and engage: international relations, digital technology, politics and journalism.

Using Twitter, I can actively participate in a 24-7 real-time collective conversation in each of these communities. In each, I follow and engage with academics, politicians, journalists, activists, technologists, and a wide range of citizens from all backgrounds and professions interested in the same subjects as me. Herein lies the real power of the form. Twitter is not an extension, or supplement to public discourse, it is a public discourse. And, compared to other media, a remarkably accessible form of it.

When people ask whether twitter can be democratizing, they usually ask, as Tom Flanagan did, whether it can shape elections. This is an attempt to prove relevance only via instrumentality, which to me is the wrong metric. Twitter has broken down the barriers of entry to public discourse. This, in itself, it it’s democratizing effect. We value free speech and newspapers for more than their instrumental effects, and so we should Twitter.

Twitter has been successful because it has become a part of the public and personal discourse, not because it overthrows dictators. The question driving the debate over what Twitter is and isn’t, therefore, shouldn’t be whether twitter will change politics, because twitter is politics. A gossip-mill or an accountability mechanism – just like any other political system, it is a reflection of the people who use it.

The fact that Twitter has become a de-facto public space poses real challenges. But these are not whether people have trouble finding useful information, or are overwhelmed by the pace, or don’t enjoy short videos – the problems depicted by Flanagan and Yakabuski. These are simply projections based on personal tastes, like saying I don’t like newspapers because they leave ink on my fingers, or they take too long to read.

The real challenge of Twitter, and social media more generally, is that we need to think carefully about what it means to devolve the public space to private companies. There are a wide range of challenges that stem from this. Here are four.

First, just as more newspapers go behind paywalls, and cable TV replaces broadcast, more and more of our public debate costs money. So far, Twitter has remained free. But with increasing pressures to commercialize, and the increase of social marketing, we will pay in some form or another. This payment will undoubtedly have an effect on Twitter’s democratizing role.

Second, we need to think as a society about how our individual and collective information (or “Big Data”) is being used by the private and public institutions that collect, sell, and trade it. In particular, who owns the data we leave behind as we engage online, or our “data exhaust”. The EU is grappling with these tough questions head on, and has recently proposed a right to erasure and deletion.

Third, Twitter needs to decide whether it is a publishing platform or a media company. Increasingly, Twitter, like YouTube and Facebook, is making editorial decisions about what content is allowed on their platform. Tweets to the videos of the killing of a child in Syria would be allowed, for example, whereas those to the mass shooting of a group of children in the United States would surely be taken down. Why, and how are these decisions being made? Twitter and Google both now issue transparency reports detailing their editorial decision making, as well as government requests for data. But these only provide a very limited glimpse.

Finally, what is the nature of free speech on privately owned platforms? Over the course of the twentieth century, we developed laws, regulations, and norms around public communication on TV, radio, and in print. Few of these have transferred to the new public squares, which are almost wholly owned by increasingly monopolistic private companies, in varying degrees of contact and partnership with national governments.

Twitter is many things to many people, and its uses present a vast array of opportunities and challenges. Let’s seriously debate the changes it represents in the way we communicate and interact, not dismiss it as a trite fad.



By way of an intro, currently:Taylor_Web_121

  • I am Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia
  • I am a Senior Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism. I was previously the Research Director, where I coordinated a research program on digital technology and journalism.
  • I founded and now edit an international affairs media platform called OpenCanada.org. This site is an experiment in building a community at the intersection of research, journalism and public policy.
  • I direct a research project called the International Relations and Digital Technology Project.  Through this project, based at UBC and the CIC, we are exploring the theoretical and practical impact of digital technology on the field of international relations.
  • My most recent book is out with Oxford University Press, titled Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age.
  • I am leading a new research project on the use of virtual reality for journalism for the Tow Center and the Knight Foundation.
  • I have recently joined the Board of Directors of the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

My PhD was on the concept of human security, exploring how mapping and spatially analyzing local vulnerability data can help us better understand the nature of extreme insecurity.  My current personal research, however, now focuses on the intersection of digital technology and international relations.  I am interested in how ubiquitous digital technology challenges the institutions, systems and norms that control the broadly defined space of international affairs.  Through my position at Columbia, I also write about and coordinate a research program on the evolving space of digital media and journalism.

I use this site as a contact point and as an aggregator of my academic work and broader writing.  I crosspost writing from the Tow Center, OpenCanada, the IRDTP, as well as other media.


A bit more officially:

Taylor Owen is Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia and a Senior Fellow at the Columbia Journalism School. He was previously the Research Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University where he designed and led a program studying the impact of digital technology on the practice of journalism. He is the founder and Editor of OpenCanada.org, an award-winning international affairs website, the Director of the International Relations and Digital Technology Projects, an international research project exploring the intersection of information technology and international affairs, and is on the Board of Directors of the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). His Doctorate is from the University of Oxford where he was a Trudeau Scholar. He is the author, most recently, of Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age (OUP, 2015).

He was previously a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of British Columbia, a Fellow in the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University, a Research Fellow at the Center for Global Governance at the London School of Economics and a Researcher at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo. His research and writing focuses on the intersection between information technology and international affairs. Taylor Owen’s publications can be found at www.taylorowen.com and can be followed at @taylor_owen.


Email: taylor (dot) owen (at) gmail (dot) com

Twitter: @taylor_owen

Warning: I have been largely defeated by email flow, so please feel free to send reminders and nudges when needed.


Books and Manuscripts

  • Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Era. March 2015, Oxford University Press, New York
  • Journalism After Snowden, Forthcoming 2015, Columbia University Press (ed with Emily Bell and Jennifer Henrichson)
  • Canada and Global Transformation: Rethinking Our Foreign Policy, Forthcoming April 2015, (ed with Roland Paris), University of Toronto Press, Toronto
  • The New Global Journalism: Foreign Correspondence in Transition. Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University, 2014 (ed with Ann Cooper) pdf
  • Human Security.  Sage Major Work, Four-Volume Set. London, UK. 2013. Link
  • The Handbook of Human Security, Routledge Press, Forthcoming 2013 (ed., with Mary Martin) Link
  • Operationalizing Human Security: From Local Vulnerability to International Policy, DPhil Thesis, The University of Oxford, July 2010.

Peer Reviewed Academic

  • Burgess, P, Owen, T and Uttam Kumar Sinha, “Securitizing Water: A Case Study of the Indus Water Basin” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 25(4).
  • Owen Taylor and Mary Martin, 2010. “The Second Generation of Human Security: Lessons from the UN and EU Experiences?” International Affairs, 85:1.
  • Travers, Patrick and Taylor Owen, 2008. Canada in Afghanistan: Between Metaphor and Strategy. International Journal, Sept/Oct 2008. (winner, Canadian International Council Gelber Prize)
  • Owen, Taylor, 2008. The Critique that Doesn’t Bite: A Response to David Chandler’s “Human Security: The Dog that didn’t Bark” Security Dialogue, 39(4), April/June 2008.
  • Aldo Benini, Harvard Rue, Taylor Owen, 2008. “A Semi-Parametric Spatial Regression Approach to Post-War Human Security: Cambodia, 2002-2004″, Asian Journal of Criminology, Volume 3, no 2, September 2008.
  • Liotta, P.H & Taylor Owen, 2006. “Why Human Security?” Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations Vol VII, No. 1: 37-55.
  • Liotta, P.H., & Taylor Owen, 2006. “Symbolic Security: The EU Takes on Human Security”. Parameters. The Journal of the US Army War College. Vol 36, No. 3: 85-102.
  • Gleditsch, NP; Owen, T; Furlong, K & Bethany Lacina, 2006. ‘Conflicts over Shared Rivers: Resource Wars or Fuzzy Boundaries?’ Political Geography. Vol. 25. No. 4: 361382.
  • Owen, Taylor & Olav Slaymaker, 2005. “Human Security in Cambodia: a GIS Approach”. AMBIO. The Journal of the Human Environment. No. 6, Vol. 34.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2005. ‘Consciously Absent?: Why the Secretary General used Human Security in all but Name’ St. Anthony’s International Review. Vol. 1, Issue 2.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2004. “Human Security – Conflict, Critique and Consensus: Colloquium Remarks and a Proposal for a Threshold-Based Definition”. Security Dialogue, vol. 35, no. 3, September 2004. Special Section on Human Security, co-edited by Peter Burgess and Taylor Owen.
  • Owen, Taylor. 2003. “Security Mapping: A New View of Cambodian Insecurity”. Cambodian Development Review, Vol. 7, Issue 2.

Book Chapters

  • Owen, Taylor and Ben Kiernan, 2010. The Costs of the US Bombing of Cambodia. In Pavlick, Mark ed, US War Crimes in Indochina: Our Duty To Truth. Common Courage Press, 2010.
  • Owen, Taylor and Emily Paddon, 2010. “Beyond Humanitarians: Canadian Development Policy in Afghanistan.” In Ben Perrin (ed), Edges of Conflict, UBC Press: Vancouver.
  • Owen, Taylor and David Eaves, 2010. “Missing the Link: How the Internet is Saving Journalism.” In, The New Journalist, Edmund Montgomery Press: Toronto.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2008. In All but Name: The Uncertain Future of Human Security in the UN. In Rethinking Human Security, Blackell Press: Oxford.
  • Owen, Taylor, “Measuring Human Security: Methodological Challenges and the Importance of Geographically-Referenced Determinants.” In Peter Liotta ed, Environmental Change and Human Security: Recognizing and Acting on Hazard Impacts. Springer NATO Science Series, 2008.
  • Owen, T, & P.H. Liotta, 2006. “Europe Takes on Human Security” in Tobias Debiel/Sascha Werthes (Eds.): Human Security on Foreign Policy Agendas: Changes, Concepts and Cases. Duisburg: Institute for Development and Peace, University of Duisburg-Essen (INEF Report, 80/2006).

Non-Peer Reviewed Academic

  • Owen, Taylor, 2012,  Disruption: Foreign Policy in a Networked World.  Trudeau Foundation Position Paper. PDF
  • Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, 2010. The U.S. Bombing of Afghanistan and the Cambodian Precedent, The Asia Pacific Journal June 2010. Republished in The Asia Times.
  • Travers, Patrick and Taylor Owen, 2007. Peacebuilding While Peacemaking: The Merits of a 3D Approach in Afghanistan. UBC Center for International Relations Security and Defense Forum Working Paper #3.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2006. “In all but Name: the Uncertain Future of Human Security in the UN”. Commissioned UNESCO publication.
  • Owen, Taylor, 2004. ‘Are we really secure?: Challenges and opportunities for defining and measuring human security’ Disarmament Forum. Issue 2, June 2004.
  • Owen, Taylor. 2003. “Measuring Human Security: Overcoming the Paradox”. Human Security Bulletin. October, Vol.2 No. 3.
  • Owen, Taylor. 2002. “Body Count: Rationale and Methodologies for Measuring Human Security”. Human Security Bulletin. October, Vol.1 No. 3. pdf

Magazine Articles

  • Owen, Taylor, 2010. A World Turned Upside Down. The Literary Review of Canada. link
  • Owen Taylor and David Eaves, 2008. Progressivism’s End. The Literary Review of Canada. September, Vol 17, No 7. (Winner of national New Voices competition)
  • Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, “Bombs Over Cambodia. The Walrus Magazine. November, 2006. (Finalist for National Magazine Award)
  • Taylor Owen and Emily Paddon, 2008. Zakaria, Kurdish Nationbuilder, The Walrus Magazine, December 2008.
  • Owen, Taylor and Ben Kiernan, 2008. Iraq Another Vietnam, Try Cambodia? Japan Focus. May, 2007. Reprinted in Outback Magazine.
  • Owen, Taylor & Patrick Travers, 2007. 3D Vision. The Walrus Magazine. July/August 2007.

Policy Reports

  • Jackson, T., N. Marsh, T. Owen, and A. Thurin, 2005. “Who Takes the Bullet: The Human Cost of Small Arms”. Oslo: Norwegian Church Aid.
  • Owen, Taylor & Aldo Benini, 2004. ‘Human Security in Cambodia: A Statistical Analysis of Large-Sample Sub-National Vulnerability Data’. Report written for the Centre for the Study of Civil War at the International Peace Research Institute Oslo.

Recent Opeds

  • Taylor Owen, 2010. Why Wikileaks will Lead to More Secrecy, not Less. Macleans Magazine, November 29th, 2010.
  • Taylor Owen, 2010. Five reasons David Cameron’s coalition government is not a harbinger for Canada, The Globe and Mail, May 14, 2010.
  • Taylor Owen and Rudyard Griffiths, 2010. Learning from Britain’s Three Election Debates, The National Post, April 30, 2010.
  • Taylor Owen and Rudyard Griffiths, 2010. Let the Debate Begin, The National Post, April 16, 2010.
  • Taylor Owen and Adrian Bradbury, 2009. The Rhetoric of Foreign Policy. The Mark News, Dec 1 2009.
  • Taylor Owen, 2008. One Step Closer to an Obama-Ignatieff Continent, The Prospect Magazine, December 2008.
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2008. Real Liberal Renewal. The Toronto Star, November 20, 2008
  • Travers, Patrick, Taylor Owen, 2008. 2011 is a date, not a goal. The Toronto Star, April 5th 2008.
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Failed strategy connects Afghan fields, city streets, The Toronto Star, December 7th, 2007.
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Kandahar deal breakers: The Afghan poll is not a blank cheque, The Globe and Mail, November 2nd, 2007
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Africa is Not a Liberal Idea, Embassy Magazine, October 3rd, 2007
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Iraq Suddenly Appears on Canada’s Radar Screen. Toronto Star August 29th, 2007
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. How the internet humbled the NYT, The Tyee, October 10th, 2007
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Blogosphere at Age 10 is Improving Journalism, The Toronto Star, July 30th, 2007
  • David Eaves and Taylor Owen, 2007. Prime Ministerial Power Stifling Decision Making. Toronto Star, June 28th, 2007
  • Taylor Owen and David Eaves, 2007. Getting Back On Track in Afghanistan. Toronto Star, February 23rd, 2007
  • David Eaves and Taylor Owen, 2007. Beyond Vimy Ridge: Canada’s Other Foreign Policy Pillar. Globe and Mail, April 18th, 2007.

Book Reviews

  • Review of The Canadian Century, Brian Crowley, Jason Clemens and Niels Veldhuis, The Globe and Mail, August 10th, 2010.
  • Review of: Michael Byers’ Intent for a Nation in Embassy Magazine, October 10th, 2007
  • Jeffrey Sachs. The End of Poverty. The Journal of Peace Research 43(1) Jan 2006.
  • Blix, Hans. Disarming Iraq: The Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Journal of Peace Research. 42(5) Sept 2005.
  • Ehrlich, P., and Anne Ehrlich. One with Nineveh: Politics Consumption and the Human Future. The Journal of Peace Research. 42(4) July 2005.
  • Najam, Adil. Ed. Environment, Development and Human Security: Perspectives from South Asia. The Journal of Peace Research. 41(5) Sept 2004.
  • Monbiot, George. The age of consent : a manifesto for a new world order. The Journal of Peace Research, 41(5) Sept 2004.
  • Schell, Jonathan. The Unfinished Twentieth Century: The Crisis of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Journal of Peace Research. 41(4) July 2004.