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March 19, 2019

What We Mean When We Say #AbolishBigData2019

Despite clear evidence that algorithms, models, and data schema serve as vehicles for bias, data-intensive technologies mediate more and more of our individual and collective lives (Noble, 2018). Datafication, the reliance on digital data and prediction to perform important, societal functions, names the reality of technological change and a dangerous ideological assumption about the nature of that change: the view that technology is inevitable, beneficial, and scientific (van Dijck, 2014). In provision of financial services by industry, in assessment of risk by the criminal justice system, in the training of computer vision for autonomous vehicles, and in many other sites of civic import, data-intensive technologies automate and exacerbate inequality in racialized, minoritized, and precariatized communities (Eubanks, 2017). That is to say, in our communities.

Motivated by the work of community-based organizations and researchers including Data 4 Black Lives, The Bronx Defenders, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Measure, Our Data Bodies, Urban Institute, IRISE and others, we propose that the consequences of datafication demand new approaches to research and collective action. In March of 2019, researchers and activists gathered for “Datafication and Community Activism: Redrawing the Boundaries of Research,” a two-day workshop in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine. We gathered to listen to voices frequently marginalized by our institutions, to write about the relationship between knowledge and action, and to think together about the state of the art in community-based research. We committed to respond to a challenge laid down by Yeshimabeit Milner, Executive Director of Data for Black Lives: to make bold demands to powerful organizations and institutions and to hold ourselves accountable for a better collective future.