Unplug Now: Technology Is Threatening Our Freedoms

Thursday 4 October 2018, 7pm | Emmanuel Centre

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Unplug Now: Technology is Threatening our Freedoms

Please note that, due to unforeseen circumstances, this debate will no longer be going ahead.

When Facebook was launched in 2004, it promised to make the world a more open and connected place. By 2011 many were claiming that Twitter and Facebook had helped foment the Arab Spring. It was possible then to believe that we had embarked on a new era of non-hierarchical connectivity that would empower ordinary citizens as never before. But fast forward a few years and those dreams seem to have morphed into a dystopian nightmare. Social media stands accused of compromising elections, spreading fake news, and polarising society with its echo chambers and filter bubbles. Facebook is in damage-limitation mode after the data of millions of its users was obtained by Cambridge Analytica and used to try to influence the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election.

Collectively, the tech giants – Google, Facebook and Amazon – have more information about us than the Stasi could ever dream of. And this data, which we freely give them, is being used by governments, political parties and business to influence how we think, how we vote and how we choose to spend our money. Every time you ‘like’ an article on Facebook, buy a pair of shoes on Amazon, or accept cookies on a website, that information can be used to build a data profile of you that is completely out of your hands, and often eerily accurate.

In some parts of the world, there’s no pretence about tracking you online: China is building a personal trust rating system to score every one of its 1.3 billion citizens based on their online activity. We assume that couldn’t happen here, but the networks we have built over the last decade offer unparalleled capacity for control to any would-be authoritarian, anywhere.

So what can we do? While it’s possible to shut down our social media accounts, the platform’s power to connect us, form communities and spread news – all for free – is too rewarding for many to give up. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult to interact with local government, businesses, banks and other organisations without using the internet. So is there a realistic scenario in which we can continue to enjoy the benefits of new technology while retaining our privacy? Or do we have to accept that the only way left for us to stay truly free is to unplug completely and head for a cabin in the woods?

Join us on October 4th as four experts argue it out and make up your own mind.


Jamie Bartlett

One of the UK’s leading thinkers on the politics and social influence of the internet, with a particular interest in the dark net, crypto-currencies, surveillance technology, machine learning and big data. He is Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, a collaboration between Demos and the University of Sussex. His books include The Dark Net, Radicals and most recently The People Vs Tech: How The Internet is Killing Democracy (And How We Save It).

Rachel Botsman

Expert on trust, technology and innovation, She is a lecturer at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and her latest book is Who Can You Trust? How Technology Brought Us Together – and Why It Could Drive Us Apart. Her TED Talks have been viewed more than 4 million times and she won an InStyle 2018 Women of the Year Award for her ideas that have changed the way we think about the impact of technology on our lives. She is recognised as one of the “Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum and one of the 50 most influential management thinkers in the world by Thinkers50.

Remaining speakers to be announced.


Helen Lewis

Deputy editor at the New Statesman, who also writes a weekly technology column for the Sunday Times magazine and has written for the Financial Times and New York Times.



Speakers are subject to change.