Living the Hard Promise: Understanding Social Media Discourse in Times of Crises

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Date(s) - 04/18/2024
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Irvine Auditorium Cafe 58


Living the Hard Promise: Understanding Social Media Discourse in Times of Crises

Thursday, April 18 2024 – 12:00pm

Café 58, Irvine Auditorium
3401 Spruce Street Philadelphia, PA 19104

Penn Arts & Sciences’ long-running Knowledge by the Slice and its new Living the Hard Promise series will come together for a special program. Don’t worry, there will be pizza! So, come for the discussion and have a slice on us.

Please note that this event is for the on-campus University community. A PennCard will be required to enter.


Social media often seem to have an oversized influence on public discourse because of their enormous user base – Facebook alone reaches well over one quarter of the world population. Activists of all varieties champion their causes on social media. Disinformation and hate speech spread alongside social justice struggles. In times of local and global crises, stakeholders of all political leanings compete to shape public opinion through social media. To what extent do social media shape our broader public discourse, from journalism to entertainment? What broader conditions shape social media? How might we understand the relationship between social media and democratic participation?

Join our panel for a discussion of the role of social media in contemporary public discourse in both our own institutions and beyond.

Guobin Yang, Grace Lee Boggs Professor of Communication and Sociology at the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Arts and Sciences Department of Sociology; Director, Center on Digital Culture and Society; Deputy Director, The Center for Study of Contemporary China.

In conversation with Annenberg School doctoral students Liz Hallgren and Adetobi Moses.

Featured Panelists

Guobin Yang is the author of The Wuhan Lockdown (2022), The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China (2016), and The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online (2009). His current work focuses on social media, narratives, and emotions in everyday activism, digital culture, and pandemic storytelling. An elected Fellow of the International Communication Association, he has edited or co-edited seven books and serves on several editorial and advisory boards. He received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Writing and Research Grant” (2003) and was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. (2003-2004).

Liz Hallgren is a doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies the cultural work of journalism, particularly as it relates to issues of national identity, race, and ethnicity. She is especially interested in journalistic genre, and the kind of myth making enabled by tropes, convention, and style in mainstream Western news. At Annenberg, she is also a member of the Center for Media at Risk Steering Committee, and she is a Center on Digital Culture and Society Fellow. Along with a cohort mate and with the support of CDCS, she runs the working group Theory Lab, which examines the role of theory in communication research and pedagogy. This year, she is a Graduate Fellow for Teaching Excellence at Penn’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, she earned her bachelor’s degree in international studies and English literature from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and master’s degree from the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Adetobi Moses is a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, studying the mediation of the Covid-19 crisis. Her work examines how competing multi scalar pandemic narratives helped structure, expand, or mitigate particular understandings of disease, risk, and urban spaces during Covid-19—an acute moment of heightened global uncertainty. She is broadly interested in Critical Health Communication, Collective and Digital Memory, Disease Narratives, and Global Digital Culture. She is a doctoral fellow at the Center on Digital Culture and Society and the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication, and she is a member of the Center for Media at Risk.

Open expression is a hard promise: it is both a firm commitment and an extraordinarily difficult one.

The Penn community has experienced pain, fear, and anger over the past few months, but we must believe in the ability to engage across differences. We reject hate and violence unequivocally, and we embrace the spirit of free exchange without reservation. Penn Arts & Sciences launched the Living the Hard Promise initiative to create spaces in which the University community can begin the process of working through these tremendous challenges.