Digital Care & Cruelty

Big Data at the Margins is pleased to present the video for our first webinar event: “Digital Care and Cruelty: Social Provisioning and Deprivation in the Era of Big Data.”

Digital Care and Cruelty: Social Provisioning and Deprivation in the Era of Big Data 

Featuring: Virginia Eubanks (SUNY, Albany), Sasha Costanza-Chock (MIT), Joanna Redden (Western). Our host for the evening will be Alissa Centivany (Western).

28 January 2021, 7PM

Registration is Free: 

What good can big data, automation and artificial intelligence do for individuals in need of social assistance and what harms can it perpetuate?

The first in our Big Data at the Margins series explores the impacts of artificial intelligence, big data and digital technologies on those in need of social supports and resources in smaller towns and cities across Canada. Increasingly, cash-strapped city governments are outsourcing decisions about who can receive social benefits, such as housing, health, or other social services, to privately-owned software providers. While these outsourced, algorithmically determined decisions may expedite access, they are not transparent and can contain unacknowledged biases. As a result, people in need can find themselves on the wrong end of an opaque decision they are unable to challenge.

Our internationally recognized panelists will address the impact of algorithmic design and implementation and its uncritical adoption by governments on practices of social provisioning and patterns of social and economic marginalization more broadly. Virginia Eubanks, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University at Albany and author of Automating Inequality, writes extensively about the impacts of automated digital systems on homelessness, poverty and social provisioning in the United States. Sasha Costanza-Chock, Associate Professor of Civic Media at MIT and author of Design Justice, examines the ways in which these systems reproduce well-established social and economic biases in their technological design, and Joanna Redden, co-founder of the Data Justice Lab and assistant professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western, explores how digital technologies enhance, and disrupt, relationships between citizens and governments. All three speakers are also activists and will address the possibilities for collective education and action to challenge these digital tools’ more pernicious effects.

This event is funded with the generous assistance of the Faculty of Information & Media Studies at Western University, Western Research, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 


Virginia Eubanks is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. She is the author of Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor; Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age; and co-editor, with Alethia Jones, of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith. Her writing about technology and social justice has appeared in Scientific American, The Nation, Harper’s, and Wired. For two decades, Eubanks has worked in community technology and economic justice movements. She was a founding member of the Our Data Bodies Project and a 2016-2017 Fellow at New America. She lives in Troy, NY.

Sasha Costanza-Chock (pronouns: they/them or she/her) is a scholar, activist, and media-maker, and currently Associate Professor of Civic Media at MIT. They are a Faculty Associate at the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Faculty Affiliate with the MIT Open Documentary Lab and the MIT Center for Civic Media, and creator of the MIT Codesign Studio ( Their work focuses on social movements, transformative media organizing, and design justice. Sasha’s first book, Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets: Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement, was published by the MIT Press in 2014 and second, Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need, by MIT Press in 2020. They are a board member of Allied Media Projects (AMP); AMP convenes the annual Allied Media Conference and cultivates media strategies for a more just, creative and collaborative world (

Joanna Redden is the co-founder of the Data Justice Lab and assistant professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western. Her research focuses on algorithmic governance, particularly how government bodies are making use of changing data systems, and the social justice implications of these changes. This work has involved mapping and assessing government uses of data systems as well as documenting data harms and learning from those trying to redress these harms in policy, community and activist contexts. Joanna’s work has been published in such journals as the Canadian Journal of Communication; Policy Studies; Information, Communication and Society; and Scientific American. She has previously held fellowships at the Infoscape Centre for the Study of Social Media at Ryerson University, and the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre.