Engineering the public: Big data, surveillance and computational politics


  • Zeynep Tufekci University of North Carolina



Big Data, Surveillance, Public Sphere, Political Campaigns, Persuasive Communication


Digital technologies have given rise to a new combination of big data and computational practices which allow for massive, latent data collection and sophisticated computational modeling, increasing the capacity of those with resources and access to use these tools to carry out highly effective, opaque and unaccountable campaigns of persuasion and social engineering in political, civic and commercial spheres. I examine six intertwined dynamics that pertain to the rise of computational politics: the rise of big data, the shift away from demographics to individualized targeting, the opacity and power of computational modeling, the use of persuasive behavioral science, digital media enabling dynamic real-time experimentation, and the growth of new power brokers who own the data or social media environments. I then examine the consequences of these new mechanisms on the public sphere and political campaigns.

Author Biography

Zeynep Tufekci, University of North Carolina

Assistant Professor in School of Information and Library Science with affiliate appointment in Department of Sociology




How to Cite

Tufekci, Z. (2014). Engineering the public: Big data, surveillance and computational politics. First Monday, 19(7).