When Sahana Udupa, professor of media anthropology at the University of Munich, visited the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan, she discussed her project on a new class of political consultants and their practices in India. 

“I was rather surprised when I met with one of these new political consultants in Mumbai at a five-star hotel,” says Udupa. “Soon enough, it became evident to me that his tactics had led him to quite a bit of affluence.” 

Her talk delved into the strategies of these commercial, political consultants and their divergent practices to propose shadow politics as a digitally-mediated structure of election campaigning. She discussed how disinformation and extreme speech is intricately linked to the logic of political marketing and the growing use of digital tools. 

“The one thing he said that stuck with me was, ‘Content is fire, and social media is the gasoline,’” added Udupa.

Udupa has been researching how new forms of digital media influence social interaction and political cultures, especially the darker sides of digital communication, including hate speech and targeted disinformation. She has provided a very innovative model for social sciences where she integrates the ethnography of these underground conversations with analysis of online platforms.  

In addition to being a professor of media anthropology at the University of Munich (LMU) and principal investigator of the For Digital Dignity Research Network, her latest publications include the co-authored monograph Digital Unsettling: Decoloniality and Dispossession in the Age of Social Media, and a co-edited volume, Digital Hate: The Global Conjuncture of Extreme Speech. She also is the recipient of the Joan Shorenstein Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School, Francqui Chair (Belgium), and European Research Council Grant Awards.

When receiving the Joan Shorenstein Fellowship, Udupa noted, “This is a great opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm ideas with other colleagues who are examining disinformation, and also to position our study on online extreme speech for a global audience of experts and policymakers.”

You can find more information about Udupa and her work on her University of Munich faculty page