University of Michigan - Wikipedia

Social Media Influencers and the New Political Economy in South Asia and Africa


April 7-8, 2022, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

In Person at Room 2435, North Quad, 105 State Street, Ann Arbor, and available online upon registration

9 AM – 6 PM, US Eastern Time


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Social media influencer activity on platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and LinkedIn are now pivotal to social influence in societies around the world, as the ecology of the public sphere gets increasingly crafted, amplified, or negated by what happens online. This is as true, or more so in the Global South, where social media has often served as the gateway for entry into the online realm for millions of technology users with little or no prior experience. The resulting world is one in which the boundaries between the physical and the virtual has fundamentally reshaped power equations between the citizens and the state, their culture, and their communities.


This symposium at the University of Michigan is focused on social media influencers, and brings a host of leaders, artistes, journalists, activists, commentators, and scholars from two of the fastest growing Internet-using regions of the world to discuss how they interact online, what drives their activities and success, and how being public figures online impacts their lives and work.




Day 1: April 7, 2022

(all times US Eastern Time)


Opening Remarks

9:00 AM

Omolade Adunbi and Joyojeet Pal


Session 1: Democracy and Institutions

9:05 AM – 10.50 AM, April 7, 2022 (US Eastern Time), 2435 North Quad


Chair: Matthew Hull, Chair, Center for South Asia Studies, University of Michigan


Resisting Erasure: Social Media & the Campaign against Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan

Nida Yasmeen Kirmani, Assocate Professor of Sociology, Lahore University of Management Sciences (Twitter) -IN PERSON


Countering the "Toolkit" Attack on India's Leading Opposition Party

Rajeev Gowda, Former Member of Parliament, India (Twitter) -IN PERSON



Democracy or Demagoguery? An Assessment of Social Media's Role in Shaping Politics and Society in Sri Lanka

A’ndre Gonawela, Podcaster (Spotify) -IN PERSON



#IStandWithKDF: Social Media & the New Military Normal in Kenya

Samar Al Bulushi, Assistant Professor, University of California, Irvine (Twitter) – VIA ZOOM





11.00 AM – 12:00 PM, April 7, 2022 (US Eastern Time), 2435 North Quad

How social media unmade and made me: the changing contours of celebrity identity and activism in 'New India

Swara Bhaskar, Actor and Activist (Twitter, Instagram) -IN PERSON




Discussant: Swapnil Rai, Assistant Professor of Film, Television and Media, University of Michigan


Session 2: Internet Subcultures

1:00 PM - 2.50 PM, April 7, 2022 (US Eastern Time), 2435 North Quad


Chair: Ram Mahalingam, Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan


Sex Scandals in Digital Kinshasa. Influencers, diasporas, and ritual innovation in a digitized world ,

Katrien Pype, Associate Professor, KU Leuven -IN PERSON



Love (and Hate) In the Time of Instagram

Priya Ramani, Journalist, Founder IndiaLove project (Instagram) -IN PERSON



The Khabar Lahariya Story: Digital Waves in India's Hinterland

Meera Devi, Journalist (YouTube, Twitter) – VIA ZOOM



Social Media hierarchies and their subversion by marginalised creators on the digital landscape

Priyanka Paul, Artist (Instagram) – VIA ZOOM


Session 3: New Voices Online

3:00 PM - 4:50 PM, April 7, 2022 (US Eastern Time), 2435 North Quad


Chair: Mustafa Naseem, Clinical Assistant Professor of Information, University of Michigan


Social Media activism during the COVID-19 pandemic in Nepal

Bal Krishna Sharma, Assistant Professor, University of Idaho – VIA ZOOM


Strategies and practices of Bangladeshi Facebook microcelebrities in sociopolitical discourses

Dipto Das, PhD Student, University of Colorado (Twitter) -IN PERSON



How TikTok took over Pakistani working class

Nighat Dad, Lawyer and Activist, Digital Rights Foundation, Facebook Independent Oversight Board (Twitter) -IN PERSON


Cultural Netizenship and the Production of the Social Media Influencer in Nigeria

James Yeku, Assistant Professor, University of Kansas – VIA ZOOM


Session 4: Fireside Chat

5.00 PM – 6:00 PM, April 7, 2022 (US Eastern Time), 2435 North Quad

Social Media as Resistance

Rumman Chowdhury, Director, META (ML Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability), Twitter (Twitter)

in conversation with

Libby Hemphill, Associate Professor of Information, University of Michigan (Twitter)



Day 2: April 8, 2022

(all times US Eastern Time)



Session 5: The Business of Influencing

9:00 AM - 10:50 AM, April 8, 2022 (US Eastern Time), 2435 North Quad


Chair: Bilal Butt, Associate Professor, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan


The politics of corporate Twitter engagement: a comparative analysis of India and the US

Shehla Rashid, Jawaharlal Nehru University (Twitter) – VIA ZOOM


India's Social Media Marketing Revolution

Hardik Rajgor, Writer (Twitter) – IN PERSON


Entrepreneurship, Yoruba Nollywood and Social Media in Africa

Olubunmi Ojediran (Ruby Sparkling), Actor, Entreprenuer (Instagram) – VIA ZOOM



Session 6: Comedy and Power

11:00 AM - 12:50 PM, April 8, 2022 (US Eastern Time), 2435 North Quad


Chair: Rebekah Modrak, Professor, Stamps School of Art and Design University of Michigan


At the risk of sounding funny

Swineryy, Comedian (Instagram) – VIA ZOOM


Using sarcasm to mobilise dissent in a nation where facts don’t matter

Aakar Patel, Author, Chair, Amnesty International India (Twitter) – VIA ZOOM


Whose LAN is it anyway: A Study of Internet sub-cultures in India

Anurag Minus Verma, Podcaster, Columnist (Instagram, Spotify) -IN PERSON



Beyond Entertainment - Role of YouTube Influencers In India

Akash Banerjee, Satirist (YouTube, Instagram) -IN PERSON




Session 7: Information Freedom

2:00 PM - 3:50 PM, April 8, 2022 (US Eastern Time), 2435 North Quad


Chair: Howard Stein, Professor, Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan


Misinformation and Hate Speech on WhatsApp in India

Kiran Garimella, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University (Twitter) -IN PERSON



Killing Digital Freedom with the Hammer: The Folly of Social Media Regulation in Nigeria

Aminu Mahmud, Human Rights Lawyer, Essayist, Poet (Twitter)- VIA ZOOM


Social Media: Enabling our Dissent & Destroying our Democracy

Josy Joseph, Investigative Journalist and Author (Twitter) -IN PERSON



Social Media Fueling Rights-Based Resistance Movements in Pakistan

Gulalai Ismail, Activist (Twitter) -IN PERSON




Session 8: Student Session

4:00 PM -  5:30 PM, April 8, 2022 (US Eastern Time), 2435 North Quad


Political Influencers on Facebook: The role of Informal Agents in Digital Election Campaigns

Neelesh Agrawal, Shivam Gangwani, Ishika Sharan, Ananay Agarwal, Ashoka University- VIA ZOOM


The Social Media Skit Industry in Nigeria: Economy, Power, Tensions

Godwin Iretomiwa Simon, Queensland University of Technology- VIA ZOOM


The Vernacular Influencer: Case Study of an Indic Challenger to Twitter 

Nikhila Natarajan, Rutgers University – IN PERSON


From MTV to Modi: The Saffronisation of the Indian Fitness Influencer       

Nandini Rawat, Delhi University- VIA ZOOM


How Influencers Shape Mainstream Media

Aryan Gupta, Delhi University- VIA ZOOM


Defence Veterans as a Political Influence Network in India

Agrima Seth, Soham De, Arshia Arya University of Michigan, Ashoka University, and Microsoft Research India – IN PERSON


Tasty Platformization: The Promotional Culture around Food Delivery

Simiran Lalvani, University of Oxford- VIA ZOOM




Closing Remarks and Future Plans

5:30 PM -  6:00 PM


Omolade Adunbi and Joyojeet Pal



Symposium Organizers:

Joyojeet Pal, School of Information, University of Michigan

Omolade Adunbi, DAAS, University of Michigan



Janaki Phillips, Elizabeth James


Student Session:

Dipto Das, College of Media, Communication and Information, University of Colorado, Boulder

Anmol Panda, School of Information, University of Michigan

Agrima Seth, School of Information, University of Michigan



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