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


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 through Registration

Sponsored by the Center for South Asian Studies, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and the African Studies Center

Apply to Attend (coming soon)

Symposium Organizers:

Joyojeet Pal, School of Information, University of Michigan

Omolade Adunbi, DAAS, University of Michigan

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

Alfred Momodu, MIRS, University of Michigan

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.

Confirmed Speakers

Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Nigeria

Swara Bhasker, Actor and activist

Olubunmi Ojediran, Actor and entrepreneur, Ruby Sparkling Films

Rumman Chowdhury, Director of ML Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability, Twitter

Rajeev Gowda, Former Member of Parliament, India

Aminu Mahmud, Political activist

Josy Joseph, Author, Journalist

Aakar Patel, Author, Head of Amnesty International India

Akash Banerjee, Comedian, Founder, TheDeshBhakt

Katrien Pype, Associate Professor, KU Leuven

Priya Ramani, Journalist, Founder IndiaLove project

Priyanka Paul, Artist

Anurag, Comedian and caste activist

Shehla Rashid, Activist, researcher

Andre Gonawela, Podcaster

Samar Al Bulushi, Assistant Professor, UCIrvine

Seyram Avle, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Hardik Rajgor, Writer

Gurmehar Kaur, Author

Sophie Zhang, Whistleblower (TO BE CONFIRMED)


1.       Social Media Influencers and the Body

This segment will present works on the ways bodies are shaped and reshaped online through influencers, scholars, and practitioners who work on aspects of gender, body, and public image. Speakers will include gender activists, fashion, lifestyle and exercise influencers on Instagram, and those who study them.

2.       Social Media Influencers and the Publics

This segment will present works on the way media engagement has changed with online influencers. Speakers will include journalists, PR consultants, factcheckers, and independent news media creators, and those who study them.

3.       Social Media Influencers and Politics

This segment will present works on the ways political engagement has changed with politicians and parties creating content online. Speakers will include politicians, party social media executives, and activists, particularly those active on Twitter and Whatsapp, and those who study them.

4.       Social Media Influencers and Culture

This segment will present works on ways culture – food, travel, history are articulated on social media by influencers. Speakers will include YouTube influencers specializing in food and travel, social media executives, culture-specific commentators active on Twitter, and those who study them.