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Losh continues W&M research on Fulbright in Estonia

  • Liz Losh
    Fulbright Scholar:  Liz Losh, Duane A. & Virginia S. Dittman Professor of English & American studies at William & Mary, was selected as a Fulbright Scholar and is researching e-government and social media in Estonia this fall.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Elizabeth Losh is spending this academic year researching and lecturing in Estonia.

Losh, Duane A. & Virginia S. Dittman Professor of English & American Studies at William & Mary, was selected as a Fulbright Scholar for 2021-22.

Her project is titled “Scaling Up the Virtual State: What Can Big Countries Learn from Small Countries about E-Government?” It focuses on the use of technological communications to provide services to citizens, and Losh is working at Tallinn University in the Estonian capital city of Tallinn.

“The special bond of being part of an extraordinary network has already deepened my friendships with a broad variety of scholars, who range from geomorphologists to scholars of electronic literature,” Losh said.

Losh will co-teach a course about social media and society, theories and practice with Tallinn Professor of Participatory Culture Katrin Tiidenberg, whom she has worked with for the past six years in two international research groups.

“I will be teaching units about visibility, privacy, surveillance, digital labor and networked capitalism,” Losh said.

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Dawn Edmiston, clinical professor of marketing at W&M’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business, is on a Fulbright at Tallinn this fall that was delayed by the pandemic. Edmiston also is studying social media, and Losh will be a guest speaker in her social media and networked consumer culture class in November.

Losh’s working is focused on what can a big country learn from a small county.

“Estonia has been leading the world in e-government for several years,” Losh said. “Large countries like the United States could potentially learn much from this small country that is both a European Union member and a former Soviet republic.”

For example, she added, Estonia introduced a comprehensive program for national digital ID cards in 2002, internet voting in 2005 and e-residency in 2014. In 2000, the parliament asserted that access to the internet constituted a basic human right, long before the United Nations adopted that position in 2011.

Losh will examine pros and cons of the use of digital technology by government to provide services to citizens. This will include considering areas of resistance to expanded use of technology and situations where face-to-face participation is still preferred.

For example, Losh said, why do most Estonian citizens still choose to vote in person, or why does the government refuse to provide some services, such as performing marriages or issuing divorces, digitally? It’s also critical to examine fundamental policy contradictions created by trade-offs between competing goals involving access, transparency and personalization, as well as security and privacy, she added.

“During this research and teaching period, I will interview professionals from the government sector working on initiatives for digital identity, i-voting, e-health, online education, e-residency and the ‘data embassy’ in Luxembourg, as well as public relations personnel at the e-Estonia Briefing Centre and showroom and experts in digital preservation at the National Archives offices in Tallinn and Tartu,” Losh said.

“Although issues of national security can cause interview subjects to be hesitant to disclose information, it would also be useful to include the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, which is based in Tallinn, in these discussions.”

This follows on her previous research. Losh has written two books on computing by the U.S. government and is planning to write her next one based on this research about the relationship between technology and the state in two very different countries.

“Estonia is a country well-known for cutting-edge internet research, and it even hosted the big international conference of researchers a few years ago from the Association of Internet Researchers,” Losh said.  “As a faculty member affiliated with American studies, which is a global field, film & media studies and data science, this work touches on many issues about the conflicts between democracy and a contemporary digital information culture driven by algorithms and platforms over which average citizens often have little control.”

International exchanges have been very important for her teaching at W&M, Losh said.

She taught a U.S. Department of State Diplomacy Lab course on social media and Turkey, which discussed influencers, activists and trolls. It involved students in experiential learning opportunities creating research projects about public diplomacy on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook in which they got input and feedback from diplomats from the State Department stationed in Ankara.

She has also taught two COLL 300 courses at the Washington Center — one on online citizenship and the other on social media and global rhetoric — that were informed by case studies from many countries outside of North America.

“With Zoom, my students have the opportunity to meet many of my international collaborators, which can really enhance their global learning,” Losh said.