Research

My research explores journalism, social media and civil society in Africa. I am currently structuring this research agenda around three axes:

  • Social media, civil society and digital rights in several African contexts.

My current research looks at the implementation of Facebook’s initiatives to increase connectivity  across various African countries, and its impact on local media production and civil society groups. The project engages a range of debates about digital rights activism in the Global South; tech corporation’s investments in network infrastructures and in civil society; and the impact of zero-rated social media services on civic engagement, particularly in semi-authoritarian contexts.

In an article accepted for publication in Media, Culture and Society, I trace the quiet expansion of Facebook’s Free Basics project to 32 African countries. To do so, I draw on a qualitative review of various sources (corporate promotional material, industry conference talks, industry reports, tech press articles and expert blogs) and an innovative VPN-based method to independently assess the availability of the program across Africa.

In January 2019, David Cheruiyot and I published the article “A “Hotbed” of Digital Empowerment? Media Criticism in Kenya Between Playful Engagement and Co-Option” in the International Journal of Communication about media criticism and Twitter in Kenya.  The full version of the article is available open-access here, and here’s the abstract:

“Much has been written about the production and textual features of international media portrayals of Africa, but very little about how audiences on the continent perceive such coverage. This study fills this gap by investigating a campaign led by Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) to challenge CNN’s portrayals of their country. Our analysis of the most prominent tweets, images, and users reveals the various strategies adopted by Kenyan audiences to criticize Western representations. This criticism, we argue, constitutes a form of metajournalistic discourse, which should not be reduced to a single story of digital empowerment. While contesting long-standing stereotypes and inequalities shaping global media narratives, this criticism recreates an image of Kenya aligned with a corporate project of nation branding that uplifts the voices and perspectives of digitally connected Nairobi-based elites. In response, we call for greater consideration of the interplay of global and local power relations in which such digital practices are embedded.”

  • International news and media representations of Africa.

Most of my work so far has focused on global media discourses about Africa. My research situates these discourses within the colonial and postcolonial history of the continent, but also in relations to the evolution of journalistic production and of the political economy of global media.

I have published articles and books chapters on a variety of issues related to these questions including the emergence of the “Africa Rising” discourse; the World Cup in South Africa; the success and backlash to the Kony2012 video; the online coverage of China in Africa; foreign correspondents in East and Southern Africa; and the linguistic properties and peculiarities of Western journalistic writing on Africa. I have also conducted research with Kenyan journalists on how political, economic, cultural and professional structures shape their reporting of elections and terrorism.

You can find out more about my publications here. If you’d like a copy of those papers, feel free to drop me an email at tnothias(at)stanford(dot)edu.

I was a co-investigator on the British Academy funded project”Contested Discourses of Africa Rising: The Struggle for Control of the Image of the Foreign Partner” (2017-2018). This project explored how international news frame the involvement of France, the US and China in Africa. We did so by combining a large scale content analysis of Al Jazeera, AllAfrica, BBC, CCTV, CNN, France 24 with interviews with a range of journalists.

My PhD (“Beyond Afro-pessimism? British and French Print Media Discourse on Africa” – University of Leeds) investigated the nature, production and extent of Afro-pessimism in British and French media. The thesis engages current debates about representations of Africa across different fields including African studies, anthropology, development, media, journalism and cultural studies. This research was supported by a fellowship from the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds, an award from the World University Network and a fellowship from the Center for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town. In 2016, I received  the African Journalism Studies prize for best paper related to Africa from the International Communication Section of the IAMCR.

  • Digital technologies to address stereotypes and implicit biases in journalism.

I am developing with Zineb Oulmakki a sharable, open-source tool at the intersection of technology, journalism, and scholarship. The Africa Stereotype Scanner (ASTRSC) deploys digital technologies to scan for damaging stereotypes and implicit biases in reporting about Africa.