Portrait of Tarleton Gillespie

Tarleton Gillespie

Principal Researcher


Tarleton Gillespie is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New England, the newest permanent member of the Social Media Collective, (joining danah boyd, Nancy Baym, Kate Crawford, and Mary Gray) Microsoft Research’s team of sociologists, anthropologists, and communication & media scholars studying the impact of information technology on social and political life. Tarleton also retains an adjunct Associate Professor position with Cornell University, where he has been on the faculty for over a decade.

Tarleton’s current work investigates how social media platforms and other algorithmic information systems shape public discourse. His forthcoming book (Yale University Press, exp. Spring 2018) examines how the content guidelines imposed by social media platforms set the terms for what counts as ‘appropriate’ user contributions, and ask how this private governance of cultural values has broader implications for freedom of expression and the character of public discourse. A second thread of his research examines how the algorithmic selection of information and culture has equally important consequences for public discourse. His essay “The Relevance of Algorithms” has been a key component in the recent emergence of a sociology of algorithms; his contributions focus on how algorithms embedded in social media and search engines are organizing information based on implicit and unexamined assumptions about popularity, relevance, and value – that have implications for how public discourse functions. This work is designed to develop a vocabulary for a society in which algorithmic information systems and social media platforms are more and more deeply interwoven into the lives of users and into the public institutions on which they depend.

Tarleton received his Ph.D. in Communication from the University of California, San Diego (2002); he also has a M.A. in Communication from UCSD (1997) and a B.A. with honors in English from Amherst College (1994). In 2011-12 he was awarded funding from the European Institutes for Advanced Study (EURIAS) to be a Residential Research Fellow at the Collegium de Lyon, at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France.




My first book, Wired Shut: Copyright and the Shape of Digital Culture, (2007, MIT Press) examined the controversies around digital copyright and DRM, revealing the political, economic, legal, and cultural arrangements it required. It won the Outstanding Book Award for 2009 from the International Communication Association (ICA) and from the CIT division of the American Sociological Association (CITASA). I am the co-editor (with Pablo Boczkowski and Kirsten Foot) of Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society (MIT, 2014). University Press. I also co-founded the scholarly blog Culture Digitally, part of an ongoing collaboration of researchers that developed out of two NSF-funded workshops.

My research has appeared in New Media and Society; Social Media and Society; The International Journal of Communication; Information, Communication, and Society; The Information Society; Limn; and Social Studies of Science. I serve on the editorial boards of Social Media and Society; Big Data and Society, The Information Society; and Engaging Science, Technology, and Society. My work has appeared on Salon, The Atlantic online, and NPR.

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