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iSchool Welcomes Dr. Ahmer Arif to the Faculty

Ahmer Arif

The University of Texas at Austin School of Information is pleased to welcome Dr. Ahmer Arif, who joined us as an assistant professor in January 2021. He comes to the iSchool from the University of Washington, where he earned his Ph.D. in Human Centered Design & Engineering. Arif is one of four new faculty members joining The University of Texas at Austin as part of the Global Internet, Media and (Dis)Information (GIMI) cluster hire associated with Good Systems, a UT Grand Challenge, an initiative focused on building technology ethics expertise across the UT Austin campus.

“I am interested in using design-based research to help us imagine how we might address some of the challenges I study in ways that are more ethical and conducive to human flourishing.”

Arif researches the spread of mis- and disinformation during crisis situations—such as civil disturbances, shootings, bombings, and natural disasters—events that are deeply upsetting for large groups of people and disrupt normal social groupings. “My research falls at the intersection of computer science and social science and is situated within the fields of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW),” Arif said. “I use computational and qualitative techniques, and draw on a variety of disciplines — like the sociology of disasters, literary theory, and history — to investigate how our sociotechnical systems are being manipulated to undermine democracy. I am also interested in using design-based research to help us imagine how we might address some of the challenges I study in ways that are more ethical and conducive to human flourishing.”

Arif is especially looking forward to conducting cross-disciplinary research at UT Austin. “What’s exciting to me is the opportunity to collaborate with people both in the iSchool and across the UT campus; for instance, I’m really excited to speak with researchers across campus, such as at the Moody College of Communication, the department of Computer Science, and the department of Slavic Studies,” Arif said. “The iSchool is an ideal interdisciplinary space that encourages and welcomes that kind of collaboration. My work is deeply interdisciplinary so it was a natural fit for me. As a cluster hire with the Good Systems initiative, I’m also really excited to have conversations about how we can approach some of these problems in effective ways that don’t just reinforce existing arrangements but help us reimagine them for a more just and equitable future.”

As an instructor, Arif is eager to help iSchool students not just understand mis- and disinformation with greater nuance but also to prepare them as practitioners who can meet these challenges. In his course on problematic and misleading information in online settings, students will explore how to make information spaces better by designing interventions as projects. Arif says the course is intended to appeal to a broad range of iSchool students, including information professionals oriented toward user experience research and HCI, as well as future professionals in information institutions like libraries. “Students with different orientations and goals are welcome in the class,” he said, “students are invited to use the human-centered design process to explore interventions that address some aspect of the mis- and disinformation problem. These interventions can be in the realm of technology, policy or education depending on student interests.”

Dean Eric T. Meyer said, “I am particularly pleased to have Dr. Arif join our faculty as part of this cluster hire, since he will be a strong voice for the iSchool in UT’s expanding efforts to understand and combat the flow of disinformation globally during times of crisis. We are all living through a global health crisis today, and every single person is affected by these issues as we try to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities using the information we have available.  Ahmer’s work will make a real difference.”

In addition to his doctoral degree from the University of Washington, Arif also holds a M.S. and B.Sc. in computer science from Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan. To learn more about Dr. Ahmer Arif, visit his website: ahmerarif.com.