Neema Githere

Neema Githere (b. Nairobi, Kenya) is an artist and guerrilla theorist whose work explores love and indigeneity in a time of algorithmic debris. Projects that Neema stewards include Data Healing, a speculative practice and convening body that prototypes interventions to the psychosocial harm inflicted by Big Tech; and Afropresentism–a term they coined in 2017 to investigate lenses of embodiment within African diasporic technocultures.

Fellow Followup December 12, 2023

Neema Githere is part of the 2023-24 DCSL/CCSRE Technology & Racial Equity Practitioner Fellows cohort. They describe themselves as “an artist and guerrilla theorist whose work explores love and indigeneity in a time of algorithmic debris.” Neema’s work directly challenges harms caused by communication technologies, and their method for repair is grounded in love, or what Neema describes as a “practical solution-oriented application of care.”

I spoke with Neema about their visionary work and unconventional approaches to harm reduction in an era of under-regulated Big Tech. We also discussed some of the successes and challenges they have experienced so far as a fellow. 

Tara: Your fellowship bio on the Stanford PACS website reads like poetry. Can you talk about your current project and how you came to work at the intersection of art, well-being, and technology?

So, my project is called “Data Healing: A Call for Repair” and the goal of this project is to create a workbook for what will be a prototype of a digital rehabilitation clinic for people to heal from psychosocial trauma that many of us experience as a result of being online, and specifically on social media. I’m looking specifically at Indigenous modes of repair and infrastructures of relationality to be able to prototype this clinic. It’s putting together a near-future, speculative–or what I call speculative nonfiction text–set around the year 2025, which introduces this idea of a Facebook Recovery Fund. The idea behind the Facebook Recovery Fund is that within two years, there will be a massive reparations fund distributed by Meta, Inc. to the tune of billions and billions of dollars. That fund will go towards setting up rehabilitation clinics around the world and also funding decentralized alternatives to social media.

I got to this project because I am somebody who has come of age on the Internet. I think I’m the youngest person in the cohort if I’m not wrong. People in recent years have been talking about the damage that Facebook has done to our relationships with one another. But something I think about a lot through my own lived experience, being at the cusp of Gen-Z, is the damage that these social media platforms have done to our relationships to ourselves. Wherever there is harm, there must also be repair. 

The idea of a multi-billion dollar reparations fund by Meta, Inc., might seem far-fetched, but in the last year alone there’s been an influx of lawsuits against Meta Inc. Actually, the week I found out I got the fellowship, there was a lawsuit filed in Kenya’s High Court by Amnesty International and six other organizations suing Meta Inc., to the tune of $1.6 billion to create a victims repair fund specifically for the people who have been victims of the genocide in Ethiopia that was really propagated in part because of Facebook algorithms and their lack of adequate moderation measures. Similarly, there have been lawsuits filed by people who actually do work as content moderators, which is a form of labor that’s been outsourced to the Global South predominantly. These are people working exorbitantly long shifts, watching very gory material with few chances to take breaks or to have any kind of psychological support. 

So, my project is looking towards things like poetry and fiction, and forms of creative writing to be able to address these multi-pronged psychosomatic, psychosocial effects that social media is having on society, relationships, and on individuals.

Tara: We don’t hear the word “love” used in tech spaces. Why do you feel it is important to incorporate mindful and loving practices in your work on algorithms and data?

I’ll start by saying to me love is not a feeling, it is a practice. Love is a verb. It’s not this kind of ephemeral, fleeting, romantic infrastructure that I think we are programmed to understand love as being. I think about love as a practical, solution-oriented application of care in all ways for all people. 

In my bio it says I’m an “artist and guerrilla theorist whose work explores love and indigeneity in a time of algorithmic debris.” Sometimes when I submit my bio, people replace the word “love,” which I found to be very interesting. I think it’s because of this sort of infantilization towards love, or this depoliticization of love. It’s a product of a system premised on commerce, and commerce being thought of as something that antithetical to love, or love existing outside of the more formal structures that we navigate. 

But for me, it’s really important to infuse love into academic, scholarly kinds of formal and informal realms of discourse, especially within technology because I think love is antithetical to a lot of the extractive dynamics that proliferate in these kinds of spaces. I’m thinking specifically about academia and technology and this idea that, within the realm of technology, efficiency is the only compass. Within my practice and in my work, a question I think about often is, “what happens if love is the compass?” and “what happens if love–as the practical solution-oriented application of care–is the vessel that points us towards the realities, futures, and the presence that we know–not only long for, but deeply need?” That’s where love comes in. 

The last thing I’ll say is that love is also a technology of its own accord. Something that I like to share in my talks and presentations is this definition of technology that was written in 1937 by Read Bain. He talks about technology in terms of tools, machines, utensils, weaponry, communicating and transporting devices, and the means by which we produce and use them. That definition is the one I refer to because it predates the telephone, the cellphone, the computer. Under that definition of technology, particularly the idea about communication and transporting devices, love meets the bill and fits that definition. 

Tara: What successes and challenges have you encountered so far as a fellow and what lessons have you learned, if any, during the fellowship?

Definitely. I’d say the biggest success so far was being able to have a summer undergraduate fellow, Minh Tu, working on my project with me. It was such a gift to be able to have a sounding board and to have somebody to help me ideate. I’m an artist and a theorist. So, a lot of my work exists in the realm of the conceptual. Being able to have somebody who could help me and hold me accountable was a structure that helped move my project along. Also, working on a project that is within the creative writing realm sort of places me in a world of my own making in my head. So, having an undergrad fellow there to help really pushed me to translate what I was thinking more clearly. My project also deals with data in a very very kind of experimental way. It’s not as concrete as other projects or other definitions of technology. It was a huge gift to be able to concretize what I was working on alongside someone else. 

That being said, the biggest challenge is the lack of structure within the fellowship. Again, being an artist, I really have benefited from being able to work remotely and set my own hours. So far, I’ve been able to self-structure the way I work on my project because of the looser fellowship structure. But I also think it would be really great to have set times to meet with the other people in the cohort to create more of a sense of community. 

Tara: In what ways can the fellowship community continue to support your work?

Setting up more calls would be great. I’m notoriously terrible with email. With calls, there is an ambiance, a sense of just being able to gather and chat. It’s been lovely keeping up with the mailing list, but again I’m not somebody who really is able to share over email. I have really bad digital anxiety, which is why I’m doing this project. It can be difficult to feel confident or comfortable enough to share out in that forum. I genuinely appreciated it when you reached out so I could have time to talk with someone in the fellowship and about the fellowship. 

I recently started engaging and working alongside the Stanford Humanities Center. I was invited to give a talk on campus which is really lovely and it’s growing to be a very beautiful convergence with Professor Iyer and Carmen Thong who run our workshop series there. Again, they found out about me and my work through the PACS page. Being able to connect with them made me think if there were more opportunities to plug into things that other departments and emergent groups on campus are working on, that would be great.

Tara: Anything else you’d like to share?

One thing I want to share is just gratitude for the interdisciplinary diversity that’s been within this fellowship cohort. I’m somebody who has operated adjacent to academia but not as embedded within it the way fellowships usually require. It’s felt very special to be able to be within an intellectual community that welcomes that adjacency and invites it. I’m an artist, but I also just like researching. When the call for applications went out I shared it with a bunch of my friends in Brazil and Kenya, and I said to them that they should apply. Most of them didn’t even apply because they didn’t really believe that they would fit into it. That made me reflect on how someone like me is able to have an opportunity to share work in this context. I think that is what keeps the richness of a place like the DCSL alive.


To learn more about Neema Githere’s research project and ongoing work, visit their fellowship page on Stanford PACS.

Fellow Follow-up is a new monthly feature in Signal/Noise: A Newsletter from the Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab aimed at showcasing the work of current and past DCSL/CCSRE Technology & Racial Equity Practitioner Fellows.