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Ella McPherson


Ella McPherson is Lecturer in the Sociology of New Media and Digital Technology as well as the Anthony L. Lyster Fellow in Sociology at Queens’ College. She is also a Research Associate of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights, where she leads the research theme on human rights in the digital age.

Ella’s research focuses on symbolic struggles surrounding the media in times of transition, whether democratic or digital. Her current research examines the potential of using social media by human rights NGOs for generating governmental accountability. This involves understanding the methodological and reputational implications of using social media and related networks as data sources and dissemination tools, as well as social media's effects on pluralism in human rights discourse. This research is supported by an ESRC Future Research Leader fellowship as well as by the Isaac Newton Trust.

Ella’s previous research, drawing on her media ethnography of human rights reporting at Mexican newspapers, identified the contest for public credibility between state, media, and human rights actors as a significant driver of human rights coverage.

Ella leads The Whistle, an ESRC IAA-funded project to develop a digital human rights reporting application. She is also co-convenor of the Ethics of Big Data Research Group at CRASSH and on the Steering Committee of Cambridge’s Digital Humanities Strategic Network as well as on the editorial board of Cultural Sociology.

Previously, Ella was a Junior Research Fellow in Sociology at Wolfson College and an LSE Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science's Department of Media and Communications. She earned her PhD from Cambridge's Department of Sociology, funded by the Gates Cambridge Trust and an Overseas Research Scholarship. Her MPhil was in Latin American Studies at Cambridge and her BA was from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.


Ella is currently on research leave but gives a lecture series and corresponding supervisions on ‘Control and Resistance in Digital Societies’ for SOC 3: ‘Modern Societies II: Global Social Problems and Dynamics of Resistance.’

Selected publications

McPherson, E., 2015. Digital Human Rights Reporting by Civilian Witnesses: Surmounting the Verification Barrier. In R. A. Lind, ed. Produsing Theory in a Digital World 2.0: The Intersection of Audiences and Production in Contemporary Theory. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, pp. 193–209.

McPherson, E., 2015. ICTs and Human Rights Practice: A Report Prepared for the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge Centre of Governance and Human Rights.

McPherson, E., 2014. Advocacy Organizations' Evaluation of Social Media Information for NGO Journalism: The Evidence and Engagement Models. American Behavioral Scientist, 59(1), pp.124–148.

McPherson, E. & Alexander, A., 2014. Written Evidence for the Social Media Data and Real Time Analytics Inquiry, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), UK Parliament. Available at:

McPherson, E., 2012. How Editors Choose Which Human Rights News to Cover: A Case Study of Mexican Newspapers. In T. A. Borer, ed. Media, Mobilization, and Human Rights: Mediating Suffering. London, UK: Zed Books, pp. 96–121.

McPherson, E., 2012. Spot News Versus Reportage: Newspaper Models, the Distribution of Newsroom Credibility, and Implications for Democratic Journalism in Mexico. International Journal of Communication, 6, pp.2301–2317.

    • Position: Lecturer in the Sociology of New Media and Digital Technology
    • E-mail:
    • Twitter: @DrEllaMcPherson
    • Tel: 01223 334528
    • Address: Department of Sociology, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RQ
    • Website's: Social Media and Human Rights , Cambridge Academia
    • Research Interests: Human rights practice in the digital age; media sociology; (new) media and democracy; symbolic power; the ethics and methods of social media and big data research
    • Dr McPherson supervises graduate students