Blog: TEC Talks Spring Speaker Series

Author: Nicole McAlee

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We’ve just wrapped up TEC Talks, our first-ever speaker series with the Notre Dame Technology Ethics Center (ND-TEC) and hosted by ThinkND. This seven-session series spanned the spring semester and convened a cohort of leading academics, researchers, practitioners, activists, and investors in dialogue to discuss technology’s role in the timely problems of misinformation and disinformation. The series touched on several of the Lab’s key themes, including the ethics of scale, identification, and adoption. 

Week 1 featured Joan Donovan, Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. Using an example of COVID-19 medical disinformation, Donovan explained the lifecycle of disinformation and discussed the ways in which social media’s obsession with growth and engagement have supercharged disinformation, and how “anything open will be exploited.”

Week 2 brought together Ifeoma Ozoma, Founder and Principal at Earthseed, and Roger McNamee, author of the New York Times bestseller, Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, for a conversation about accountability in the tech industry. Ozoma and McNamee highlighted the tension between the “enlightenment values” central to a democratic society and the “efficiency values” prioritized by the tech industry, and potential solutions to platform safety concerns, especially with respect to mis- and disinformation.

Week 3 featured Danielle Citron, Jefferson Scholars Foundation Schenck Distinguished Professor in Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, and Yael Eisenstat, democracy activist and strategist and formerly of CIA and Facebook, in a discussion about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and its impact on platforms’ responsibility to monitor and remove offensive speech. Citron and Eisenstat agreed that the lack of a comprehensive privacy law in the United States makes the internet “the new wild west,” and discussed how Section 230 actually disincentivizes platforms from moderating offensive speech and mis- and disinformation.

Week 4 brought a focus on Facebook with Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor of Media Studies and director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia. Vaidhyanathan discussed how Facebook’s business model harms our information ecosystem, undermines democratic norms, and erodes public trust in institutions such as journalism and science. Note that this was a live-only event.

Week 5 paired Ryan Calo, Lane Powell and D. Wayne Gittinger Professor, University of Washington School of Law, and Mutale Nkonde, CEO, AI for the People and a 2020-2021 Technology Ethics Fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, for a discussion about a science, technology, and society studies (STS) approach to online mis- and disinformation. Calo and Nkonde’s conversation focused on the importance of diverse voices and multidisciplinary teams, novel approaches like narrative storytelling, and the merits of existing civil rights protections and legal deterrents in the fight against mis- and disinformation.

Week 6 was all about identity, anonymity, and real-name policies on the internet and  featured Jillian C. York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and David Magerman, co-founder and managing partner at Differential Ventures and an activist for internet reform. York argued that anonymity is key to promoting free expression on the internet, while Magerman believes that public discourse should be attached to a speaker’s real name. While the panelists took different approaches to anonymity and verified identity, both agreed that platforms need to be more transparent and accountable to their users.

Week 7 brought together Julie Owono, Executive Director, Internet Sans Frontières and a member of the Facebook Oversight Board, and Clint Smith, Chief Legal Officer at Discord, for a conversation about what “second wave” internet platforms can learn from the pitfalls of the giants like Facebook and Twitter. The panelists discussed community guidelines and content moderation, how U.S.-based platforms might better scale trust and safety initiatives to users in other countries, and the merits of transparency around ad-driven business models.

We’re grateful to all of the panelists who participated in this series, our colleagues at ND-TEC, and the team at ThinkND for making TEC Talks such a success. To stay up-to-date on the latest news and events from the Lab, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter