How can internet users speak freely online while also being protected from harmful content? How can real security threats from foreign technology products be addressed without depriving people of apps they use daily? How can technology better protect minors, while still giving them access to innovative, private online experiences? These are the questions that now dominate conversations surrounding technology.
A new center at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill aims to answer them.
The Center on Technology Policy, housed in the UNC School of Information and Library Science, launched on April 21 and aims to offer public policy solutions that can inform lawmakers in developing tech policy. As a result, emerging technologies can be regulated to minimize user risks and maximize benefits.
“Our goal is for the Center on Technology Policy to offer an affirmative vision for public policy that will improve our tech products and online content,” Matt Perault, CTP’s director and professor of the practice at SILS, said. To achieve this, CTP plans to release policy briefs, podcasts, research papers and other materials to guide tech policy development and provide resources to the public on informed internet technology use.
One such resource has already been published. Perault and J. Scott Babwah Brennen, who serves as head of online expression at CTP, co-authored a guide for state lawmakers on how they can regulate online content. The guide was released in tandem with the center’s launch.
“The guide offers state lawmakers practical and legal options for better regulating online content,” Babwah Brennan said. “As a result, states have an opportunity to address the root causes of hate speech, harassment, misinformation, illegal content and problematic content moderation while strengthening the institutions and infrastructures required to build healthy communication systems.”
Developing the future of tech policy professionals
Using a practitioner-oriented approach to technology policy, CTP hopes to connect Carolina students with educational and professional opportunities in the field. The end goal? To develop the next generation of technology policy professionals, developers, advocates and academics.
“Through engagement with industry and government practitioners in the field, as well as close partnership with other academic centers, think tanks and non-profit organizations, we will help train the next leaders in tech policy,” Perault said.
CTP will provide Carolina students with opportunities to participate in the center’s research, policy brief development and events. Students interested in working with CTP can email email@example.com.
Building on past faculty work and experience
Perault’s work at CTP is a continuation of his previous experience within the field of technology policy development. Previously, he served as Facebook’s director of public policy and led Duke University’s Center on Science & Technology Policy. At Facebook, he covered issues ranging from antitrust to law enforcement to human rights and oversaw the company’s policy work on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Babwah Brennen leads the center’s work on online expression, misinformation and political advertising. He comes to UNC-Chapel Hill from Duke University and the University of Oxford, where he led research for the Oxford Martin Programme on Misinformation, Science and Media. His research has appeared in outlets, including the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, International Journal of Press/Politics, International Journal of Communication, Communication Theory, Journalism, Journalism Practice, and Science in Context.
Bridging disciplines from across Carolina and beyond
CTP will build on the interdisciplinary strengths of UNC-Chapel Hill and hopes to partner with the SILS research team and other technology-oriented groups across Carolina’s campus, such as the UNC Center on Information, Technology and Public Life, the UNC School of Law, and the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy.
Gary Marchionini, Dean and Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor at SILS, noted the launch of CTP within SILS aligns with the school’s mission to discover and understand the impact of information science topics on public life.
“At SILS, we strongly believe that information and technology should be used for the public good. The Center on Technology Policy provides an avenue to explore questions surrounding the role technology plays in our society and its effects on the world around us,” Marchionini said. “We are honored to welcome CTP as the second center focused on the effects of technology at SILS in addition to CITAP. SILS is eager to work with CTP to help leaders craft policies that maximize human benefits and minimize powerful information technologies’ negative effects and implications. We look forward to the excellent research and policy work the center and its affiliates will produce for a more informed world.”
CTP is funded by Amazon, Apple, the Cisco University Research Program Fund (a corporate advised fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation), Google, the Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, Meta, Microsoft, the Tides Foundation, TikTok and Zoom.