Our Purpose

The Citizens and Technology (CAT) Lab at Cornell University is a public-interest research group led by Dr. J. Nathan Matias, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication.

Our Mission: Work with communities to study the effects of technology on society and test ideas for changing digital spaces to better serve the public interest.

Our Vision: A world where digital power is guided by evidence and accountable to the public.

How We Work

We do citizen science for the internet. We seek to enable anyone to engage critically with the tech tools and platforms they use, ask questions, and get answers. Working hand-in-hand with diverse communities and organizations around the world, we identify issues of shared concern (“effects”) related to digital discourse, digital rights and consumer protection.

Our research methods can discover if a proposed effect is really happening, uncover the causes behind a systemic issue, and test ideas for creating change.

How do we do this?

Test: Produce scientific evidence on causes and effects, informing how people relate to each other and the digital products that shape our lives.

Discover: Develop research goals with and for the public, growing scientific knowledge by respecting the unique cultures, needs, risks, and potential in every situation.

Empower: Support people worldwide to make discoveries by growing widespread capacity to conduct, interpret, and and collaborate on behavioral science at scale.

Innovate: In our quest for citizen behavioral science that is democratic and accountable to the public, we develop open technical, statistical, ethical, and legal systems that anyone can use.

We publish summaries and results of all CAT Lab experiments here on our website. We invite you to explore our research, read our latest news & posts, and sign up for email updates to learn more about what we do and how we do it.

The Team

Meet the core team of CAT Lab!

Dr. J. Nathan Matias
nathan.matias at cornell.edu

Nathan is an Assistant Professor in the Cornell University Department of Communication, where he leads CAT Lab. He works with social media companies, news organizations, and online communities to test ideas for a flourishing internet and evaluate the social impact of online platforms.

Nathan developed CAT Lab as part of his PhD at the MIT Media Lab and MIT Center for Civic Media. Nathan, who is Guatemalan-American, has a background in tech startups and nonprofits. His research regularly appears in the news, and his writing has appeared in The Atlantic, PBS, the Guardian, and many others. [Image credit: Allison Usavage/Cornell CALS.]

Read posts by Nathan.

Elizabeth Eagen
Deputy Director
ee263 at cornell.edu

As Deputy Director of CAT Lab, Elizabeth works on our strategy and on scaling our organization’s growth. She collaborates with experts and partners on our research, practice, and methodologies, to build our abilities to take on new opportunities.
Before coming to CAT Lab, Elizabeth worked for ten years as a grantmaker for the Open Society Foundations, supporting organizations and individuals working in the field of emerging technology for evidence and advocacy. She focused on how to make it easier for technologists and organizations to work together as equal partners to advance human rights. 

Elizabeth believes in the value of diverse experience and loves the process of bringing different skills, values, and expertise together.

Read posts by Elizabeth.

Dr. Julia Kamin
Research Manager
julia.kamin at civilservant.io

Julia manages CAT Lab’s research projects and coordinates our relationships with communities.

Julia has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Michigan where she studied social media, polarization, and political behavior–interests that grew out of her work in citizen engagement at TheVoterGuide and CitizenJoe. Prior to that work, Julia did research for Eli Pariser and Todd Rogers on books including The Filter Bubble, advocated for students’ rights at Advocates for Children and founded Opening Act, an after-school theater program that serves NYC’s highest need public high schools. Julia also has an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School, is a late-comer to jazz and can be an irritating proselytizer for the virtues of NYC.

Read Julia’s posts by Julia.

Eric Pennington
Data Architect

Eric is hosted by the MIT Center for Civic Media as the Data Architect for CAT Lab. Prior to this he was in the Media Lab’s Social Machines group as a research engineer on the Electome. Eric will complete his MS in Computer Science at Georgia Tech with a focus in Interactive Artificial Intelligence. His interests include the intersection of AI and society, increasing widespread access to data for better collective decision-making, and wishing he were tall enough to be a pro basketball player.

Lucas Wright
PhD Student

Lucas is a graduate student in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. His research focuses on how online platforms regulate the behavior of users, especially through automated, algorithmic interventions.

Prior to joining CAT Lab, Lucas conducted research with non-profits including the Dangerous Speech Project and the Global Disinformation Index. He has a MSc in Social Science of the Internet from the University of Oxford and a BA in Political Science from American University. He is also a graduate affiliate of the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life at the University of North Carolina. 

Research Collaborators

CAT Lab is currently working with the following collaborators

Jonathan Zong
Graduate Researcher

Jonathan Zong (Graduate Researcher) is a visual artist and computer scientist interested in the imperfect ways that interface design makes people and systems legible to each other. He is currently a graduate researcher at MIT CSAIL, where he is pursuing a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction. Jonathan graduated from the Visual Arts and Computer Science departments at Princeton University in 2018. He is a 2019 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and NSF Graduate Research Fellow.

Jonathan has been working with CAT Lab on our research ethics systems since 2017 and was the 2020 CAT Lab Graduate Research Fellow.

Read posts by Jonathan Zong.

Zenobia Chan
Graduate Researcher

Zenobia Chan (Graduate Researcher) is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. Her broad interests include international security, experimental methods, and behavioral economics. Prior to her doctoral studies, Zenobia was an analyst and geo-data engineer at Google, and has served analyst and consultant positions at the United Nations, OECD, and World Bank.

Dr. Jonathon Penney
Research Collaborator

Jonathon Penney (Research Collaborator) is an Assistant Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. He is legal academic and social scientist who does research at the intersection of law, technology, and human rights, with strong empirical, interdisciplinary, and social science dimensions. His work aims to understand technology’s role, social and historical context, and human rights implications in censorship, surveillance, cybersecurity, online abuse, disinformation, automated/AI legal systems, and other emerging social/corporate/regulatory practices.

Read posts by Jonathon Penney.

CAT Lab Alumni

We are grateful to these remarkable colleagues who have helped make CAT Lab what it is today.

Max Klein
Former Data Engineer

Max Klein (Data Engineer, 2018-2020) is a Data Scientist with interests spanning AI, online collaboration, and social problems. As a Wikipedian he has created tools which assist gender-equality-focused editing. As a fellow for Data Science for Social Good he developed machine-learning for 3rd Grader reading practice.

Read posts by Max.

Ellery Biddle
Former Public Engagement Designer

Ellery Biddle (Engagement Designer, 2019) is a journalist, researcher and expert on technology as it affects people’s lives and rights. Before CAT Lab, Ellery worked at Global Voices, an international media organization of bloggers, journalists and activists from more than 170 countries. Ellery has held affiliations at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Merry Ember Mou
Former Software Engineer

Merry Ember Mou (Software Engineer, 2016-17) worked with Nathan on the very first CAT Lab software systems as a computer science masters student in the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative. Merry now works as a software engineer in information security.

Read posts by Merry.

Charie DeTar
Web Developer

Charlie DeTar (Web Developer, 2019) is a Web developer, activist, cooperator, wilderness devotee. Charlie, who holds a PhD from the MIT Media Lab, has done extensive research and design with the housing cooperative movement, incarcerated communities, and government transparency organizations.

Audrey Chebet
Former undergraduate researcher

Audrey Chebet (Undergraduate Researcher, 2017) completed her undergraduate degree in the Princeton University Psychology Department with minors in Neuroscience and African Studies. As an avid Twitter user and a self-proclaimed feminist it only seemed sensible for her to combine her interest and develop a research project focused on making online spaces safer for women.

Our Path

The Citizens and Technology Lab (formerly known as CivilServant) began as the MIT PhD project of founder J. Nathan Matias, who was studying the role that anyone can play in understanding digital power and creating change independently from tech firms.

Originally incubated by Global Voices, we are now transitioning into Cornell University’s Department of Communication. We are grateful for the support we’ve received from a range of entities, past and present. You can find a complete list of our funders here.