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
Founder
@natematias
natematias.com
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
@eleag
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.


Sarah Gilbert
Research Manager
@_sgilbert_
sag284 at cornell.edu


As CAT Lab’s Research Manager, Sarah coordinates projects and facilitates relationships with communities.

Prior to joining the CAT Lab, Sarah was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Maryland where she explored how to ethically conduct research using social media data. Sarah also uses collaborative and participatory methods to work with online communities. For example, she works with the Reddit community, r/AskHistorians to learn more about the work that supports successful community moderation (and is a moderator herself) and uses Values Sensitive Design to work with moderators to develop systems that support better working conditions. She holds a PhD in Library and Information Studies from the University of British Columbia. 

Read posts by Sarah.


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.


William Frey
Graduate Researcher

William R. Frey [he/they] is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. His research focuses on a transdisciplinary interrogation of whiteness and how social media facilitates processes of socialization. William’s prior work involved participatory models for domain expert involvement in computational mixed methods research and ethical considerations at the intersection of racism, artificial intelligence, and social media. He has a MSW in community organization and a BA in psychology from the University of Michigan.


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.


Dr. Julia Kamin
Former Research Manager

Julia managed CAT Lab’s research projects and coordinated our relationships with communities from 2018 through 2021.

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 posts by Julia.


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.

Science Advisors




Alice Marwick

Alice E. Marwick (PhD, New York University) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Principal Researcher at the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life, which she co-founded, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She researches the social, political, and cultural implications of popular social media technologies. In 2017, she co-authored Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online (Data & Society), a flagship report examining far-right online subcultures’ use of social media to spread disinformation, for which she was named one of 2017’s Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine. She is the author of Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Branding in the Social Media Age (Yale 2013), an ethnographic study of the San Francisco tech scene which examines how people seek social status through online visibility, and co-editor of The Sage Handbook of Social Media (Sage 2017). Her forthcoming book, The Private is Political (Yale 2023), examines how the networked nature of online privacy disproportionately impacts marginalized individuals in terms of gender, race, and socio-economic status. In addition to academic journal articles and essays, she has written for popular outlets like The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and Scientific American. Her work has been supported by the Carnegie Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Luminate Group, the Digital Trust Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council, and she has held fellowships at the Data & Society Research Institute and the Institute of Arts & Humanities at UNC-CH. As a 2020 Andrew Carnegie fellow, she is working on a third book about online radicalization. In 2021, she was awarded the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by the University of North Carolina.


David Rand

David Rand is the Erwin H. Schell Professor and Professor of Management Science and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, an affiliate of the MIT Institute of Data, Systems, and Society, and the director of the Human Cooperation Laboratory and the Applied Cooperation Team. Bridging the fields of cognitive science, behavioral economics, and social psychology, David’s research combines behavioral experiments run online and in the field with mathematical and computational models to understand people’s attitudes, beliefs, and choices. He focuses on illuminating why people believe and share misinformation and “fake news,” understanding political psychology and polarization, and promoting human cooperation. David received his B.A. in Computational Biology from Cornell University in 2004 and his Ph.D. in Systems Biology from Harvard University in 2009, was a post-doctoral researcher in Harvard University’s Department of Psychology from 2009 to 2013, and was an Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) of Psychology, Economics, and Management at Yale University prior to joining the faculty at MIT. David has published over 175 papers in peer-reviewed journals including Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the American Economic Review, Psychological Science, Management Science, New England Journal of Medicine, and the American Journal of Political Science, and has received widespread attention from print, radio, TV and social media outlets. He has written popular press articles for outlets including the New York Times, Wired, New Scientist, and the Psychological Observer. David also regularly advises technology companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter in their efforts to combat misinformation, and has provided testimony about misinformation to the US and UK governments. He was named to Wired magazine’s Smart List 2012 of “50 people who will change the world,” chosen as a 2012 Pop!Tech Science Fellow, awarded the 2015 Arthur Greer Memorial Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Research, chosen as fact-checking researcher of the year in 2017 by the Poyner Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, awarded the 2020 FABBS Early Career Impact Award from the Society for Judgment and Decision Making, and selected as a 2021 Best 40-Under-40 Business School Professor by Poets & Quants. Papers he has coauthored have been awarded Best Paper of the Year in Experimental Economics, Social Cognition, and Political Methodology.


Natalie Stroud

Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud holds the E. M. “Ted” Dealey Professorship in the Business of Journalism and is a Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and the School of Journalism and Media, as well as the founding and current Director of the Center for Media Engagement (mediaengagement.org) in the Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin. Stroud is a Fellow of the International Communication Association and the Annenberg Public Policy Center. She is currently co-leading a collaboration between Meta and the academic community to assess the effects of Facebook and Instagram in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and collaborating on project to re-envision public life on platforms through the New_ Public project. Stroud’s research on the media’s role in a democracy has received numerous national and international awards, including the International Communication Association (ICA)’s prestigious Outstanding Book Award for her book Niche News: The Politics of News Choice, the inaugural Public Engagement Award from the Journalism Studies Division of the ICA.

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.