A woman stands on a stepladder and looks at a vertical sculpture of balanced shapes, as she holds a circle and considers where to add it.

Effective technology governance needs reliable knowledge about the effects of technologies and our attempts to predict, prevent, and steer them for the common good. Given large-scale distrust of corporations and the tech industry, society urgently needs industry-independent research on technology— from journalists, activists, affected communities, and academics.

For independent research to serve the public interest, it needs to be trustworthy—avoiding the very harms that researchers often seek to illuminate. While university IRBs provide some safeguards and oversight for academic research, they are not broadly applicable to other institutions. Outside of universities ethics are governed by journalistic ethics boards, ombuds roles, and civil society community research standards. Independent research on social media companies is hindered by concerns, such as overly permissive or restrictive oversight, corporate resistance, and regulation that prevent us from developing the knowledge we need for a safe, transparent, and accountable tech sector. 

CAT Lab and the Center for Media Engagement are collaborating to map these concerns in a report for the NetGain Partnership. In this report we will illuminate ethical challenges that could seriously damage the nascent accountability ecosystem through a review of the literature and interviews with stakeholders from across constituencies such as academia (CME team), journalism, and civil society (CAT Lab Team). Our report will chart a course for a shared vision of research ethics that can inform science, practice, and advocacy.

Publications

About our teams

Citizens and Technology Lab

  • Dr. J. Nathan Matias is CAT Lab’s director and is a pioneer of industry-independent evaluations on the impact of tech platform policies in society. At MIT, Princeton, and now Cornell, Matias has created transformative learning experiences for undergraduates and graduate students to collaborate with community partners on public interest technology projects.
  • Dr. Sarah Gilbert is CAT Lab’s Research manager and a leading scholar in community moderation. She has published extensively on the ethical conduct of research using social media data as a postdoctoral associate on the NSF PERVADE collaboration. 
  • Floor Fiers is a PhD candidate at Northwestern University focused on digital inequalities & discrimination in online labor markets.

University of Texas at Austin

  • Dr. Jo Lukito is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Austin, a Senior Faculty Research Fellow at the Center for Media Engagement and the Director of the Media & Democracy Data Cooperative. Using computational social science, Lukito is a leading scholar on disinformation and political communication and a strong advocate for open science, pioneering efforts to build multi-university collaborations for the sharing of platform data. 
  • Bin Chen is a PhD student at the University of Texas Austin focusing on political mis/disinformation across multiple social media platforms.