NEW YORK – The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University announced today that Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and Associate Professor of the Practice at MIT Media Lab, will join the Institute as a visiting research scholar from September 2020-June 2021. During his tenure, Zuckerman will research approaches to constructing a public service digital media sphere, an inquiry he began exploring in a paper published earlier this year by the Institute. He will also organize a Spring 2021 convening to connect experts, scholars, and technologists working on related projects.

“Professor Zuckerman is an exceptionally persuasive, imaginative, and rigorous advocate for civic-minded digital infrastructure, and we’ve learned a great deal from his contributions to past Knight Institute projects,” said Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director of the Knight Institute. “We’re excited to have this chance to deepen our engagement with him and with his ideas.”

Zuckerman’s research focuses on the use of media as a tool for social change, the role of technology in international development, and the use of new media technologies by activists. This fall, he will also join the University of Massachusetts, Amherst faculty as an associate professor of public policy, communication, and information. Zuckerman co-founded the international blogging community Global Voices, which serves as a platform for citizen media in more than 150 nations. In 2000, Zuckerman founded Geekcorps, a technology volunteer organization that sends IT specialists to work on projects in developing nations, with a focus on West Africa. Previously, he helped found, one of the web's first “personal publishing” sites. He is the author of Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection (W.W. Norton, 2013). Zuckerman’s paper “The Case for Digital Public Infrastructure” was among the most widely read roadmaps for reform to arise out of the Institute’s 2019 symposium, The Tech Giants, Monopoly Power, and Public Discourse.

During his time at the Knight Institute, Zuckerman will assess the state of progress toward a public service-based digital infrastructure and develop a taxonomy and index of initiatives, tools, and resources currently in use and available or in development. In addition, with Institute staff, he will design and prepare a convening to take place in the spring of 2021 that will bring together leading innovators and drivers in the digital media space with experts who understand the legal and regulatory frameworks that define and could further serve the development of a public service digital infrastructure.

“Because platforms like Google and Facebook have a stronghold on the digital sphere, we have a hard time imagining other possible models for conducting public discourse online,” said Ethan Zuckerman. “I welcome the opportunity to work with the Knight Institute to fully consider what technologies we want and need for digital media to have a productive role in fostering democratic societies.”

“We’re thrilled to welcome Professor Zuckerman to the Knight Institute and to work with him on this innovative new project. He’s one of the most creative minds thinking about how to build better spaces for online expression and discourse, which we need more urgently than ever,” said Katy Glenn Bass, the Knight Institute’s Research Director.

Professor Zuckerman will be the Knight Institute’s fourth visiting scholar. Amy Kapczynski, Professor of Law at Yale Law School, is the Institute’s Senior Visiting Research Scholar through the end of the 2020 academic year. Kapczynski is curating an essay series, Data and Democracy, which considers challenges to self-governance in an age of big data and algorithms. The Knight Institute will host a related symposium on October 15-16, 2020, and publish the resulting essays.

In 2018-2019, Jamal Greene, Dwight Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, was the Institute’s Senior Visiting Research Scholar, editing an essay series, Free Speech Futures. Professor Greene was recently named Co-Chair of Facebook’s Oversight Board. The Institute’s inaugural visiting scholar, David Pozen, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, edited a series of essays, Emerging Threats, which explore new structural threats to freedom of expression in the digital age. Pozen also played a lead role in conceiving and organizing A First Amendment for All?, the symposium that the Institute hosted with the Columbia Law Review and the Center for Constitutional Governance in March of 2018. That symposium brought together dozens of leading legal scholars and an audience of several hundred to examine the role of the First Amendment in an age of inequality.

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Communications Director, Knight First Amendment Institute, [email protected]