NEW YORK—The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today announced a new initiative to provide legal support to researchers who study social media platforms. The support will help ensure that researchers can do their work without interference by technology companies or government officials.
“Researchers who study the social media platforms are confronting a concerning array of investigations and lawsuits that hinder the pursuit of constitutionally protected research and scholarship,” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director. “Through this new initiative, we’ll help ensure that these researchers can advance their work without interference and continue to inform public debate about issues that could hardly be more significant to our society.”
As part of the new initiative, the Knight Institute will advise researchers who receive subpoenas or similar demands for records or testimony relating to their research. Washington-based lawyer Eric Columbus has joined the Institute’s team to support this effort. Columbus recently served as Special Litigation Counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives.
Today’s announcement follows news reports that the House Committee on the Judiciary has sent or issued subpoenas and extensive document requests to universities and researchers seeking disclosure of a broad range of records relating to constitutionally protected research activities. The announcement also follows the filing of court cases against researchers by X Corp. and by individual social media users whose accounts or posts on the platforms were deleted or suppressed.
“Independent research about new technology is crucial to informing public debate,” said Alex Abdo, the Knight Institute’s litigation director. “Researchers can light the way to more informed public debate about the platforms, but only if we allow them to do their work.”
Through this new initiative, the Knight Institute will also refer researchers, when necessary, to private counsel who can provide more sustained or specialized support. Several major foundations—the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation—have agreed to establish a new fund at The Miami Foundation to help cover legal expenses of researchers who need legal advice about investigations and lawsuits concerning their constitutionally protected research. The Knight Institute will serve as an advisor to that fund.
For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, [email protected].