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When Senator Elizabeth Warren calls for breaking up tech companies, a gunman uses Facebook Live to broadcast a massacre in Christchurch, or thousands of people discover that their data was leaked to Cambridge Analytica, policymakers seek to develop solutions that will make tech products better.  As Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Development, Matt Perault MPP’08 was in the position of trying to develop these solutions.

This fall, Perault returned to campus as associate professor of the practice of public policy. He will also direct Duke’s Center for Science, Technology & Policy, a newly launched collaboration with The Duke Initiative for Science & Society and Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. The center will be housed within the Science & Society program.

Man, arms crossed

At Facebook, Perault advised the company on issues such as competition, surveillance reform, human rights and artificial intelligence. In July, Perault testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee on the competitive dynamics in the tech sector and addressed questions about market power and innovation, mergers and data portability.

“Facebook is one of the most scrutinized companies in the world,” Perault said of his former employer. “I was grateful for the opportunity to explain Facebook’s perspective on issues that have been getting significant attention in the press and in the presidential campaign. But the politicization of these issues makes it difficult to engage in the type of robust policy dialogue that we need. It can be challenging to work collaboratively to develop smart policy solutions in the midst of policy debates that are very political, very reactive and very angry.”

About the course

One way Perault’s class will help students prepare for policy work will be through practicing some of the things that he had to do in real life, such as offering expert testimony to a legislative committee, serving as a panelist at events on technology,  and drafting policy position papers. Perault used regular mock-panel exercises when he taught “Social Media and Public Policy” to Sanford School’s graduate students in 2015.

Perault looks forward to building a community of students and faculty who care deeply about finding ways to address the world’s most pressing policy challenges around technological innovation.

“An academic institution can play a really instrumental role in translating some of the concerns about our technology services into concrete policy options that address potential unintended consequences of technology and social media, and how using these new tools affects the world we inhabit,” he said. “My hope is that the center will be sufficiently nimble to tackle new policy issues as they emerge.”

Responding in a timely manner is necessary, Perault said. “Any academic institution working on these issues needs to be able to respond quickly, be engaged in the policy debate and make a contribution.”

“I want to be creating detailed proposals for smart regulation that would address some of the concerns people have with technology products, while also leaving sufficient room for innovation.”

While Perault says no university class can fully prepare a student to master the subject matter in such a rapidly changing field, creating a course that moves quickly and focuses on developing strong answers in a short period of time can prepare students for the pace of the field.

“My focus is how you can be at 80 percent of excellent in three hours instead of 99 percent of excellent over six weeks.”

At Facebook, Perault moved from managing Asia policy strategy in 2011 to heading global policy development in 2013. He also managed policy operations for the messaging service WhatsApp. In addition to his Duke policy degree, he earned a law degree from Harvard. Prior to Facebook, Perault served as Counsel to The Congressional Oversight Panel in Washington, D.C.

Perault grew up in Chapel Hill. He and his wife live in Durham and are expecting their first child this fall.

Find out more about the Tech Policy Initiative at Duke.