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Scholars at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and Law School will research new ideas for social media regulation with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the foundation announced today.

Philip Napoli, James R. Shepley Professor of Public Policy, and Jeff Ward, director of Duke’s Center on Law & Technology, will lead the year-long study.

Their focus will be an idea Napoli has explored in previous writing – that aspects of the same regulatory framework that governs broadcast media to protect the public’s interest in important and accurate information might be used to regulate social media. Napoli’s book, Social Media and Public Interest: Media Regulation in the Disinformation Age, explores these and related topics.

“The idea is that companies like Facebook have special access to aggregated user data, access that is similar to the access broadcasters have to spectrum,” Napoli said. “What we want to explore further is, ‘Can user data – again, in the aggregate – be treated as a public resource and provide a framework for regulation?’ We will look into the historic, legal and practical implications of this idea.”

Two men
Philip M. Napoli (left) is the James R. Shepley Professor of Public Policy and a Faculty Affiliate with the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy. Jeff Ward (right) is Associate Dean of Technology and Innovation and serves as the Director of Duke’s Center on Law & Technology.

In addition to funding the research, the $75,000 grant will allow for a conference on the topic in Washington. D.C., in 2020.

“With our focus on the governance of data and digital tools, the Duke Center on Law & Technology is thrilled to collaborate with the Sanford School and build upon Professor Napoli’s deep expertise in this area to help find real solutions to these challenges,” said Ward, who is also the Law School’s associate dean for technology and innovation.

The Duke Center on Law & Technology prepares students for the growing landscape of technology in the legal profession through collaboration with Duke’s innovative and entrepreneurial initiatives, engagement with local entrepreneurs, and by providing educational opportunities at the intersection of technology and the law.

Duke is among 22 universities, think tanks and advocacy organizations that received Knight Foundation $3.5 million to study internet, tech and social media policy and governance issues that are currently being discussed on Capitol Hill and in Silicon Valley. The organizations were chosen through a competitive application process.

The investments are part of Knight’s recently announced $50 million commitment to support research on how technology is transforming democracy and the way in which people are informed in the digital age.

Knight has supported Duke Sanford School’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy for many years, beginning in 1991 by funding an endowed faculty chair, which is now held by center Director Bill Adair. Knight also provided $1.2 million in 2017 for the center’s Tech & Check Cooperative, a project to automate fact-checking. Napoli is a faculty affiliate of the DeWitt Wallace Center.

Featured Audio

Is it Time to Regulate Social Media?

 Prof. Phil Napoli joins Dean Judith Kelley on the Policy 360 podcast to discuss potential government regulation of social media platforms.