Global Tech Policy at a Turning Point (A Conversation with Brown Alumni Working in Tech) - RECAP

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What does the future of technology policy look like in the United States and beyond? Who should be responsible for setting content moderation policies? Does mitigating the potential harms of artificial intelligence (AI) fall on private companies or government agencies?

On October 18, Brown University’s Information Futures Lab and six alumni who are leaders in tech ― including Glen Echo’s Executive Vice President & COO, Katie Barr ― considered these questions during a hybrid panel discussion titled, “Global Tech Policy at a Turning Point.”

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You can watch the full panel here, but here are the highlights:

How do you try to explain the complicated topics like the encryption debate or the challenge of online anonymity to policymakers?

Katie said encryption represents the building blocks of the internet, but recognized the push-pull between tech and law enforcement. “We’re seeing a lot of threats to encryption around the globe, here, UK, Brazil, and Australia. So there’s a lot to be concerned about,” said Katie. “For me, it comes down to, breaking encryption for anybody harms online safety for everybody.”

Daphne Keller (Director of the Program on Platform Regulation at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center; Former Associate General Counsel at Google) noted that vulnerable groups sometimes need online anonymity. She pointed out that Congressional members and staffers are currently communicating with each other on Signal, an encrypted messaging app.

Matt Perault (Director, Center on Technology Policy, UNC-Chapel Hill; Former Director of Public Policy at Facebook) added that this policy discussion aims for homogeneity among platforms, but some proposed regulations actually reduce the opportunity for platforms to compete aggressively as content moderators and in their privacy offerings.

Jessica agreed that “different platforms have different approaches to these things depending on their business model,” but allowed that more authoritarian countries require different conversations; in those places, anonymity is essential to protect users’ identities.

How can platforms address content moderation issues ― before they become crises?

Reflecting on his time at Facebook, Matt said that often, content moderation decisions are filled with bad answers. “There are always large volumes of content that you’ll feel uncomfortable with, even with a content moderation policy that is the right one overall.” But then senior leadership can “kind of blow up” the policy in rapid response to a crisis, and it “unwinds this work that teams have done over a long period of time.”

Matt also emphasized the value of diversity of policies, saying that convergence of content moderation policies among platforms would not be good for users.

Considering the implications of AI on society, should tech policy differentiate between short-term and long-term harms? Should companies be responsible for developing internal policies on AI or should it be regulated by the government?

Katie explained:

“The hype around AI…it feels like this need to regulate it right the hell now, and I think there are certain laws on the books that do apply to AI and we should be thinking about what laws are currently in existence. Maybe if there was a national privacy law, that would help too, but there seems to be this hype that is driving, almost mania, around regulation.”

What is one piece of practical advice panelists would offer to someone looking to move into the tech policy space?

Katie advised, "Think broadly. This ecosystem is bigger than tech companies and the government. You can do a lot of good at a mission-focused company like mine, or a civil society group, or a think tank or even the right law firm. This community is such a great one, but it’s also not a huge one, so talk to us, talk to others. If we can’t point you in the right direction, we probably can find someone who can."

Other panelists also had advice to offer the audience:

Zeve Sanderson (Founding Executive Director of NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics)―Stay deeply curious.

Samm Sacks (Senior Fellow with the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center and New America) ―After you graduate, go live and work in another country and ideally if you’re interested in tech, go work for a tech company in another country. Gain some on the ground experience from a global perspective.

Perault―Openness to working at a company, particularly if you are driven by a desire for public service and mission oriented work. I would not exclude private companies from the work you would consider.

Keller―Get moving around and seeing different roles. If you’re thinking about going to law school, a law school with loan repayment will remove those shackles.

Ashooh (Senior Director of Policy at Reddit)―Do what you’re passionate about, because when you’re passionate you will be excellent. Excellence is something you can sell in any industry. Do what you love and be excellent at it and then find the tech angle.

Policymakers around the world are moving quickly to develop policy that can keep up with technology. It can be challenging to track global regulatory proposals, and that’s where the Glen Echo Group comes in. If you have questions, contact us.

And if you’re reading this as a young professional who is curious about public affairs, the human side of technology or how to use your skills to make a positive impact, learn more about the Glen Echo Group’s internship program here.