The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently announced a $25,000 investment to support a University of Georgia project studying the application of First Amendment and due process principles to nongovernmental digital platforms and services.
The project will bring together the expertise of Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication Associate Professor Jonathan Peters, School of Law Brumby Distinguished Professor in First Amendment Law Sonja R. West, and School of Public and International Affairs Assistant Professor Jason Anastasopoulos.
“I’m excited to be part of this interdisciplinary project exploring how First Amendment principles intersect with private digital information platforms,” said West, who holds a joint appointment at Grady College. “Our marketplace of ideas is changing, and there’s growing uncertainty around how best to protect and foster our First Amendment tradition on these platforms. As a group, we’ll seek to shape the relevant principles and norms, with a focus on due process principles and the protection of high-value expressive content.”
Peters, who holds a courtesy appointment with the School of Law, said the project’s topic could not be more timely. “It’s increasingly clear that digital platforms have some responsibility to protect free expression, and our work will explore that responsibility using First Amendment and due process principles. I am grateful for the Knight Foundation’s support and the opportunity to work with terrific scholars who are also kind people,” he said.
Anastasopoulos added that social media has ushered in a new era of news consumption, production and censorship that is just now beginning to be understood. “I’m incredibly excited to be working with my colleagues on this project which will help us better understand the nature of due process in online platforms,” he said. Anastasopoulos is also an Adjunct Professor of Statistics and an affiliate of the university’s Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
The UGA grant is one of 20 projects that received $1.7 million recently from the Knight Foundation to focus on research to inform the public conversation on current issues in technology policy, including free expression online and the scale and power of digital platforms. These grants, which come amid growing debate over technology’s role in our democracy, will help ensure that society is equipped to make evidence-based decisions on how to govern and manage the now-digital—and increasingly privately-owned—public square.
The awards mark the culmination of Knight’s $50 million commitment to catalyze new research to inform how technology is transforming our democracy. Knight’s overall investment has led to the establishment of new research centers at five universities around the country, and it is supporting a range of ongoing research at a growing network of institutions of higher learning, independent research organizations and policy think tanks focused on understanding technology’s impact on democracy and helping to inform solutions.
“As we proceed from a pandemic to an election, everything about technology is getting bigger: the companies, their role in our lives, and the debate about how to manage what we say and do online,” said Sam Gill, Knight’s senior vice president and chief program officer. “From COVID-related misinformation to labeled posts by the president, it’s clear that we need to chart a path forward about how to best protect democratic values in a digital age.”