Knight Foundation announces funding for UGA project supporting research on internet governance

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.”

‘No Obstruction to Free Speech’ mobile displays ideas for democracy


Sixty-three wooden planks, lovingly hand-lettered, lacquered and joined together in a web of carefully-placed, stainless steel eye and hook screws…it’s a modestly-constructed mobile packed with powerful and inspiring thoughts, all centered on First Amendment themes.

Drawing on a life-long appreciation of First Amendment principles, Richard Griffiths translated his passion into art through the construction of several mobiles that he named “No Obstruction to Free Speech.” One of these mobiles was donated to Grady College and is displayed in the Grady College east stairway on the 5th floor.

According to Griffiths, a long-time friend of Grady College and a member of the Grady Board of Trust, his labor of love was motivated by current events.

“I was frustrated by the way people were talking about free speech and the media,” Griffiths, a recently-retired vice president and senior editorial director at CNN, admitted. Griffiths also serves as the president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

Richard Griffiths created his mobiles at his home the North Carolina mountains.

To channel these frustrations, Griffiths took a few quotes he was familiar with and started researching more, combing through speeches from State of the Union addresses and foreign visits. What he ended up with were quotes from every president, a few Supreme Court justices, one or two founding fathers and a Georgia Supreme Court justice.

Some quotes are positive and some are negative, but they all address government and freedoms of speech, expression, press and religion, while giving context to the current tensions between President Trump and the news media.

Griffiths was surprised and encouraged about how many presidents have commented on these issues.

“On a whole, support of freedom of speech and independence comes through again and again from those who have held leadership positions,” Griffiths said.

When asked for his favorite quotes, Griffiths has trouble landing on just one.

He likes the quote that Richard Nixon said: “Don’t get the impression that you [the press] aroused my anger. You see, one can only be angry with those he respects.”

And, and another favorite was George W. Bush: “’I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy, that we need the media to hold people like me to account.”

He wanted to make sure the President Donald Trump’s quote was easily seen, so Griffiths put that at the bottom of the mobile: ““The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

This quote by President Donald Trump hangs at the bottom of the mobile.

Armed with the quotes, Griffiths spent weeks at his vacation home in the mountains crafting his “tangle of thoughts and ideas for Democracy” to construct something larger that would give hope to the current political climate. The inspiration for his design was Man Ray Dadaist’s work “Obstruction,” which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Of the four mobiles that he constructed, he donated one to the University of North Carolina where he serves as the Stembler Distinguished Visiting Professional; donated one to Grady College where he has served as a Distinguished Industry Fellow at the Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership; donated one to the Georgia First Amendment Foundation auction and kept one for further reflection.

Griffiths said his project has given him some comfort about the how tension between the president and the media has resolved time and again: “It’s been therapeutic, and I realize through my research that the Republic has come out stronger…not without pain, but stronger.”