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Viral Voices: Whose Responsibility?

The virtual panel "Viral Voices: Whose Responsibility" took place on September 21st 2021.

Recent events have again raised questions about the impact that online speech has in disseminating misinformation and even promoting violence with potential negative consequences for personal safety, the resilience of democracies, and public health. The debate about regulation has led some to argue for robust and systematic self-regulation by social media companies themselves. Others maintain that this form of top-down decision making often abridges free speech and suppresses unpopular opinions. Social media companies have long resisted becoming the sole arbiters of free speech on their platforms. In line with this, several of them (Reddit, Facebook, Twitter) are trying to develop new approaches to strike a balance between free speech and a healthy online environment. Following these themes, the virtual event revolved around the framing question:

  • How can social media both protect free speech and, at the same time, combat the spread of misinformation and protect users and others from harm?


Helen Margetts, PhD is Professor of Society and the Internet and Professorial Fellow at Mansfield College, University of Oxford. She is a political scientist specializing in the relationship between digital technology and government, politics and public policy. She is an advocate for the potential of multi-disciplinarity and computational social science for our understanding of political behaviour and development of public policy in a digital world. She has published over a hundred books, articles and policy reports in this area, including Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action (with Peter John, Scott Hale and Taha Yasseri, 2015); Paradoxes of Modernization (with Perri 6 and Christopher Hood, 2010); Digital Era Governance (with Patrick Dunleavy, 2006, 2008); and The Tools of Government in the Digital Age (with Christopher Hood, 2007).Since 2018, Helen has been Director of the Public Policy Programme at The Alan Turing Insitute, the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence. The programme works with policy-makers to research and develop ways of using data science and AI to improve policy-making and service provision, foster government innovation and establish an ethical framework for the use of data science in government. The programme comprises over 25 research projects involving 60 researchers across 10 universities. As well as being programme director, Helen is theme lead for criminal justice in the AI for Science and Government programme and principal investigator on research projects Hate Speech: Measures and Counter-measures, Social Information and Public Opinion and Political Volatility.

Shane Tews is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She works on international communications, technology and cybersecurity issues, including privacy, internet governance, data protection, 5G networks, the Internet of Things, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. She is also president of Logan Circle Strategies. Previously, Ms. Tews managed internet security and digital commerce issues as vice president of global policy for Verisign Inc. She began her career in the George H. W. Bush White House as a deputy associate director in the Office of Cabinet Affairs and later moved to Capitol Hill as a legislative director for a member of Congress. She is currently vice chair of the board of directors of the Internet Education Foundation and co-chair of the Internet Governance Forum USA. Ms. Tews studied communications at Arizona State University and American University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in general studies with an emphasis on communications and political science.

Kate Klonick, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Law at St. John’s University. She teaches Property, Internet Law, and a seminar on information privacy. Klonick’s research centers on law and technology, using cognitive and social psychology as a framework. That has led to study in the areas of decision making, intellectual property, property, communications torts, norms, shaming, and governance. It has also led to an interest in robotics, artificial intelligence, and Internet law. Most recently she has been studying and writing about private Internet platforms and how they govern online speech. Klonick’s work has appeared in The Harvard Law Review, The Georgetown Law Journal, the peer-reviewed Copyright Journal of the USA, The Maryland Law Review; and is forthcoming in The Southern California Law Review and Yale Law Journal. Her research on networked technologies’ effect on social norm enforcement, freedom of expression, and private governance has appeared in the New York Times, New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Lawfare, Slate, Vox and numerous other publications.

Response to Panelists

Tarleton Gillespie, PhD is a Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New England. He is a part of the Social Media Collective, Microsoft Research’s team of sociologists, anthropologists, and communication & media scholars studying the impact of information technology on social and political life. Tarleton also retains an affiliated Associate Professor position with Cornell University, where he has been on the faculty for nearly two decades. Tarleton’s work investigates how social media platforms and other algorithmic information systems shape the character of public discourse. His widely cited 2010 essay, “The Politics of ‘Platforms’” helped focus critical, sociological attention on social media platforms as an emerging technical and symbolic figure in the new media landscape, highlighting the industry’s efforts to carefully craft their position in society and their responsibilities. His 2014 essay “The Relevance of Algorithms” provided an early map for the sociological analysis of algorithms; in it he asked how algorithms embedded in social media and search engines organize information based on implicit and unexamined assumptions about popularity, relevance, and value. His work offers a vocabulary for a society in which social media platforms and other algorithmic information providers are now deeply woven into the lives of users and into the public institutions on which they depend.


Patrick Wolfe, PhD is the Frederick L. Hovde Dean of the College of Science. He was named the 2018 Distinguished Lecturer in Data Science by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. His research is focused on the mathematical foundations of data science. Dr. Wolfe, a native of the Midwest who joined the faculty of the University College London (UCL) in 2012 after teaching at Cambridge and then Harvard, is the founding Executive Director of UCL’s Big Data Institute. He is also a trustee and non-executive director of the Alan Turing Institute, the United Kingdom’s new $100 million national institute for data science, where he has played a leading role in establishing the institute and shaping its priorities through an extensive program of engagement with a diverse range of experts and stakeholders. A past recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the White House while at Harvard, he has provided expert advice on applications of data science to policy, societal, and commercial challenges, including to the US and UK governments and to a range of public and private bodies. He has also forged strong bilateral international scientific connections, not only between the US and UK, but also across the globe with countries as diverse as India, Japan, and Singapore.