UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry Supported by The Knight Foundation

Safiya Noble and Sarah Roberts to collaborate with 22-institution study of internet governance and policy.

The UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry (C2I2) has been selected by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to take part in a 22-institution study of internet governance and policy. The Center, founded in 2019 by Professors Safiya U. Noble and Sarah T. Roberts, will share $3.5 million in support from Knight Foundation with other universities, think tanks, and advocacy organizations to examine including content moderation by social media companies, antitrust enforcement in big tech and the pervasive problem of disinformation online.

Safiya U. Noble is an associate professor in the departments of Information Studies and African American Studies. Photo by Stella Kalinina

“We look forward to a long and productive partnership with Knight Foundation, as we share a commitment to strengthening research and public awareness about the threats of internet platforms to democracy, particularly as they impact the most vulnerable in our society,” says Professor Noble. “This support will enable the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry to further research data science experiments on the public through internet platforms. Our goal is to strengthen research at UCLA on digital social media platforms – from algorithmic discrimination to commercial content moderation, as they intersect with a variety of important social, political, and economic issues facing society today.”

“The Knight Foundation’s support at this early stage of C2I2 demonstrates their unequivocal agenda of support for research and related activities that go to more equitable internet governance and policy,” says Professor Roberts. “We are honored and delighted to have been selected for support as the first Knight Foundation funding recipients at UCLA, and look forward to a beneficial relationship with positive outcomes for all our stakeholders.”

Sarah T. Roberts is an assistant professor in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies. Photo by Stella Kalinina

The Knight Foundation funding is part of the organization’s $50 million commitment to support research on how technology is transforming our democracy and the way in which people are informed in the digital age. UCLA’s C2I2 is among several new institutions that will receive the Foundation’s ongoing support for long-term research at American universities, research institutions and think tanks. Research topics to be explored by Knight-funded institutions include the responsibilities of social media companies and digital service providers with regard to how they moderate, police and present content and issues of antitrust and competition in the online arena.

Noble is an associate professor in the UCLA Department of Information Studies and the UCLA Department of African American Studies.  Her most recent book is “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism.” Professor Noble’s research is centered on socio-cultural informatics; including feminist, historical, and political-economic perspectives on computing platforms and software in the public interest.

Noble has done extensive studies of social media and how racist and sexist misinformation are the result of algorithms. In May, she took part in The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival that took place in New York City, discussing her work on data discrimination and offered solutions for ethical technology.

Professor Roberts is an assistant professor in the UCLA Department of Information Studies and the author of the recently published book, “Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media.” Her research is focused on the international workforce of underpaid and underinsured content moderators hired by social media corporations to monitor objectionable content, often to their own emotional, physical, and psychological detriment. 

Roberts served as a consultant on the 2018 film, “The Cleaners,” an award-winning documentary on content moderation in the Philippines. In 2017, she convened the first known symposium on “All Things in Moderation” at UCLA, gathering scholars, experts, journalists, and other stakeholders to closely examine the social, political, legal, and cultural impacts of content moderation. She was named a 2018 Andrew Carnegie Fellow and is the recipient of the 2018 Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Barlow Award for her groundbreaking research on commercial content moderation.