Dissertation Defense: J Nathan Matias

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Governing Human and Machine Behavior in an Experimenting Society

Ethan Zuckerman
Professor of the Practice
Director, MIT Center for Civic Media
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tarleton Gillespie
Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research

Elizabeth Levy Paluck
Professor, Department of Psychology
Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

We live in a culture that depends on technologies to record our behavior and coordinate our actions with billions of other connected people. Some of these actions perpetuate deep-seated injustices by humans and machines. Our abilities to observe and intervene in other people's lives also allow us to govern, forcing us to ask how to govern wisely and who should be responsible.

In this dissertation, I argue that to govern wisely, we need to remake large-scale social experiments to follow values of democracy. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, I spent time with hundreds of communities on the social news platform reddit and learned how they govern themselves. I designed CivilServant, novel experimentation software that communities have used to evaluate how they govern harassment and misinformation. Finally, I examined the uses of this evidence in community policy deliberation.

As we develop ways to govern behavior through technology platforms, we have an opportunity to ensure that that the benefits will be enjoyed, questioned, and validated widely in an open society. Despite common views of social experiments as scarce knowledge that consolidates the power of experts, I show how community experiments can scale policy evaluation and expand public influence on the governance of human and machine behavior.

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