Tackling Technology's Unintended Consequences

With a new center at Duke, a former Facebook policy director hopes to explore solutions for vexing policy issues in the tech world.

New podcast for Matt Peralta

Matt Perault (MPP ‘08), a former director of public policy at Facebook, returned to campus in October to direct Duke’s new Center on Science & Technology Policy and teach at the Sanford School of Public Policy. We asked Matt about his goals for the center and for his new tech policy podcast, “TBD: Technology by Design.”

Q: What brought you back to Duke?

Perault: I’ve always been interested in trying to develop concrete solutions to difficult policy challenges.  While working at Facebook as the head of global policy development, I saw how the politicization of the tech policy debate made it difficult to work collaboratively to develop smart regulation of the tech sector.

Moving from industry to academia, I see a real opportunity to do this type of work. An academic setting is a great launchpad for in-depth policy development and events that bring together experts in the field.

Duke is investing in expanding its tech offerings, so it’s the perfect place to build a center like this.  And it’s wonderful to be home — I grew up in Chapel Hill and earned my MPP from the Sanford School of Public Policy. 

 

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the new Center?

Perault: An academic institution can help translate concerns about technology into concrete policy options that address potential unintended consequences of technology and social media. We need to be able to respond quickly and engage directly in the policy debate. My hope is that the center will be sufficiently nimble to tackle new policy issues as they emerge.  

I want to create detailed proposals for smart regulation that would address concerns people have with technology, while leaving sufficient room for innovation and protecting fundamental rights such as freedom of speech. Knee-jerk reactions to media pressure are not adequate long-term responses. I believe there is a more robust discussion to be had.

For instance, a UNC colleague and I recently published an op-ed in the New York Times suggesting four ways to fix the social media political ads problem without banning them, and then we held an event at the Sanford School to explore the issue in more detail. 

I look forward to building a community of students and faculty who share a desire to find innovative policy solutions to the pressing issues in tech policy.

 

Q: You recently launched a new podcast. How will it help further that mission?

Perault: Our new podcast “TBD: Technology by Design” is an opportunity to explore how people experience technology and tech policy. Guests will range from industry practitioners to small businesses using technology to reach customers and grow their businesses. 

For instance, we have one upcoming episode on the new tech “cold war” between the U.S. and China. Another looks at how a Durham nut butter company uses technology to reach potential customers in other parts of the country.

 

Matt Perault is associate professor of the practice in Sanford School and the Duke Initiative for Science & Society. Learn more about the Center on Science and Technology Policy here. Find new episodes of the podcast “TBD: Technology By Design” on iTunes or wherever you find your favorite content.