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J. Nathan Matias, “CivilServant: Citizen Science Infrastructures for Governing Human and Machine Behavior in an Experimenting Society”

July 6 @ 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

CivilServant: Citizen Science Infrastructures for Governing Human and Machine Behavior in an Experimenting Society
J. Nathan Matias, MIT Media Lab Center for Civic Media

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 my PhD, I argue that to govern wisely, we need to remake large-scale social experiments to follow values of democracy. My dissertation opens with an intellectual history of democratic social experiments. Next, using quantitative and qualitative 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.

J. Nathan Matias recently completed a PhD at the MIT Media Lab Center for Civic Media and is an affiliate at the Berkman-Klein Center. Starting in September 2017, Nathan will be a post-doc at the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy, the Psychology, and Sociology departments.

Nathan conducts independent, public interest research on flourishing, fair, and safe participation online. With the CivilServant nonprofit, Nathan has supported millions of people to test ideas for improving social life online. By conducting large volumes of novel experiments on the governance of human and machine behavior, his research contributes practical knowledge and theory in the social sciences.

Nathan has extensive experience in tech startups, nonprofits, and corporate research, including SwiftKey, Microsoft Research, and the Ministry of Stories. His work has been covered extensively by international press, and he has published data journalism and intellectual history in the Atlantic, Guardian, PBS, and Boston Magazine.

Please bring your Northeastern ID (or other photo ID) when entering the building. This event is free and open to the public, but if you are not a member of the Northeastern community, please email Devin Gaffney (gaffney.d[at]husky.neu[dot]edu) to register.


July 6
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm


11th Floor
177 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115 United States


Network Science Institute