During the summer of 2019, I was a recipient of Media Democracy Fund’s PhDX Fellowship, a program that pairs PhD students in technical fields with policy-focused nonprofits to foster interdisciplinary communication and exchange of ideas. I was paired with the Arab-American Institute, where I created resources and blog posts on online disinformation, cybersecurity and the 2020 Census, in addition to participating in tech policy discussions alongside permanent AAI staff.

Here, I’d like to collect all the blog posts I completed over the summer in one easy-to-find location!

My first series of blog posts was on online disinformation.

  • What is disinformation? It’s not a new phenomenon, but how do we define it, and why is it so important now? (link)
  • This is a  general overview of how disinformation might affect the 2020 Census, introducing concepts that will be explained more thoroughly in blogs 3-5. (link)
  • There are several forms of misinformation about the 2020 Census that Census officials already anticipate will be spread by bad-faith actors looking to reduce the number of people responding. Learn what they are and what the Census really does for you! (link)
  • In addition to other forms of misinformation, the decennial Census is a target for scammers who pose as the real Census Bureau to steal information. With the addition of the online response option for the 2020 Census, phishing emails are expected to be a growing threat. (link)
  • Finally, since the 2020 Census will be the first Census with an online response option, there is also the possibility of cyberattacks (real or rumored) against the Census. Respondents need to feel safe online in addition to being safe. (link)

My second series was on differential privacy and the Census.

  • Why is data security is important for the Census? This post explains how the Census Bureau has historically upheld their obligation to keep your information confidential. (link)
  • Differential privacy is new to the 2020 Census. Here’s an explanation of the basic principles behind it, as well as how it affects your data security and what that means for researchers that rely on Census data. (link)

Finally, I wrote a stand-alone piece reacting to the news of the final audit report
(link) reviewing Facebook’s policies on civil rights issues and providing recommendations for the future

  • Over the past year, a team of outside auditors has evaluated Facebook’s policies on a number of civil rights issues and made recommendations for how Facebook should improve the way it handles civil rights. However, while these policies seem good on paper, there are still unanswered questions about how they will be implemented and whether they will be effective. (link)

My time as a PhDX Fellow was valuable and enlightening. I developed my skills at writing for a variety of audiences, including laypeople, people with policy backgrounds, and people with technical backgrounds. Additionally, I learned about tech policy, ranging from debates about key issues of cybersecurity and the Census to discussions of valuable psychological tools for combating disinformation such as inoculation theory. The PhDX Fellowship has nurtured my interest in tech policy and studying the practical effects of emerging technologies such as machine learning and differential privacy.