Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, gave Facebook’s former head of security $5 million for a new transparency project.
Alex Stamos tweeted Thursday, “Very happy to announce a $5M gift from @craignewmark to get our project off the ground. We need cross-disciplinary solutions to tech’s issues, and that means building infrastructure for research and collaboration and a new curriculum focused on trust and safety.”
The idea of the Stanford Internet Observatory is for Silicon Valley companies to share their tools and datasets.
“We are developing a novel curriculum on trust and safety that is a first in computer science education, and our research discoveries will lead to trainings and policy innovations to serve the public good. This gift from Craig Newmark will help make this curriculum a reality by allowing us to bring in diverse and innovative talent,” Stamos told TheWrap.
Newmark had similar sentiments, saying, “Disinformation and misinformation flow through social media and the news, propagated by bad actors and amplified by unaware consumers. The stakes in this information war are a free press, an informed public, and strong institutions. By working to address the ways that adversaries abuse information technology, especially social media platforms, the Stanford Internet Observatory and Alex Stamos are seriously sticking their necks out to protect American democracy.”
Stamos was in charge of Facebook’s security when it was a target of Russian manipulators in 2016, but has since left to teach at Stanford. The Kremlin-tied Internet Research Agency leveraged Facebook to spread misinformation before and after the presidential election — ultimately hitting 126 million users, the company told Congress. CEO Mark Zuckerberg at first scoffed at the notion that trolls impacted the election, before saying last fall he’s “dead serious” about preventing it from happening again.
Stamos has said his “personal responsibility for the failures of 2016” continues to weigh on him, but he wants to help others learn from what happened. (He’s also said Zuckerberg should be out as CEO at Facebook.)
As for preventing future instances of meddling, that’s where his Stanford Internet Observatory comes in. Now, it has the backing it needs to fulfill Stamos’ goal.
“You hear that a company took down 500 accounts belonging to a certain group that spreads disinformation, but don’t hear what we can learn from their operations so that we can do better in the future. Our research platform and courses at Stanford intend to bridge that gap,” he said.