What should digital public spaces look like?

For the third and final installment of our series exploring the problems and solutions of Big Tech, we heard from four organizations—Amara, Mozilla, Wikimedia Foundation and VolunteerMatch—that have built digital public spaces that serve all communities. These organizations, whose business models center on people over profit, strive to be inclusive, to inform, to connect, and to protect privacy.

“These organizations show us that it doesn’t have to be this way,” said Alaphia Zoyab, advocacy director of Reset, who moderated the discussion.

To share insights and takeaways on how public spaces should look and act, we invited:

  • Aleli Alcala, Chief Operations and Sustainability Officer, Amara

Alcala offered insights on Amara’s initiative to ensure that quality, accurate information is available and delivered in many different languages to communities that are underserved by the current media landscape. Amara, a project of the Participatory Culture Foundation, is a technology platform that translates and disseminates video and other types of content. Alcala shared details about Amplifying Voices, which convenes a global group of volunteers to translate content to and from their native languages, and then share the content within their own communities. These volunteers also provide insights on what content would be most valuable to their communities.

  • Anusha Alikhan, Senior Communications Director, Wikimedia Foundation

Alikhan asked: What if the web looked more like Wikipedia? With anonymous users and published sources, privacy and transparency are the cornerstones of Wikipedia’s mission to freely share knowledge. With strong community-determined guidelines, along with the ability for anyone to edit an article, Alikhan says, Wikipedia is an excellent example of infrastructure that works for the people.

  • Greg Baldwin, CEO, VolunteerMatch

Baldwin, whose organization matches volunteers to opportunities in the nonprofit sector, said the VolunteerMatch platform works because it operates outside of commercialism—a guardrail afforded by philanthropy. He likened the Internet to New York City, except—unlike the city—the web today lacks the many public spaces that we take for granted in the real world. “It’s like Big Tech owns all the real estate,” he said, and the public holds none.

  • Kathy Pham, Fellow and Co-director of Responsible Computer Science, Mozilla

Pham works on Mozilla’s Responsible Computer Science Challenge, whose mission is to think about the people who build these technologies. The fund has been looking specifically at the undergraduate level, just as students are learning to build this technology. The fund is also working to change undergraduate computer curriculum to help students understand the ethics of what they’re building. “It’s not just about the most beautiful way to build, but how to build it responsibly,” Pham said.

  • Alaphia Zoyab, (moderator) Advocacy Director, Reset

Zoyab asked a number of questions, but specifically how much philanthropy should focus on pushing for regulatory interventions by government to rein in some of the problems with Big Tech in the U.S. Pham said philanthropy involved in activism and tech work should be thinking about how, even indirectly, to impact or influence policy making.

Watch the discussion:

About the Author
Nina Sachdev

Nina Sachdev

Director of Communications

Nina Sachdev brings more than 20 years of journalism, news editing and marketing experience to her role as a communications director for Media Impact Funders (MIF). Since joining MIF in 2016, Nina has been leading efforts to showcase the power of media, journalism and storytelling to the philanthropic community. Through strategic communications, member engagement strategies and high-profile speaking events, Nina works to educate and inspire funders to make more strategic decisions about their media funding. Nina brings with her from her journalism days a special focus on sexual assault and reproductive health, and is a tireless advocate for the importance of quality, impactful media and journalism around these topics.
Nina cut her teeth in journalism at The Dallas Morning News, where—as an intern on the copy desk—she was tasked with editing the obituaries of famous people who hadn’t yet died. Since then, Nina has worked at The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, The Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Weekly in almost every editorial capacity imaginable, including senior editor, A1 editor (when that used to be a thing) and slot (does anyone remember that being a thing?).
Nina is the creator and editor of the award-winning The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse, which exposes the reality of healing from the effects of sexual abuse. Nina holds an M.A. in journalism from Temple University. She lives in Philadelphia with her family.