CCT Professor Highlight: Mark MacCarthy

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CCT is excited to feature Professor Mark MacCarthy in our latest professor highlight!

Mark MacCarthy has been teaching at CCT since the program first started in 1999, where he was brought in to teach a course in Comms policy. He has taught at least one course a semester since then on a broad range of topics. He began with teaching communications, then turned to internet policy and the economics of network industries, then moved into policy issues and started focusing on internet freedom, privacy, AI and regulation, and the evolution of network industries. Throughout his whole range of courses, in many cases he would see what was happening in the tech policy world to stay ahead of the game on topics such as internet freedom and AI.

MacCarthy has long been a policy person in DC. He went to the original Hillary Clinton internet freedom speech in January 2010 and told then-CCT-director Professor David Lightfoot to do a course on the subject, which ended up being one of the first courses on that subject in the country. He wants his courses and his students to have the ability to stay at the forefront of cutting-edge developments in the tech policy space.

MacCarthy was the Senior Vice President for Public Policy at the Software & Information Industry Association for 8 years, where he directed initiatives and advised member companies on technology policy, privacy, AI ethics, content moderation and competition policy in tech. After he retired in 2019, he started to work as a nonresident Senior Fellow at Institute for Technology Law and Policy at Georgetown Law with Paul Ohm and Julie Cohen. In 2020, he began working with Brookings as a nonresident Senior Fellow for technology innovation, which has kept him familiar with tech policy issues for the past four years. Before working at the Software & Information Industry Association he was head of public policy for Visa, worked at public policy consulting firm Wexler|Walker Group, ran the government affairs office for Capital Cities/ABC, and was a professional staff member for Representative John Dingell, when he was the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds a Ph.D in philosophy from Indiana University and an MA in economics from the University of Notre Dame.

Due to paying close attention to these pertinent issues in his life, he was able to see a lot of things coming. He predicted competition policy being a big deal after big tech and did a class on that. He noticed privacy becoming a big issue ten years ago and brought in a chief policy officer for IBM to teach a course on the topic, which he then took over until Professor Meg Jones joined CCT. For the past two years he has taught a course in the spring semester focused on social media content moderation.

MacCarthy’s Social Media Content Moderation class is broken into two parts over the course of the semester. The first one is a little abstract due to his philosophy background and asks questions such as why do we care about free speech, what is our commitment to the ideal, what goes wrong without it, and why we need it. The beginning part of course aims to get student ideas straight on this theme and clarity around why we want a regime of free speech, but we study the critics of free speech as well. Students pay attention to hate speech, disinformation, speech aimed to deprive people of physical/mental health, perjury, etc. Many people think of them as details, while others say what you limit in the area of speech is the key thing. In the second part of the course, we go through a series of issues in the area on social media and content moderation: how much transparency do we need and why do we need it, sec 230 reform, kids online safety, political pluralism, state and supreme court cases regulating social media, and what a dispute resolution system for social media looks like as some mechanism of accountability. He’s scheduled to teach the CCT course on AI ethics and policy in spring 2025.

MacCarthy’s book, Regulating Digital Industries: How Public Oversight Can Encourage Competition, Protect Privacy, and Ensure Free Speech, was published by Brookings last October. He explains this is a good book for students to look at and he incorporated it into his class since there is an entire chapter on content moderation of social media. He is currently focused on four different areas in his research: competition policy in tech and paying attention to those issues, privacy issues here and in Europe, social media regulation and what’s important there, and thinking about what to do on AI, especially focused on issues like AI and bias or discrimination.

MacCarthy greatly enjoys being a part of the CCT program. He stated that it is an astonishingly collegial and wonderful scholarly community where different perspectives are welcomed, ideas are exchanged freely and openly, and students are encouraged to dissent and explore in diverse ways. He encouraged students to take advantage of being located in DC, as there is an incredible array of opportunities to talk about the policy issues they study in class. Students should go to different DC events about the very topics they are studying to see them not only as academic subjects but as the everyday business of the Washington policy community. He encouraged all students not to miss that opportunity to attend some of the vast array of these events that take place around Washington, even if they aren’t policy students.

A fun fact about Professor MacCarthy: He is a big-time Taylor Swift fan!