CIPA graduates set new media policy
By Sherrie Negrea
Three years ago, after arriving at Twitter as an intern, Olinda Hassan, MPA ’14, delved into a difficult policy question: Should the social media platform allow advertising for alcohol and gambling in Indonesia?
Hassan proposed that Twitter respect the country’s existing law, which banned promoting these products. By the end of the summer, she was offered a full-time position by her supervisor, Adelin Cai, MPA ’07, another graduate of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA).
“I felt like I was doing policy work that was making an impact,” says Hassan, now a policy specialist on safety and content at Twitter in San Francisco. “The company was growing, and I wanted to work at Twitter because policy issues were becoming an increasing challenge.”
For CIPA graduates, new media companies are an emerging frontier for policy development. Not only are these companies shaping their advertising regulations, they are grappling with such issues as freedom of speech, online abuse, and fraud.
“It sounds a little bit cliché, but I just feel that every day there’s something really different to think about,” says Cai, now head of policy at Pinterest in San Francisco. “The platforms are all really different, and just learning how we want to build our program is really interesting.”
Cai started at Google, where she crafted policy for its advertising products, and then moved to Twitter, where she led a team with a similar focus. At Pinterest, she oversees a broad range of policy development, including issues such as abuse and harassment.
“There’s a threshold—if we find hate speech on the platform, we do something about it,” Cai says. “If we find that people are searching for self-harm content, we provide resources to help them out.”
An hour south of Pinterest’s headquarters, Lucas Ackerknecht ’12, MPA ’14, works at Google’s Mountain View campus on a different aspect of advertising—fraud detection. Using skills he learned at Cornell, Ackerknecht analyzes Google traffic to determine if advertisers are gaming the system to funnel revenue to their websites.
For instance, Ackerknecht investigates the use of “bots,” programs that automatically click on advertisements to generate money for a website. Since those clicks are being generated by a computer program, not by people viewing the ad, the practice can be detected by observing patterns in traffic.
“We make sure the revenues spent on ads are valid and come from users who are engaged with our content and intend to click on something,” says Ackerknecht, who also updates policy for Google’s search products. “We need to monitor this in real time, proactively and reactively, to enforce our policies and prevent spam.”
The three CIPA graduates say the masters program helped prepare them for their current fields thanks to the diverse range of courses they took. Hassan, for example, studied entrepreneurship, microeconomics, and computer science at Cornell, equipping her to work on revenue products and help develop new tools for the platform.
“I’m a very academic person but my education showed me that you have to be able to apply what you learn,” says Hassan, who was managing editor of the Cornell Policy Review. “Getting involved in extracurricular activities taught me how to manage people.”
Ackerknecht, who worked at an energy company before arriving at Google, says new media is an attractive place to work in policy development because its environment is rapidly evolving to keep pace with technology. “The space changes very, very quickly,” he says. “It feels like organized chaos.”