Organization / Welcome back Dwight Knell, our Director of Operations
Dwight Knell headshot

As our organization grows, Meedan seeks to rigorously and regularly improve and scale our overall organizational operations. We are thrilled to welcome back Dwight Knell to the organization. Dwight previously served as Program Lead for the Credibility Coalition in 2018 and 2019 before he left to pursue his Master of Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where he most recently served as a research fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, where he studied media manipulation and disinformation.

Dwight brings considerable operational experience from his previous roles at Hacks/Hackers and Common Sense Media, and we are excited about the perspective he will bring to our regular operations at the organization as we grow and expand our efforts. Over the next few weeks, Meedan’s Operations team will be making further announcements about our ongoing work.

We invite you to get to know Dwight in this brief Q&A:

1. What originally brought you to Meedan, and why were you interested in coming back to the organization?

I became familiar with Meedan when I was producing MisinfoCon events in 2017-18. (Fun fact: I ended up producing three of them, in London, Kyiv and DC, and Nat Gyenes, who is now Meedan’s Digital Health Lab Director, took over my duties in London in 2018!). Meedan’s Director of Product at the time, An Xiao Mina, was on one of our London panels, and she and I naturally clicked. One thing led to another, and in 2018, I was brought on to Meedan for a year to serve as Program Lead for the Credibility Coalition (aka CredCo), an initiative co-founded and managed by Meedan and Hacks/Hackers. My job was to help scale the effort before I went to grad school. In that role, I worked closely with a ton of Meedanis and felt like part of the core team — it was such a great experience.

Fast forward two and a half years, when An and I meet up for drinks in Brooklyn to catch up in the brief respite between the Delta and Omicron variants in fall 2021. I mention that I’m looking for a new opportunity, she mentions that Meedan needs operational leadership during a period of rapid growth, and a return just seemed like a natural fit. I only worked at CredCo for less than a year, so the prospect of rejoining the awesomely talented team in a different capacity was extremely appealing.

As I experienced firsthand, Meedan is an amazing organization on so many levels: the people, the culture, the diversity, and of course, our work. I’ve officially been in the misinformation space since 2017, and during that time, I haven’t come across an organization quite like Meedan. It truly is one of a kind and being given the opportunity to help ramp up our global efforts in a major way is so exciting.

2. What opportunities do you see for operational growth at the organization?

Any rapidly growing organization can have growing pains. Luckily, An and the rest of the leadership team have done a tremendous job establishing an effective and efficient operations infrastructure. There are so many processes in place that just didn’t exist when I was at CredCo a few years ago.

As a former chief of staff, I really enjoy setting up and optimizing systems that make everyone’s lives easier. And that’s really how I think of my role here: ensuring that Meedanis have the tools and resources they need to be able to succeed and do their jobs effectively (and that they love working here, of course!). As we grow, more and more needs will arise, and it’s the operations team’s job to address those needs and implement solutions. For example, we’re already engaging in discussions with companies to improve our billing and invoicing systems as we move from one-off grants and contracts to more SaaS and data sales.

3. Tell us about your time at the Kennedy School. What did you study during your time there and during your work as a Shorenstein Center fellow?

Going back to school to earn my master’s degree was overall a great experience. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the entirety of my second year was online, which was a bummer, but it also allowed us to work on pandemic-specific policy projects (like this one on designing real-time public policy during a pandemic in India), which was very interesting. In general, HKS’s public policy program exposes students to a wide variety of disciplines, and I had the opportunity to study with some of the world’s most brilliant thinkers — Wendy Sherman (who’s now Deputy Secretary of State), Cornel West, David Gergen, Nancy Gibbs, Steve Krupin (President Obama’s former speechwriter), Khalil Muhammad and Cornell Brooks, among others. The first year was mostly core classes (including statistics and economics), but the second year was all electives, which was fun. And of course, the students I met there are incredibly motivated, amazing people who want to do good in the world. My thesis centered on commercial evictions in Boston during the COVID-19 pandemic and what policies could help small business owners - I wanted to focus on something topical that policymakers in a major city could use to enact change.

In 2020, Dr. Joan Donovan, whom Meedan CEO Ed Bice actually first introduced me to at RightsCon Toronto, recruited me to be her research assistant and course assistant, and that’s how I got involved in the Shorenstein Center again (after an intitial stint in 2017 there as a political advisor). After graduation, I joined the Center as a research fellow, alongside Jonathan Ong, whom Meedan collaborates with as part of our FACT CHAMP project; Maria Ressa(!); Jane Lytvynenko and Brandy Zadrozny, among others. Her research team there, the Technology and Social Change Project, produces incredible work on mis and disinformation. Some of the projects I worked on included the Media Manipulation Casebook, which distributes a variety of case studies that fit within Dr. Donovan’s media manipulation lifecycle, and more recently, the Shorenstein Center News Leaders program, where I helped lead a series of meetings in which media executives came together to discuss how to combat misinformation.

4. What role do you think Meedan can play in addressing questions around information disorder, mis- and disinformation, and the larger media ecosystem?

Meedan’s global footprint makes us an integral player in the space. A lot of organizations only focus on domestic issues, but our work reaches every continent, with partners in Brazil, Egypt, Lebanon, Mexico, India, the Philippines and others. And we’re not just playing at a high level in these countries — we’re getting deep into the weeds to help combat mis and disinformation at a granular level as well. This makes us a very appealing partner to like-minded folks around the world.

And our core products/projects are simply stellar: Check Global, the Check platform, our third-party fact-checking efforts, Digital Health Lab, content moderation (to name just a few) are all essential tools in the larger fight against mis and disinformation, to promote free and fair elections, to protect the free press, and to ensure equitable access to information worldwide. I should mention that I’m also going to be helping us significantly grow our communications efforts so we can message all this effectively. People need to know about our crucial work!

5. Last you worked at Meedan, there was no pandemic, and the pandemic shaped your own graduate studies experience. Can you talk about the potential impact Meedan can have on public health discourse?

What’s crazy is that I have this specific memory of being at dinner with the Meedan team in Perugia in April 2019 - and that’s when Nat found out that her initial RWJF public health grant proposal had been accepted. We all celebrated, but of course had no idea that the world would be in total lockdown less than a year later. Needless to say, the pandemic has spawned an inordinate amount of mis and disinformation that is literally costing us lives - so our work has never been more important or timely. And this relates not only in the context of the Digital Health Lab but also with our work more broadly. There has arguably never been a time in Meedan’s existence in which our efforts have so much potential to literally change lives; we’re helping people discern what’s true and what’s not in a complex and convoluted digital world. The possibilites for us are endless.

6. Tell us some fun facts about Dwight.

  • I’m a pretty active person: I’ve summitted Mount Kilimanjaro and reached Mount Everest Base Camp, and I typically go on an annual weeklong charity bike ride with a great organization called Climate Ride. This past September, we rode some 300 miles through Maine.
  • On the side, I love playing music (piano and bass) and acting. I’m actually taking an acting class starting in the spring in NYC to get back into it.
  • I love movies. If there’s interest, I’m actually thinking about starting a Meedan film club 🎥
  • I grew up about a mile away from where I live now in Brooklyn! Definitely feels like home, and the official Meedan NYC office will be opening up soon :)
  • I have a 9-month-old puppy named Wally (picture below; I send out way too many pics of him — sorry in advance). He’s cute but a LOT.

Wally the Dog!

Dwight's dog Wally.

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