The head of a US investigative journalism website has been given a civil rights award by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s foundation for her work uncovering racial bias in how technology is used.
Nabiha Syed, chief executive of The Markup, received the 2023 Digital Civil Rights Award from the Archewell Foundation and the US National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).
The Markup’s investigations have uncovered hidden racial bias in mortgage approval and student risk algorithms.
The site has also revealed how telecoms firms offer poorer, more racially diverse neighbourhoods slower internet speeds for the same price as those in other areas — and how Meta collects financial information through tax filing websites and health information from hospital systems.
Prince Harry and wife Meghan said Ms Syed was an “inspiration” to them and they are “proud” to support her work.
“When we founded this award with the NAACP, we wanted to highlight and uplift people across the country who are transforming the digital world for the better,” they said.
“Nabiha Syed is doing just that: harnessing her own expertise to push for safer, more inclusive online communities.
“Nabiha and her team are shedding light on some of the most critical issues of our time and in doing so, empowering all of us to reclaim some of our most basic freedoms: truth, safety and choice.
“She’s an inspiration to us and so many others, and we’re proud to support her incredibly important work.”
The royal couple say the award supports “a new generation of visionaries” who are creating “transformational” change advancing civil and human rights.
Ms Syed, who is a lawyer as well as a media executive, said: “Technology is the architecture of our reality — but unfortunately, that architecture can perpetuate inequality and injustice.
“Our job now is to challenge technology to serve us all, not just those who hold power and privilege.
“I am humbled and grateful to the NAACP and The Archewell Foundation for their support as we equip the public to demand better.”
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NAACP president and chief executive Derrick Johnson said: “We are honoured to award and support Nabiha Syed in her mission to make democracy work for all.
“While technology has made everything more accessible and everyone more connected, it has the potential to cause tremendous setbacks for civil rights, as we have witnessed in recent years.
“We need to support the greatest minds in tech who are developing equitable platforms and holding corporations accountable, and that is exactly what Nabiha Syed is doing.
“We are grateful to The Archewell Foundation and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who have been tremendous partners in the fight to advance civil and human rights across the tech sector.”
Ms Syed, who won a Marshall scholarship to study law at Oxford, is also a media lawyer who advised two US presidents on freedom of expression.
Her portrait hangs at Yale Law School, whose media law clinic she cofounded.
Before she joined The Markup, she was vice president and associate general counsel at BuzzFeed, where she successfully defended against libel litigation which resulted from the publication of the Steele — or “Trump-Russia” dossier — which alleged the former president’s campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
She is the second winner of the award and will be given $100,000 to advance new work, expand leadership and expertise, or “continue their impact in the field of digital equity”.