MIT Center for Civic Media director Ethan Zuckerman today resigned his position in protest due to alleged business relationships between the MIT Media Lab, accused billionaire sex trafficker Jeff Epstein, and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito, a relationship that included trips Ito took to Epstein properties. Ito apologized last week for accepting money from Epstein for MIT Media Lab and startups backed by Ito.
“My logic was simple: The work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view,” Zuckerman said in a Medium post. “It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship.”
Former MIT professor and artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky was implicated earlier this month by a sex trafficking victim who said in a 2016 deposition that she was forced to have sex with him on Epstein’s island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A coroner ruled last week that Epstein committed suicide in his Manhattan jail cell.
Zuckerman said in the blog post that he had no involvement with Epstein and initially intended to leave MIT in May 2020 but that a Boston Globe article published today sped the announcement of his departure.
“I know that some friends are committed to staying within the lab and working to make it a better, fairer, and more transparent place, and I will do my best to support them over the months I remain at the Lab. For me, the deep involvement of Epstein in the life of the Media Lab is something that makes my work impossible to carry forward there.”
MIT Media Lab visiting scholar and Cornell University assistant professor J. Nathan Matias also said he plans to cut ties with the school.
“Like Ethan, I hope that the Media Lab and the Lab community can turn this terrible situation into a chance to become a better place,” he said in a Medium post.
VentureBeat reached out to MIT Media Lab for comment and will update this story if we hear back.
Update 10:20 am Aug. 21 to include reference to Ito apology statement and the departure of visiting scholar J. Nathan Matias.