Director of Insights, Mozilla Foundation

Master of Arts in Communication (’11)

Technology has become so ubiquitous, we often don’t even realize it’s there. But Samantha Burton is watching it carefully.

“I’m a real nerd for the internet,” she acknowledges. “It’s a fundamental part of modern society, but it’s imperfect, because it was created by people. And people have values and biases. My work is to try to make the internet more inclusive, safe and open.”

As the head of the Mozilla Foundation’s Insights team, Ms. Burton and her team do that in a number of ways: by publishing the Internet Health Report, by framing and sharing research findings on important internet issues; and by helping people and organizations who care about the same topics connect with each other.

“We often talk about the internet as if it came to be on its own, and we have no control over it,” she insists. “But we have the agency to step back when something’s not working and change it.”

Ms. Burton says her interest in technology and society was nurtured during her time in the School of Journalism and Communication.

“The program and the people I met had a great influence on me and really expanded my knowledge in the area,” she recalls.

After completing her Master’s degree in Communication, which included a thesis on technology’s role in education, Ms. Burton began looking for organizations that shared her values.

She spent four years working in international development policy and advocacy in Kenya and Canada. During this time, she became increasingly passionate about helping people understand how complex issues – like transparency and policy development – actually have an impact on their day-to-day lives, and how people can have an impact on those issues in return.

In particular, she saw an urgent need to do this with technology and the internet as it increasingly touches every part of work and life. Then, a former colleague introduced her to the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation.

“Our values were really aligned so he hired me to help with a few projects. We didn’t know exactly what my long-term role would be,” she recalls. But as with many success stories, all she needed was her foot in the door. She helped finalize a three-year strategy for the foundation—then she was hired to lead the “insights” part of it.

“We believe the internet should be open, accessible and safe for all people,” explains Ms. Burton, whose organization created the Firefox web browser. “We’re building a network of people who believe the same thing, and who want to make that a reality through technology, advocacy, research and education.”