MIT Rewards Responsible Civil Disobedience With New $250,000 Prize

Peacful disruption of the status quo, for the good of society? Look to icons like Martin Luther King, Malala Yousafzai, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi and Galileo Galilei. Photo 12/Film Magic/Stephen F. Somerstein/Ulstein Bild/Getty

From the marchers in Selma, Alabama, to the protesters in Tiananmen Square, standing up to authority has proven to be dangerous. But now, civil disobedience could turn out to have a financial reward.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab opened applications last week for its new Disobedience Award, which aims "to highlight effective, responsible, ethical disobedience across disciplines, and around the world," according to the award site. Media Lab is offering a $250,000 cash prize, which will be awarded to a person or group "engaged in what we believe is an extraordinary example of disobedience for the benefit of society."

Media Lab director Joi Ito told the New York Times that the organization is out to find a role model for how to challenge injustice, "someone who gives us courage," he said. Ideally, he's hoping to find someone like 2014 Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani woman who defied the Taliban to demand an education, and survived being shot by a would-be assassin.

To be eligible for the award, Media Lab specifies that the recipient must have taken personal risks in making a statement of nonviolent defiance. That doesn't necessarily have to involve life-threatening risks. Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT's Center for Civic Media, told the Times that "responsible disobedience" could include acts such as Apple's resistance to unlocking iPhones for the FBI, or U.S. Department of Energy officials who resisted the incoming Trump Administration's attempt to identify employees involved in climate change conferences.

According to the Times, the award is being underwritten by PayPal and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman. Politico recently reported that Hoffman is also involved in a new organization, tentatively called Win the Future, which aims to help progressive political candidates and causes.

The deadline for applications is May 1. Entries will be judged by Media Lab's network of activists, scientists, designers, and engineers.