Other Group

Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society

Website:

cyber.harvard.edu/

Location:

Cambridge, MA

Formation:

1998

Executive Director:

Urs Gasser

Type:

Technology Research Center

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society (BKC) is an organization based at Harvard University which studies the rise of the internet and its relationship to governance, advocating for a number of left-of-center legal reforms to address the changing digital landscape. [1]

Berkman Klein Center affiliates have close ties to left-of-center advocacy and liberal politics. Harvard professor and former Democratic Presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig, a staunch advocate for stricter government control of campaign speech, was one of BKC’s co-founders after the establishment of the center through a $5.4 million gift from the Berkman family. [2] Former Berkman Klein Center director John Palfrey is now president of the MacArthur Foundation, a substantial funder of left-of-center advocacy groups and left-of-center activists through its “Genius Grants” program.

Founding

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society (originally named the Center on Law and Technology in 1996) was formed in 1998 after the Berkman family donated $5.4 million to the institution. Klein was added to the name in 2016 after BKC received a gift of $15 million from Michelle Klein. The nonprofit has since expanded to become of the largest research centers in the country, conducting research on the online landscape and working with policymakers to encourage left-of-center internet regulation. [3]

Current Projects

Much of BKC’s work focuses on promoting research on internet behavior to inform legal regulations on the internet and other technologies. Much of this research ultimately informs a left-of-center policy agenda on privacy, speech, and other regulations.

Youth and Media (YaM) is a brings together individuals with varying ethnographic, sociological, and educational backgrounds to study how young people engage with the internet, develop new research methodologies that apply specifically to young people, and build digital environments that appeal to people ages 12 to 18. [4] Prior research projects have included studies of youth interaction with artificial intelligence, the creation of “digital education” playlists for young people, and the Digitally Connected initiative, a partnership with UNICEF that analyzes social media growth trends among young people. [5]

In recent years, BKC has intensified its focus on artificial intelligence, running programs on the applications of artificial intelligence to autonomous vehicles, the justice system, education, “global governance,” media, and transparency. [6] BKC has published several guides to artificial intelligence for policymakers, recommending regulations on artificial intelligence to policymakers around the world. [7] BKC has previously claimed that artificial intelligence poses a “disturbing risk of amplifying global digital inequalities” and argued that groups including poor communities, women, young people, LGBT individuals, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities will be ostracized by artificial intelligence without government interventions. [8] BKC has also worked with the private sector, especially on the question of autonomous vehicles, to try to encourage enhanced regulation and caution towards the use of artificial intelligence. [9]

BKC runs several additional projects that directly target the private sector, including the Digital Finance Initiative and ProjectVRM. The Digital Finance Initiative aims to study issues associated with the development of digital currencies, while ProjectVRM aims to provide “customer side” solutions to market problems. [10] [11] ProjectVRM promotes a left-of-center conception of the market which argues that businesses, as a rule, lock “customer choices” into limited boxes in order to “milk as much money as possible out of customers” by limiting their economic freedom. [12]

BKC also hosts the annual AGTech Forum, an event that brings technology companies, academics, and state attorneys general together for discussions about digital regulation and enforcement. [13] Harvard Law School Professor Christopher Bavitz, James Tierney, and Travis LeBlanc are advisors for this forum. Tierney was a former Democratic Attorney General in Maine, and LeBlanc worked in the California Attorney General’s Office. [14]

Most of BKC’s work centers around advocating for left-of-center governmental policies on international internet regulations, online speech, and privacy. [15] Most recently, BKC has argued that concerns about election security due to mail-in voting in the 2020 presidential election are “disinformation” driven by mainstream media outlets and President Donald Trump’s Twitter account. [16] BKC called President Trump’s tweets “by far” the most common driver of voting “misinformation” and claimed that the President’s statements fueled COVID-19 misinformation. [17]

This is not the first time BKC officials have condemned President Trump’s online behavior. In 2018, BKC faculty associate Susan Benesch defined President Trump’s speech as regularly meeting the criteria of “dangerous speech” that can lead to violence. [18] Following the 2018 sending of pipe bombs to Democratic leaders and the shooting of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Benesch claimed she “looked at social media accounts” of the alleged bomber and synagogue shooter and argued that they “echo so much of what Trump said.” [19]

Benesch continued to denounce President Trump in the same interview with the Washington Post, claiming that President Trump’s statements on illegal immigrations are based on the “white genocide” conspiracy theory, arguing that President Trump’s speech has made it “more acceptable among more people to denigrate and attack other groups of human beings,” and claiming that other Republicans are responsible for increasing the likelihood of violence in the United States for not opposing President Trump. [20]

Notable People

Lawrence Lessig, a professor of Law at Harvard University and staunch advocate for increased government control over election-related speech, is currently part of the faculty at the Berkman Klein Center. Prior to rejoining Harvard, Lessig taught at Stanford Law School. At Stanford, Lessig created a similar organization on the internet and society. [21] Lessig is a registered Democrat and ran for the Democratic nomination for President in the 2016 presidential election before dropping out 2 months after his announcement. [22] Lessig is a staunch advocate for restrictive campaign finance reform as a way of bringing about other left-of-center reforms, such as single-payer healthcare and increased regulation of the financial sector. [23]

John Palfrey was the director of the Berkman Klein Center from 2002-2008. He is currently the president of the MacArthur Foundation, a major funder of liberal activists and advocacy groups involved in environmentalist policy, reducing American military strength, increasing leniency for criminal offenders, engaging in left-of-center advocacy journalism, and local Chicago issues. [24] Yochai Benkler is a faculty member at BKC. As he was studying the 2016 election, Benkler argued that Fox News is a crucial media outlet for the extreme-right in the United States. [25]

References

  1. “Berkman Center for Internet & Society Becomes University-Wide Research Center.” Harvard elevates study of technology and society – The Harvard University Gazette, May 15, 2008 https://web.archive.org/web/20081022192227/http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2008/05.15/99-berkman.html ^
  2. “Timeline.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://cyber.harvard.edu/berkmanat10/Timeline. ^
  3. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed February 2, 2020 https://cyber.harvard.edu/about/faq ^
  4. “Youth and Media.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://cyber.harvard.edu/research/youthandmedia. ^
  5. “Towards a Global Community of Knowledge and Practice around Children, Youth, and Digital Media.” Digitally Connected. Accessed October 22, 2020. http://www.digitallyconnected.org/. ^
  6. “Projects & Tools.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://cyber.harvard.edu/projects-tools. ^
  7. “AI: Global Governance and Inclusion.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://cyber.harvard.edu/projects/ai-global-governance-and-inclusion. ^
  8. “Home.” AI and Inclusion. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://aiandinclusion.org/. ^
  9. “AI: Global Governance and Inclusion.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://cyber.harvard.edu/projects/ai-global-governance-and-inclusion. ^
  10. “Digital Finance Initiative.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://cyber.harvard.edu/research/digital_currency. ^
  11. “ProjectVRM.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://cyber.harvard.edu/research/projectvrm. ^
  12. “ProjectVRM.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://cyber.harvard.edu/research/projectvrm. ^
  13. “AGTech Forum.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed February 2, 2020  https://cyber.harvard.edu/research/AGTechForum ^
  14. [1] “AGTech Forum.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed February 2, 2020 https://cyber.harvard.edu/research/AGTechForum ^
  15. “Projects & Tools.” Berkman Klein Center. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://cyber.harvard.edu/projects-tools. ^
  16. Robertson, Adi. “Want to Fight Online Voting Misinformation? A New Study Makes a Case for Targeting Trump Tweets.” The Verge, October 5, 2020. https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/5/21499009/harvard-berkman-klein-center-paper-voting-misinformation-trump-tweets-media-framing. ^
  17. Robertson, Adi. “Want to Fight Online Voting Misinformation? A New Study Makes a Case for Targeting Trump Tweets.” The Verge, October 5, 2020. https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/5/21499009/harvard-berkman-klein-center-paper-voting-misinformation-trump-tweets-media-framing. ^
  18. Itkowitz, Colby. “An Expert on ‘Dangerous Speech’ Explains How Trump’s Rhetoric and the Recent Spate of Violence Are and Aren’t Linked.” The Washington Post. WP Company, October 30, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/10/29/professor-who-defined-dangerous-speech-how-trumps-rhetoric-pittsburgh-are-linked/?utm_term=.728c02613bed. ^
  19. Itkowitz, Colby. “An Expert on ‘Dangerous Speech’ Explains How Trump’s Rhetoric and the Recent Spate of Violence Are and Aren’t Linked.” The Washington Post. WP Company, October 30, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/10/29/professor-who-defined-dangerous-speech-how-trumps-rhetoric-pittsburgh-are-linked/?utm_term=.728c02613bed. ^
  20. Itkowitz, Colby. “An Expert on ‘Dangerous Speech’ Explains How Trump’s Rhetoric and the Recent Spate of Violence Are and Aren’t Linked.” The Washington Post. WP Company, October 30, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/10/29/professor-who-defined-dangerous-speech-how-trumps-rhetoric-pittsburgh-are-linked/?utm_term=.728c02613bed. ^
  21. [1] “Lessig’s Bio.” Stanford University. Accessed February 4, 2020 https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/2010-11/CodeAndRegulation/lessig.html ^
  22. Goodman, Jasper. “Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig Sues the New York Times for Defamation.” The Harvard Crimson, January 16, 2020 https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2020/1/16/lessig-nyt-lawsuit/ ^
  23. Lessig, Lawrence. “Why I Ran For President.” The New Yorker, January 27, 2016. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/why-i-ran-for-president. ^
  24. Daniels, Alex. “Q&A: Inside MacArthur’s Rapid Strategic Shift to ‘Big Bets’.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy. January 11, 2016 https://www.philanthropy.com/article/Q-A-Inside-MacArthur-s/234874 ^
  25. Shah, Hasit. “The UK’s First Black Royal Has Already Walked Away.” Quartz. Quartz, January 9, 2020 https://qz.com/1782173/prince-harry-and-meghan-step-down-as-senior-royals-amid-racism-claims/ ^
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Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society

23 Everett Street
2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138