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Berkman Center Investigates Internet & Democracy

Project to Focus on Middle East and Other Global Communities

Cambridge, MA - The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School announces the Internet and Democracy Project, an initiative that will examine how the Internet influences democratic norms and modes, including its impact on civil society, citizen media, government transparency, and the rule of law, with a focus on the Middle East. Through a grant of $1.5 million from the US Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative, the Berkman Center will undertake the study over the next two years in collaboration with its extended community and institutional partners.  As with all its projects, the Berkman Center retains complete independence in its research and other efforts under this grant.

The goal of this work is to support the rights of citizens to access, develop and share independent sources of information, to advocate responsibly, to strengthen online networks, and to debate ideas freely with both civil society and government. These subjects will be examined through a series of case studies in which new technologies and online resources have influenced democracy and civic engagement.  The project will include original research and the identification and development of innovative web-based tools that support the goals of the project.  The team, led by Project Director Bruce Etling, will draw on communities from around the world, with a focus on the Middle East.

“Around the world, citizens are using the Internet to affect democracies in intriguing and important ways,” said co-Principal Investigator John Palfrey, Executive Director of the Berkman Center. “But we don’t have a precise view of how this dynamic works. With the Middle East as our primary focus, our goal is to shed light on this phenomenon in constructive ways.”

“We want to help develop and test simple, lightweight tools for civic engagement online – tools that facilitate coordination among people who share a common cause, and good faith dialogue among people who disagree,” said co-Principal Investigator, Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of the Berkman Center and Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University.

This project is building on the experience of diverse Berkman Center initiatives aimed at examining the extent to which the Internet is fostering or undermining democratic institutions and processes around the world.  Through the generous support of other donors, the Berkman Center has undertaken projects that include: the H2O Project, which promotes the wide accessibility of academic discourse and teaching materials online; the Citizen Media Law Project, whose mission is to provide legal training and resources for individuals and organizations involved in citizen media as well as provide research and advocacy on free speech, newsgathering, intellectual property, and other legal issues related to citizen media, and; the OpenNet Initiative, which analyzes and documents Internet censorship and surveillance regimes worldwide, jointly with the University of Cambridge, the Oxford Internet Institute, and the University of Toronto.

About the Berkman Center

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School is proud to celebrate its tenth year as a research program founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development.  Founded in 1997, through a generous gift from Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman, the Center is now home to an ever-growing community of faculty, fellows, staff, and affiliates working on projects that span the broad range of intersections between cyberspace, technology, and society.  More information can be found at

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