Berkman Buzz: February 11, 2015

February 11, 2015
The Berkman Buzz is a weekly collection of work and conversations from around the Berkman community.
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Internet Monitor releases new report: "Arab Religious Skeptics Online"

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The Arab atheist community is largely an online phenomenon, with limited visibility offline and with virtually no umbrella groups. It exists in unfriendly, if not hostile, political, social, religious, and legal environments. This paper aims to deepen our understanding of virtual space by analyzing the Arab atheist community online: its content, discourse, and structure. The research examines the relationship between the networked information economy and the emergence of religious skeptics as manifested in Arab cyberspace. A central question is whether the Internet enhances individual autonomy in matters of faith. Given that the Arab atheist community online is prevailingly anonymous, the paper assesses the potential and limitations of anonymous and pseudonymous speech online and the extent to which this facilitates or hinders sharing, debating, community building, and collective action.

From the report, "Arab Religious Skeptics Online: Anonymity, Autonomy, and Discourse in a Hostile Environment"
About the Internet Monitor | @thenetmonitor

Media Cloud releases new report on the public debate over net neutrality

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In this paper we study the public debate over net neutrality in the United States from January through November 2014. We compiled, mapped, and analyzed over 16,000 stories published on net neutrality, augmented by data from Twitter,, and Google Trends. Using a mixed-methods approach that combines link analysis with qualitative content analysis, we describe the evolution of the debate over time and assess the role, reach, and influence of different media sources and advocacy groups in setting the agenda, framing the debate, and mobilizing collective action. We conclude that a diverse set of actors working in conjunction through the networked public sphere played a central, arguably decisive, role in turning around the Federal Communications Commission policy on net neutrality.

From the Media Cloud report, "Score Another One for the Internet? The Role of the Networked Public Sphere in the U.S. Net Neutrality Policy Debate"
About Media Cloud

Jonathan Zittrain argues why compelled backdoors for Internet communications apps are a bad idea

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...For at least fifty years democracies have kept eavesdropping within bounds by requiring a warrant or some other form of meaningful review before doing it. As telephone companies upgraded to digital (but still not internet-based) networks in the 1990s, governments around the world began to require that the new networks still allow for authorities to listen in to calls.

The rationale was simple and generally uncontroversial: as long as the government respected the rule of law, its demands for information shouldn't be trumped by new technological facts on the ground.

Why, then, you reasonably ask, should that long-established balance between security and privacy be disturbed simply because the internet has replaced telephony?

The answer, it turns out, is that baking government access into all internet apps will, in fact, not extend the long-established balance between security and privacy to all mediums of communication. It will upend it.

From his post, "An open letter to the British Prime Minister: 20th-century solutions won't help 21st-century surveillance"
About Jonathan | @zittrain

Ryan Budish reflects on the future of wearables


I was into wearables before there was Google Glass, Apple Watch, or the Moto 360. I was into them before cheap devices told you how much you had walked, run, slept, or eaten. In fact, I've been into them for so long now that I'm not quite sure when it started. I think it was around when I was 5, in 1986.

The wearables I started wearing as a kid and still wear today are hearing aids-or, as my audiologist euphemistically calls them, "amplification devices." Although many will never need hearing aids, today's tech firms are making it likely that, someday soon, tiny computers will become extensions of your body, just as they have been part of mine for nearly 30 years. Thanks to that experience, I feel as though I've had a sneak peek into our wearable future-and I can make some predictions about what it will look like.

From his piece on The Atlantic, "What My Hearing Aid Taught Me About the Future of Wearables"
About Ryan | @budish

Susan Crawford parses the FCC head's proposal for overseeing high-speed Internet services

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The news that the head of the Federal Communications Commission just proposed that the agency should use its authority - under Title II of the Telecommunications Act - to oversee high-speed Internet access services should be welcomed by all who use the Internet.

But let's be clear about what this is and isn't.

He's not proposing to "regulate the Internet" or the websites of businesses that use the Internet to reach customers. This would not constrain what Americans can say online, nor would it constrain the extraordinary innovation that has come about because of the Internet's borderless and permission-free nature.

From her piece in the New York Times, "The Internet Is Back to Solid Regulatory Ground"
About Susan | @scrawford

Alison Head asks Codeacademy cofounder about the company's success


The vast majority of what we call online education is traditional education re-packaged for the web. Most MOOCs videotape traditional college lectures and make them available online. They've used the Internet to make education more accessible, but haven't tested the boundaries of what web-based learning could look like...we set out to build an education experience that was truly web-native. We built a chunked, gamified, learn-by-doing teaching environment.

From Alison's latest interview for Project Information Literacy (PIL),"Zach Sims: Learning Real Skills that Matter,"
About Alison | About Project Information Literacy

metaLAB (at) Harvard premieres new documentary: "Cold Storage"

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Harvard President, Charles William Eliot, spoke of the library's needs at the turn of the 20th Century, proposing "not a crematorium for dead books, but only a receiving tomb." Receiving tombs were holding places for bodies that couldn't be buried in the frozen winter ground and so an apt analogy for those books that a library was not quite ready to retire permanently from the collection. With its single-module beginnings in 1986, the Harvard Depository was a module of narrow-aisled, space-saving, climate-controlled efficiency that was designed with the dark archive in mind-a place principally focused on preservation rather than convenient access.

From the metaLAB post, "Cold Storage Premiere Today"
About Cold Storage | About metaLAB

Cyberlaw Clinic files a DMCA anti-circumvention exemption comment

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On Friday, the Cyberlaw Clinic filed a comment on behalf of a coalition of medical device researchers in the Library of Congress's triennial rulemaking regarding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's anticircumvention provisions. As we noted in the blog post from when the Clinic filed an initial petition in this rulemaking, every three years the Librarian of Congress, at the recommendation of the Register of Copyrights, considers exemptions to the general law against circumventing technological measures that prevent the public from accessing copyrighted works. These exemptions are granted in cases where the law against circumventing technological measures around copyrighted works unduly prevents the public from making lawful uses of those works.

From Cyberlaw Clinic blog post, "Defending Research into Medical Devices "
About the Cyberlaw Clinic | @cyberlawclinic

RuNet Watchdog 'Baffled' by Twitter's Refusal to Block Kremlin's Opponents

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Roscomnadzor, the Russian telecommunications watchdog, seems to be unhappy with Twitter's latest transparency report, which demonstrates a significant increase in user data requests and takedown notices from the Russian government.

Alexandr Zharov, head of Roscomnadzor, told journalists that Twitter "has consistently refused to adhere to the demands of Russian legislation, including those aimed at combatting extremism," and said Twitter's position caused "legitimate" questions for a company operating inside Russia.

From Tetyana Lokot's Global Voices article, "RuNet Watchdog 'Baffled' by Twitter's Refusal to Block Kremlin's Opponents"
About Global Voices Online | @globalvoices

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The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University was founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development. For more information, visit

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Last updated

February 11, 2015