Current Berkman People and Projects

Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.

The list of blogs being aggregated here can be found at the bottom of this page.

November 16, 2017

Justin Reich
From Thought to Action - Taking Control of Innovation
As educators, we all possess the power of innovation because we can control our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

by Beth Holland at November 16, 2017 11:20 PM

Digital Justice: Technology and the Internet of Disputes
eBay resolves 60 million disputes a year and Alibaba 100 million. How do they do that? At the other less impressive extreme, in 2015 the IRS hung up on telephone callers 8.8 million times without making contact. Are there online solutions for that? Disputes are a “growth industry” on the internet, an inevitable by-product of innovation but often harmful to individuals. Drawing on his recent book, Digital Justice: Technology and the Internet of Disputes, (co-authored with Orna Rabinovich), Professor Katsh considers opportunities for online dispute resolution and prevention in ecommerce, health care, social media, employment, and the courts. Find out more about this event here:

by the Berkman Klein Center at November 16, 2017 11:06 PM

Ethan Zuckerman
Who Filters Your News? Why we built

Roughly ten years ago, as phones became smartphones and Facebook and Twitter began their rise towards ubiquity, a fundamental social shift took place: the majority of people in the developed world became content creators. The bloggers of the early 2000s were joined by hundreds of millions of people posting videos to YouTube channels, pictures to Instagram, essays to Medium and countless status updates from 140 characters to Facebook wall posts. Before the internet, publishing had been a distinction, with a limited number of people lucky, talented or wealthy enough to share ideas or images with a wide audience. After the rise of social media, publishing became a default, with non-participation the exception.

There’s a problem with this rise in shared self-expression: we’ve all still got a constant and limited amount of attention available. For those creating content, this means the challenge now is not publishing your work, but finding an audience. The problem for those of us in the audience – i.e., all of us – is filtering through the information constantly coming at us.

Before the internet, we relied on newspapers and broadcasters to filter much of our information, choosing curators based on their styles, reputations and biases – did you want a Wall Street Journal or New York Times view of the world? Fox News or NPR? The rise of powerful search engines made it possible to filter information based on our own interests – if you’re interested in sumo wrestling, you can learn whatever Google will show you, even if professional curators don’t see the sport as a priority.

Social media has presented a new problem for filters. The theory behind social media is that we want to pay attention to what our friends and family think is important. In practice, paying attention to everything 500 or 1500 friends are interested in is overwhelming – Robin Dunbar theorizes that people have a hard limit to how many relationships we can cognitively maintain. Twitter solves this problem with a social hack: it’s okay to miss posts on your feed because so many are flowing by… though Twitter now tries to catch you up on important posts if you had the temerity to step away from the service for a few hours.

Facebook and other social media platforms solve the problem a different way: the algorithm. Facebook’s news feed usually differs sharply from a list of the most recent items posted by your friends and pages you follow – instead, it’s been personalized using thousands of factors, meaning you’ll see posts Facebook thinks you’ll want to see from hours or days ago, while you’ll miss some recent posts the algorithm thinks won’t interest you. Research from the labs of Christian Sandvig and Karrie Karahalios suggests that even heavy Facebook users aren’t aware that algorithms shape their use of the service, and that many have experienced anxiety about not receiving responses to posts the algorithm suppressed.

Many of the anxieties about Facebook and other social platforms are really anxieties about filtering. The filter bubble, posited by Eli Pariser, is the idea that our natural tendencies towards homophily get amplified by filters designed to give us what we want, not ideas that challenge us, leading to ideological isolation and polarization. Fake news designed to mislead audiences and garner ad views relies on the fact that Facebook’s algorithms have a difficult time determining whether information is true or not, but can easily see whether information is new and popular, sharing information that’s received strong reactions from previous audiences. When Congress demands action on fake news and Kremlin propaganda, they’re requesting another form of filtering, based on who’s creating content and on whether it’s factually accurate.

Twitter’s problems with trolls, bots, extremists and harassment are filtering problems as well. Prominent users like Lindy West have left the system complaining that Twitter is unwilling to remove serial abusers from the platform, or to give people abused on the service stronger tools to filter out and report abuse. As questions arise about Russian influence on the platform, Twitter may need to aggressively identify and filter out automated accounts which are used to promote pro-Trump or pro-Kremlin hashtags – the Hamilton68 Project focuses on tracking these accounts and understanding their influence as Twitter since the service has not yet filtered them out, either banning them or allowing audiences to block them from their feed.

Why don’t social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter give users powerful tools to filter their own feeds? Right now, the algorithms control what we see, but we can’t control them. As the internet maxim goes, “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”. Both Twitter and Facebook offer powerful filtering tools that allow advertisers to target exactly who they want their ads to reach. You can pay money and advertise to women of color between 40-60 in Seattle, but you can’t choose to read perspectives from those women. While we’ve seen great innovation from projects like BlockTogether, which lets users who experience harassment share Twitter blocklists, we’ve seen surprisingly little innovation on user-controllable filters from the platforms themselves. And unless we see something like public-service social media platforms, it’s unlikely that we will see platforms give users much more control over what they see.

Algorithmic filters optimize platforms for user retention and engagement, keeping our eyes firmly on the site so that our attention can be sold to advertisers. We thought it was time that we all had a tool that let us filter social media the ways we choose. What if we could choose to challenge ourselves one day, encountering perspectives from outside our normal orbits, and relax another day, filtering for what’s funniest and most viral. So we built Gobo.

What’s Gobo?

Gobo is a social media aggregator with filters you control. You can use Gobo to control what’s edited out of your feed, or configure it to include news and points of view from outside your usual orbit. Gobo aims to be completely transparent, showing you why each post was included in your feed and inviting you to explore what was filtered out by your current filter settings.

To use Gobo, you link your Twitter and Facebook accounts to Gobo and choose a set of news publications that most closely resembles the news you follow online. Gobo retrieves recent posts from these social networks and lets you decide which ones you want to see. Want more posts from women? Adjust a slider to set the gender balance of your feed… or just click on the “mute all men” button and listen to the folks who often get shouted down in online dialogs. Want to broaden the perspectives in your feed? Move the politics slider from “my perspective” to “lots of perspectives” and Gobo introduces news stories from sources you might not otherwise find.

How does it work?

Gobo retrieves posts from people you follow on Twitter and Facebook and analyzes them using simple machine learning-based filters. You can set those filters – seriousness, rudeness, virality, gender and brands – to eliminate some posts from your feed. The “politics” slider works differently, “filtering in”, instead of “filtering out” – if you set the slider towards “lots of perspectives”, our “news echo” algorithm will start adding in posts from media outlets that you likely don’t read every day.

That sounds great! Why isn’t everyone using it?

There are some serious limitations to Gobo at present. It’s slow – we’re generally showing you posts that appeared on Twitter three hours ago. As we refine and scale the tool, we’ll get faster, but right now, Gobo’s a good way to see how algorithms shape your newsfeed, but not a great way to keep up with breaking news.

You’ll also notice that there’s probably a lot less content from Facebook than from Twitter. Facebook allows us to show you posts from public pages, but not from your friends’ individual pages. We’re exploring ways you might be able to feed your whole, unedited Facebook news feed through Gobo, but we’re not there yet.

You may also notice that filters don’t always work the way you’d expect. We’re using off-the-shelf open source machine learning filters – we may end up fine-tuning these over time, but we don’t have the advantage of billions of user sessions to learn from the way Facebook does. It’s also a good reminder that these filters are always probabilistic and inexact – you get to see where our system screws up, unlike with Facebook!

Who built it?

Gobo is a project of the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab and Comparative Media Studies at MIT. The idea for the project came from conversations between Chelsea Barabas, Neha Narula and Ethan Zuckerman around decentralized web publishing, leading to the report “Back to the Future: The Decentralized Web”. Rahul Bhargava, Jasmin Rubinovitz and Alexis Hope built the tool itself, with Jasmin focusing on the AI filters, Alexis on the product design and Rahul on integration and deployment.

Our work on Gobo and on decentralized publishing, was made possible by the Knight Foundation, the founding donors behind our Center and supporters of some of our wackiest and most speculative work. We thank them for their trust and support.

Where’s Gobo going in the future?

We want Gobo to be more inclusive, incorporating content from new, decentralized social networks like Mastodon and Steemit, as well as existing networks like Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr. We really want to find a way to let users filter their Facebook feeds, as bringing transparency to that process was an inspiration for the process. We’d like to integrate RSS feed reading, possibly turning Gobo into a replacement for the late great Google Reader. And we’d like it to be lots faster. In the long run, we’d love to see Gobo run entirely in the browser so we don’t have central control over what content you’re seeing – an intermediate step may include allowing people to run local Gobo servers ala Mastodon or Diaspora.

That said, the real goal behind Gobo is to open a conversation about who gets to filter what you see on the web. If we prompt a conversation about why platforms don’t give you more control over what you see, we’d be really happy. If Facebook or another platform incorporated ideas from Gobo in their own design, we’d throw a party. We’d even invite you.

Can I help make Gobo better?

Heck yeah. There are bound to be lots of bugs in this prototype. Beyond that, Gobo is an open source project and we’ll be sharing source code on the MIT Media Lab github repository. We’ve designed the prototype to treat ML filters as modules that can be dropped into our processing queue — we’d love ideas of other text or image analysis modules we can introduce as filters for Gobo.

Why the name?

Ever seen a stage production where the lights look like they’re coming through a window, or the leaves of a forest? Those effects are created with gobos, filters cut from sheets of metal and placed in front of a light to shine a particular pattern on a curtain or other surface. We’re theater geeks, and it seemed like the perfect name for a product that lets you experiment with the effects of filters.

by Ethan at November 16, 2017 06:35 PM

November 14, 2017

Berkman Center front page
Digital Justice: Technology and the Internet of Disputes


featuring author Ethan Katsh


Our society is blessed with new technologies yet also burdened with numerous and novel disputes as they are used. In his new book Digital Justice: Technology and the Internet of Disputes, Professor Katsh looks at many of these disputes, why they arise, how they may be resolved and, in some cases, even prevented.

Parent Event

Berkman Klein Luncheon Series

Event Date

Nov 14 2017 12:00pm to Nov 14 2017 12:00pm
Thumbnail Image: 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

Ebay resolves 60 million disputes a year and Alibaba 100 million. How do they do that?  At the other less impressive extreme, in 2015 the IRS hung up on telephone callers 8.8 million times without making contact. Are there online solutions for that? Disputes are a “growth industry” on the internet, an inevitable by-product of innovation but often harmful to individuals. Drawing on his recent book, Digital Justice: Technology and the Internet of Disputes, (co-authored with Orna Rabinovich), Professor Katsh will consider opportunities for online dispute resolution and prevention in ecommerce, health care, social media, employment, and the courts.

About Ethan

Professor Katsh is widely recognized as one of the founders of the field of online dispute resolution (ODR). Along with Janet Rifkin, he conducted the eBay Pilot Project in 1999 that led to eBay’s current system that handles over sixty million disputes each year. With Professor Rifkin, he wrote Online Dispute Resolution: Resolving Conflicts in Cyberspace (2001), the first book about ODR. Since then, he has published numerous articles about ODR and co-edited Online Dispute Resolution: Theory and Practice, which received the International Institute for Conflict Resolution book award for 2012. The frequently mentioned metaphor of technology as a “Fourth Party” was first proposed in Katsh and Rifkin’s Online Dispute Resolution (2001).

Professor Katsh is a graduate of the Yale Law School and was one of the first legal scholars to recognize the impact new information technologies would have on law. In The Electronic Media and the Transformation of Law (Oxford University Press, 1989) and Law in a Digital World (Oxford University Press, 1995), he predicted many of the changes that were to come to law and the legal profession. His articles have appeared in the Yale Law Journal, the University of Chicago Legal Forum, and other law reviews and legal periodicals. His scholarly contribution in the field of law and technology has been the subject of a Review Essay in Law and Social Inquiry.

Professor Katsh has served as principal online dispute resolution consultant for the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), a federal agency mandated to provide mediation in Freedom of Information Act disputes. During 2010-2011, he was the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Haifa (Israel). He has been Visiting Professor of Law and Cyberspace at Brandeis University and is on the Board of Editors of Conflict Resolution Quarterly. He was principal dispute resolution advisor to and is Chairman of the Board of Advisors of His principal current research concern involves issues related to health care and, more particularly, to disputes over electronic health records (see How Patients Can Improve the Accuracy of their Medical Records).

Since 1996, Professor Katsh has been involved in a series of activities related to online dispute resolution. He participated in the Virtual Magistrate project and was founder and co-director of the Online Ombuds Office. In 1997, with support from the Hewlett Foundation, he and Professor Rifkin founded the National Center for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts. During the Summer of 1999, he co-founded, which later worked with eResolution to become one of the first four providers accredited by ICANN to resolve domain name disputes. From 2004 – 2010, Professor Katsh was co-Principal Investigator, with Professors Lee Osterweil and Lori Clarke and Dr. Norman Sondheimer of the UMass Department of Computer Science, of two National Science Foundation funded projects to model processes of online dispute resolution. This work was coordinated with the United States National Mediation Board.

Professor Katsh has chaired the International Forums on Online Dispute Resolution, held in Geneva in 2002 and 2003, Melbourne in 2004, Cairo in 2006, Liverpool in 2007, Hong Kong in 2007, Victoria (Canada) in 2008, Haifa (Israel) in 2009, Buenos Aires in 2010, Chennai (India) in 2011, Prague in 2012,  Montreal in 2013,  Silicon Valley in 2014, New York in 2015 and The Hague and Beijing in 2016 and in Paris in June 2017. Professor Katsh received the Chancellor’s Medal and gave the University of Massachusetts Distinguished Faculty Lecture in October 2006. In 2014-2015, he was an  Affiliate of Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.  He is the 2017 recipient of the D’Alemberte-Raven Award from the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution.


Ethan Katsh & Colin Rule, “What We Know and Need to Know about Online Dispute Resolution”

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by doyolu at November 14, 2017 05:00 PM

November 10, 2017

Harry Lewis
"Let me get this straight"
So began the email I received from an alum a couple of days ago. It went on, "Harvard bans final clubs, and puts on this workshop?" He linked to some stories about the workshop on anal sex being offered during Harvard Sex Week. (Check the Tuesday evening schedule.)

Stop laughing. I want to make a serious point here.

I am not against Sex Week. In fact, I like Sex Week. It is sad and strange that many 18 to 22 year olds are no more knowledgeable about sex than their parents or grandparents were. That said, it is a reasonable question whether this particular form of educational programming should be a high priority. I would rank Sex Week above some other things we do but below many more things that we should be doing but aren't. But that is just me. Others will have other views—chacun à son goût. Of course, donors also have their own tastes, and I know some who are redirecting their annual donations accordingly.

What I hate is our pretense of moral superiority. The weaponization of "inclusion" is the most sanctimonious exercise I can remember at Harvard, and that is saying something in a place never known for its humility. 

On how many occasions over the past two years have deans, presidents, and faculty members lectured opponents of the single-gender ban on the basis that being a member of a single-gender club was inconsistent with Harvard's deepest values? Or, as one faculty member put it, that of course we don't tolerate intolerant people—where the category of intolerant people includes women who hang out off campus for a few hours a week with other women for reasons they know best? (Read the letter written by 23 undergraduate women.)

The arc of history, we are told (seriously, we have heard that phrase twice), points toward the day when every single member of this community feels completely comfortable in Harvard's social environment, where everyone is welcome in every organization that any student might join. I am tired of being told that students who want to live their private lives as they wish are bad people.

Guess what? Some students have cultural, moral, or religious objections to anal sex, and a number of other practices Sex Week is teaching. Some students are made uncomfortable by advertisements about sexual activities of any kind.

I know the answer. Nobody has to go to the anal sex workshop. It is "inclusive," because anyone can go to it. "Exclusive" means that you are not allowed to go, like a sorority. No matter that no Harvard man has ever wanted to join any sorority. They are exclusive! They are at odds with our deepest values! They are all these terrible things that the anal sex workshop is not. The anal sex workshop is inclusive! The Women's Center is inclusive, because all genders are welcome! Kappa is bad because it excludes men! Don't you get it?

(But, I might object, Humanities 10 and lots of other courses aren't inclusive—students have to apply and many are rejected. Oh, I hear our moral arbiters cry, it's fine for Harvard faculty to pick and choose whom they wish to teach. Anyway, these courses are inclusive—anyone can apply to take them. Why is it so hard for you to understand the plain meaning of the word inclusivity?)

Do we really think that conservative Christians, Muslims, and Jews feel fully included in the Harvard of Sex Week?

Again, I do not object to Sex Week. I consider the offense some students take at Sex Week the price they pay for attending a diverse, complicated, culturally rich institution. But I object strongly to the shameless hypocrisy of using exclusivity as a rationale for banning students from single gender organizations, on the basis that what those organizations stand for is offensive and makes some students feel they don't belong here. Those organizations are important to other students, and those who don't like them should learn to ignore them. 

The point in working through this example is that not everyone—in fact, no one—can feel fully comfortable all the time in any institution where different people have different ideas, wants, and needs. It is impossible to achieve ubiquitous belonging in an institution that values learning, that expects students to grow and change. 

It is argued that intellectual discomfort is good, but students should never feel out of place because of their identity. Sex Week exposes the lie in that argument. The discomfort allegedly felt by women who can't get into men's clubs, or the nonexistent men who are turned away from women's clubs—these parallel the discomfort of religiously conservative students who have to live with the Sex Week hoopla. Choosing to make some students feel more comfortable makes others feel less comfortable. It becomes a question of whether to make everyone equally uncomfortable, and if not, which group we choose to offend more. Inclusivity is an abstraction given meaning only by practice. It means whatever we say it means, and the alum's contrasting examples suggest Harvard's definition. 

This discussion should always have been about the bad behavior that sometimes happens at some of the final clubs. To use as an excuse, without any data, a concocted social agenda is (as Steve Pinker so eloquently described) the reason why many Americans don't believe anything we say.

President Faust began the November 7 FAS meeting by describing the dangers to Harvard and to higher education in some of the provisions in the Republican tax plan. She then detailed how many members of Congress she had talked to and how disappointed she was that the plan they were now discussing was unfriendly to universities. 

It is actually not that hard to get out of the bubble even if you spend most of your time in the 02138 zip code. If President Faust really wants to understand why the Republican congress is not sympathetic to us, she should wander around Harvard Yard and talk to students from red states, and ask them what folks back home think of all this. They could explain to her why Harvard looks both sanctimonious and morally bankrupt in the eyes of many ordinary Americans, as much as they aspire to what we stand for at our best.

Postscript. Before the FAS meeting at which my motion was voted down, the president of the student government asked President Faust to inform the Faculty that 61% of Harvard students responding to a survey opposed the sanctions regime. She did not do so. 

Note added November 10: I have corrected the previous sentence by adding the words "responding to a survey." There are things to be said on both sides of the question of whether this was worth reporting. On the con side, the survey was unscientific and may not have represented student sentiment. The question on the survey was about the sanctions, which are a moving target, and not the same as my motion. And this matter, like House randomization, should not be decided by a plebiscite anyway. 

On the pro side of reporting the results to the Faculty is the fact that the president of the student body spoke at the October meeting and told the Faculty that a survey would be conducted and that the results would be available at the November meeting. Also significant is the basic fact that regular order has been completely ignored, from the day the sanctions were announced in a carefully staged pair of letters by the dean and the president during exam period in May 2016. Under FAS legislation, specifically the Dowling legislation, there is a well established set of committees consisting of elected faculty members and elected students, through which business is supposed to flow. This structure has the advantage of being legitimate because it is representative, and it helps the leadership debug their policy ideas before they get implemented or brought to a vote. It is less and less fashionable to use this "regular order," and instead for the dean to appoint faculty and students to a committee crafted to produce a certain  result. The events of the past year show why this is not a time-saver. So even if the survey was unscientific, it was better than nothing, and had it been reported, the Faculty might have had a reason to ask for an explanation. 

by Harry Lewis ( at November 10, 2017 07:17 PM

November 09, 2017

A positive look at Me2B

Somehow Martin Geddes and I were both at PIE2017 in London a few days ago and missed each other. That bums me because nobody in tech is more thoughtful and deep than Martin, and it would have been great to see him there. Still, we have his excellent report on the conference, which I highly recommend.

The theme of the conference was #Me2B, a perfect synonym (or synotag) for both #VRM and #CustomerTech, and hugely gratifying for us at ProjectVRM. As Martin says in his report,

This conference is an important one, as it has not sold its soul to the identity harvesters, nor rejected commercialism for utopian social visions by excluding them. It brings together the different parts and players, accepts the imperfection of our present reality, and celebrates the genuine progress being made.

Another pull-quote:

…if Facebook (and other identity harvesting companies) performed the same surveillance and stalking actions in the physical world as they do online, there would be riots. How dare you do that to my children, family and friends!

On the other hand, there are many people working to empower the “buy side”, helping people to make better decisions. Rather than identity harvesting, they perform “identity projection”, augmenting the power of the individual over the system of choice around them.

The main demand side commercial opportunity at the moment are applications like price comparison shopping. In the not too distant future is may transform how we eat, and drive a “food as medicine” model, paid for by life insurers to reduce claims.

The core issue is “who is my data empowering, and to what ends?”. If it is personal data, then there needs to be only one ultimate answer: it must empower you, and to your own benefit (where that is a legitimate intent, i.e. not fraud). Anything else is a tyranny to be avoided.

The good news is that these apparently unreconcilable views and systems can find a middle ground. There are technologies being built that allow for every party to win: the user, the merchant, and the identity broker. That these appear to be gaining ground, and removing the friction from the “identity supply chain”, is room for optimism.

Encouraging technologies that enable the individual to win is what ProjectVRM is all about. Same goes for Customer Commons, our nonprofit spin-off. Nice to know others (especially ones as smart and observant as Martin) see them gaining ground.

Martin also writes,

It is not merely for suppliers in the digital identity and personal information supply chain. Any enterprise can aspire to deliver a smart customer journey using smart contracts powered by personal information. All enterprises can deliver a better experience by helping customers to make better choices.


The only problem with companies delivering better experiences by themselves is that every one of them is doing it differently, often using the same back-end SaaS systems (e.g. from Salesforce, Oracle, IBM, et. al.).

We need ways customers can have their own standard ways to change personal data settings (e.g. name, address, credit card info), call for support and supply useful intelligence to any of the companies they deal with, and to do any of those in one move.

See, just as companies need scale across all the customers they deal with, customers need scale across all the companies they deal with. I visit the possibilities for that here, here, here, and here.

On the topic of privacy, here’s a bonus link.

And, since Martin takes a very useful identity angle in his report, I invite him to come to the next Internet Identity Workshop, which Phil Windley, Kaliya @IdentityWoman and I put on twice a year at the Computer History Museum. The next, our 26th, is 3-5 April 2018.



by Doc Searls at November 09, 2017 10:10 AM

November 08, 2017

Harry Lewis
Motion fails
The FAS rejected my motion, 90-130. Not a bad showing on our side, and Helen Vendler and Ben Friedman were outstandingly eloquent. But it is hard do fight city hall. What was surprising to me was that the speakers on the other side were two deans (Dingman and Khurana) and the co-chair of the Clark-Khurana Committee that reviewed Dean Khurana's proposal. Twenty years ago, faculty mistrust of the administration was significant, and having no independent faculty speaking for your motion would be the kiss of death. But today the Faculty seems to be much happier with letting the administration make the decisions and agreeing to whatever they propose. Not a good sign for what is supposed to be a self-governing body, charged with educational decision-making. The Faculty's view of its role has been diminished.

I may write some more on this, but for the time being, here is what I said.

On behalf of a score of colleagues, I move: Harvard College shall not discipline, 
penalize, or otherwise sanction students for joining, or affiliating with, any lawful organization, political party, or social, political, or other affinity group.

Let me quickly review how we got here, because we’ve talked long enough and it’s time for a vote. Eighteen months ago, during exam period in the spring of 2016, the College announced sanctions against students belonging to certain off-campus organizations. This came as a surprise to everyone, because it had not been voted or even discussed in this Faculty or in any committee of our elected representatives. I made a motion that would have prevented those sanctions from taking effect. It was debated twice, and then the President adjourned last December’s meeting without a vote. A committee was announced to review the policy, and so I respectfully withdrew that motion. Instead the Clark-Khurana committee first proposed much harsher sanctions, and then issued a report with no single recommendation. Through all this time, the rationales for punishing every member of an expanding list of clubs kept shifting, from sexual assault to gender discrimination to exclusivity. Yet the question women students are asking today was never addressed: why are members of women’s groups to be punished at all?

The report stated that the President would choose among the options, even though matters of discipline of students are for this body to decide, not the president or any dean. The president has declined to acknowledge that this matter is within Faculty jurisdiction. I introduced a new version of the motion, and this is its second reading. In the meantime, one puzzling alternative motion was made, and then withdrawn without a vote. Another murky motion is to be offered later today. That motion would, very unwisely, have this Faculty permanently cede its authority to the administration, authority not just over social clubs but in other areas as well.

It has been said that we need to be idealistic, to create the best possible environment for our students. But idealism is not the same as utopianism.  The history of utopian undertakings is not encouraging. Utopias have an official version of social harmony and tend to punish nonconformists. Students come to Harvard not for a social utopia, but for a liberal education in all its tensions and complexity, an education that teaches them how to use the freedom they enjoy, with advice but without coercion.

My motion ensures that students are, like us, entitled to private decisions about what organizations they join. I regret that this matter has taken up so much Faculty time. Let’s debate the motion briefly again and vote, so we can finally know where the Faculty stands.

Madam President, I ask to be recognized again at the appropriate time to request a paper ballot.

by Harry Lewis ( at November 08, 2017 03:36 AM

November 07, 2017

Berkman Center front page
Study Card to Playlist: the Social Life of the Course Catalog


Curricle with Professor Jeffrey Schnapp, metaLAB Harvard


Visualized, annotated, connected: what should the course catalog look like in the 21st century? In this ​participatory lunch talk, members of metaLAB's Curricle team will share details of the new platform they're building for course-selection and discovery—and invite participants to help design and refine the system.

Parent Event

Berkman Klein Luncheon Series

Event Date

Nov 7 2017 12:00pm to Nov 7 2017 12:00pm
Thumbnail Image: 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Harvard College campus
Forum Room at Lamont Library, Harvard Yard (Map & Directions)
RSVP required to attend in person & Photo ID Required at event

Event is not being webcast. Audio and video will be available shortly after event.

Curricle will offer a new experience in course selection at Harvard: a platform that gives students powerful tools in data visualization and analytics for browsing and selecting courses. The platform will enable students to see the broader landscape within which they navigate the curriculum, offering more opportunities for choice and customization. Additionally it will offer opportunities for students and scholars to see trends in Harvard’s curriculum over time.  

The usual course-selection process has blind spots where life-changing courses can lurk undiscovered. And especially in a post-disciplinary era, finding ways to identify links currents among courses across departments—to chart, visualize, and connect far-flung parts of the curriculum—will allow students to forge new and productive paths. metaLAB’s team of designers and scholars will be offering an interactive lunch to preview Curricle and offer opportunities for engagement, reflection, and comprehensive rethinking of the course-selection experience.

About metaLAB

metaLAB (at) Harvard, led by Professor Jeffrey Schnapp (RLL, GSD), and headquartered at the Berkman Klein Center, is a creative research team exploring new roles for media and technology in the arts and humanities. The group's project-based research takes many forms, from museum and gallery installations to books, websites, and interventions in virtual and real space.

About Professor Jeffrey Schnapp

Before moving to Harvard in 2011, Jeffrey Schnapp occupied the Pierotti Chair of Italian Studies at Stanford, where he founded and led the Stanford Humanities Lab between 1999 and 2009. A cultural historian, designer, and curator with research interests extending from antiquity to the present, his most recent books include The Electric Information Age Book, Modernitalia, Digital_Humanities, and The Library Beyond the Book. At Harvard he occupies the Carl A. Pescosolido Chair in Romance and Comparative Literatures, while also serving as a faculty member of the Architecture department at the Graduate School of Design and as one of the faculty co-directors of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. For more information, go to



by candersen at November 07, 2017 08:29 PM

November 06, 2017

The March for Science: How a viral moment starts a movement
Caroline Weinberg — one of the co-chairs and organizers of the March for Science — discusses two broad questions: How is the Internet involved in the planning of large scale, high visibility political demonstrations? And, how can we harness the potential of demonstrations to build into movements? For more information on this event visit:

by the Berkman Klein Center at November 06, 2017 07:16 PM

Harry Lewis
Guest post by 23 undergraduate women
Do Not Punish Harvard Women for Men’s Behavior: Vote Yes to the Lewis Motion
It is astonishingly paternalistic for Harvard to threaten the support groups of hundreds of women in the name of ridding the university of elite men’s clubs. This should spark outrage among faculty, administrators, and students, but instead has, among many, merely sparked a “what a shame” reaction. “What a shame” that the sororities and women’s groups doing good on our campus, empowering women, providing desperately needed support for women, leading charitable fundraisers, and contributing so significantly to women’s mental health “have to go.” The premise has been that women must not be allowed to join groups without men – for their own good – because it is the only way to “get at” men’s final clubs. An underlying justification has been that women must be protected from making bad social decisions such as waiting in line to get into men’s final club parties. Banning women’s off- campus groups is not and has never been about opening women’s support or friendship groups to men, in order to end some supposed form of discrimination against men. The consistent refrain of “it’s a shame” that Harvard must eliminate women’s groups through sanctions or to otherwise deal with the behaviors of men is outrageous and unconscionable. Make no mistake – this is sexism – as it has existed in the past but now in more insidious form, as it is now clothed in anti-discrimination verbiage and purported rationale. This point has been previously made, but women’s protests, begging for Harvard to hear them, marching in unity, have been met with the response that women groups are unfortunate collateral damage for a more noble cause – this cause of protecting them. This is egregious. How can it be tolerated?
Incorrect assumptions and biases exist regarding sororities. I had some of those same assumptions before I came to Harvard. They were wrong. The truth is that Harvard sorority women are diverse, intelligent, and serious-minded, from different socioeconomic groups, with different religious beliefs, political views, sexual orientations, personalities, and experiences, coexisting in friendship, kindness, and unity and providing safety for women. No parties or alcohol are allowed in the sororities’ spaces. Sororities are inherently and intentionally values-based organizations. New member education includes training on standards of behavior expected by the sorority nationally, strict policies regarding alcohol and drugs, education about sexual assault, healthy relationships, bystander intervention, and more. Sorority members have credited the support they have received from these off- campus groups with helping them overcome depression, suicidal feelings, eating disorders, and other mental health issues in ways that on-campus groups have not. Dismantling off-campus social groups in which one-third of women on campus have found significant support and improved mental health outcomes is both illogical and harmful. When the rationale for doing so is based on a perceived necessity to curb men’s behavior, it becomes indefensible.
Philanthropic commitment and community service are significant sorority values and emphases. Alpha Phi’s motto is “Union Hand in Hand,” and its philanthropic focus is Women’s Heart Health. Delta Gamma’s motto is “Do Good,” and its philanthropy is Service for Sight, serving the blind and visually impaired and funding sight conservation research. Kappa Alpha Theta’s motto is “Leading Women,” and its philanthropy is Court Appointed Special Advocates, serving and advocating for children in the foster care system. Kappa Kappa Gamma’s motto is “Aspire to Be,” and its philanthropy is Reading is Fundamental, working to promote children’s literacy. Sororities promote friendship, leadership, kindness, character, and service intentionally - declaring that those qualities are as important as, if not more important than, being accomplished. Sisterhood is the goal, not a side effect.
The most vocal and impassioned opposition to the sanctions has come from women, not the men’s final clubs, because the final clubs can evade the sanctions and function much as they always have. I obviously do not purport to speak for all women, including all sorority women, but I am one of hundreds of current Harvard women and thousands of alumnae who have found strength and support in off-campus sisterhood. More women than men are adversely impacted by the penalties of the Khurana sanctions. Are we not at a time in our country and history where we recognize the urgent need for women to have the freedom to unite in friendship and sisterhood, to embrace the values they deem important, and to speak out against injustice? We must demand an answer to the question – why is it acceptable for sororities to be swept up in the anti-men’s final clubs frenzy? Why not, as our peer schools Yale, Princeton, and Stanford have done, work on the issues deemed problematic, rather than banning off-campus women’s groups (as well as other off-campus groups) with threats of penalization? Why are hundreds of Harvard women’s voices being silenced?
The sanctions and penalties are overbroad, unjust, and have a disproportionate adverse effect on women. Unconscionably, sororities are completely left out of the discussion on the effects or reason for penalties. No acknowledgement is made that going coed is not possible per the national rules and charters of sororities, and therefore sororities would simply have to be closed, while men’s final clubs - the primary target of the sanctions – would be able to make meaningless adjustments to come into technical “compliance.” (For example, some of the men’s club proposals include their members not becoming “real members” until after graduation, allowing the finals clubs to exist as alumni clubs, which would not be impacted by penalties or sanctions.)
The question of the sanctions is not a question of whether or not any off-campus social organizations need reform, but whether or not University sanctions will accomplish any intended goals. All proposed plans thus far would force sororities to shut down, while men's final clubs - the intended targets of the sanctions - will be virtually unaffected. Clubs will either go underground, perhaps like underground fraternities at Amherst or like secret societies at Yale, or, as more recently discussed, will become alumni clubs, of which students will not "officially" be members until they graduate, taking the clubs even further out of the administration's purview and making them even more untouchable for reform than they currently are. If the administration's goal is truly reform, rather than simply meaningless action on paper, the only way to achieve that is to work with clubs, rather than further alienate or threaten them. In response to current sanctions, overwhelmingly, behind closed doors, most men's clubs have lawyered up and dug in their heels, knowing they can get around anything thrown at them by the administration, with little to no functional change, in a way that organizations without comparable resources or with national bylaws cannot.
The idea that national sorority groups are in some way pernicious or nefarious is based on false and discriminatory stereotypes. These national organizations provide invaluable leadership training, are grounded in shared values, and focus on critical issues affecting women. Last month’s issue of one of the national sorority magazines, for example, featured the organization’s specific efforts to address violence against women, including leading the conversation on consent and providing resources and opportunity to confront sexual violence. I would ask those who assume they understand what these groups offer in terms of mental health and other support whether they have actually tried to learn about what sororities do. Has UHS or the administration ever even studied the positive impact of sororities on Harvard women’s mental health or the adverse impact of losing such groups that more than one-third of Harvard women have chosen to join?
If Harvard students want to be members of organizations that have national networks and governing bodies, on their own time, with their own money, without use of Harvard’s name, and not in Harvard’s spaces, they should be allowed to do so. They certainly should not be penalized for being part of groups dedicated to their well-being even though Harvard does not vet or monitor such groups. Harvard women are capable of making their own decisions about what groups empower them.
I hope for the emotional well-being of one-third of the women on campus, that the administration and faculty reconsider the notion that the “health and well-being of our student body” necessitates telling young women that joining together for strength and mutual support, in organizations explicitly protected by Title IX, is an offense so severe as to be deserving of suspension, termination, or severe penalty.
I urge the faculty and administrators not to adopt punishments that would penalize women from exercising their freedom to join in sisterhood for support, unity, friendship, empowerment, and philanthropy. Such actions are not progress, nor do they promote justice.
Instead, I urge passage of the Lewis motion, which protects women’s rights and wellbeing. Passage of the Lewis motion allows women’s groups to continue to exist and also provides the administration the opportunity to address desired final club reforms, as our peer schools Yale, Princeton, and Stanford have done, without driving male final clubs underground.
Margaret Wilson, Harvard College Class of 2019
Jordan Virtue, Harvard College Class of 2020
Hayley Edgerley, Harvard College Class of 2019
Cora Neudeck, Harvard College Class of 2019
Samantha Perri, Harvard College Class of 2020
Kathleen Barrow, Harvard College Class of 2019
Sophia Zheng, Harvard College Class of 2020
Kristine Falck, Harvard College Class of 2020
Kaitlyn Rabinovitz, Harvard College Class of 2020
Delaney Tevis, Harvard College Class of 2019
Emily Luu, Harvard College Class of 2019
Rebecca Ramos, Harvard College Class of 2017

Sophie Lipson, Harvard College Class of 2017
Caroline Gentile, Harvard College Class of 2017
Emma Wheeler, Harvard College Class of 2017
Bella Gomez, Harvard College Class of 2017
Rachel Milam, Harvard College Class of 2017
Hailey Reneau, Harvard College Class of 2017
Tina Murphy, Harvard College Class of 2017
Savanna Arral, Harvard College Class of 2016
Laura Gullett, Harvard College Class of 2016
Sarah Scalia, Harvard College Class of 2015, HBS 2019
Julia Kee, Harvard College Class of 2016

by Harry Lewis ( at November 06, 2017 06:04 PM

Berkman Center front page
Harvard Open Access Project Part-Time Research Assistant Opportunity

The Harvard Open Access Project (HOAP) at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society is hiring a part-time research assistant!

The Harvard Open Access Project (HOAP) fosters open access to research, within Harvard and beyond, using a combination of education, consultation, collaboration, research, tool-building, and direct assistance. HOAP is a project within the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. For more detail, see the project home page at

The Research Assistant will contribute to the Open Access Tracking Project (OATP), using the TagTeam social-tagging platform, contribute to the Open Access Directory (OAD), and perform occasional research, help with grant reporting, and strategize about open access inside and outside Harvard University. The position offers remote work options, flexible scheduling, and community work spaces at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

The position will remain open until the job is filled, and plan to begin reviewing applicants as soon as possible.

Work Requirements/Benefits Information:

This part-time position is 17.25 hours per week.  The pay is at a rate of $11.50+ per hour, with the possibility of more to suit qualifications and experience. This position does not include benefits. The role will include the expectation of regular weekend work as needed to support time-sensitive projects (approximately 2 - 4 of total 17.25). The Research Assistant must be based in Massachusetts.  The work may be done remotely, but will include regular face-to-face meetings in Cambridge, Massachusetts to review progress and discuss new ideas.  Unfortunately we are not able to sponsor a visa for this position. This position is approved through the end of August, 2018.

To Apply:

Please send your current CV or resume and a cover letter summarizing your interest and experience to Peter Suber at with “HOAP application” in the subject line.



by rtabasky at November 06, 2017 05:52 PM

November 03, 2017

Ethan Zuckerman
Finding hope… and dissing Lin-Manuel… at the Obama Foundation Summit

I just spent two days at the inaugural summit of the Obama Foundation, and I’m coming back from Chicago more enthusiastic about the state of civics than I have been in the past year.

For several decades, US presidents have been working to make their time out of office part of their legacy. Jimmy Carter’s post-presidency has served as a model, both with the Carter Center’s work on elections and tropical diseases, and his personal commitment through volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Bill Clinton build a massive operating foundation based on public/private partnerships that, despite some highly reported controversies, has done some excellent work around public health and climate change in the Global South.

Obama had previously announced that his foundation would focus on revitalizing civics and on engaged citizenship. Great! But what does that mean? I hosted some of the organizers of the foundation at the Media Lab a year ago and was worried that the foundation might feel like an on-ramp into democratic party organizing. My students and I made the case that many people are feeling alienated from conventional politics and its surrounding institutions, and that Obama’s foundation could make a significant impact by broadening the definition of what we consider engaged citizenship. My student Erhardt Graeff spent the summer with the foundation making this case and studying how wer might measure the impact of this new, broader vision of citizenship.

I don’t claim that our lab had anything to do with it, but the summit yesterday felt much less like the “mini-reunion” of the Obama campaign (as Politico reported) than an experiment in just how broad the concept of civic revitalization could be. There was almost no talk about politics – indeed, I don’t think Trump’s name was mentioned once – and anyone expecting talk of how the left takes back Congress, fights gerrymandering or revitalizes the two party system would have been deeply frustrated. But for people looking for models for how individuals are changing their communities, in the US and around the world, the program and the people participating in it, was a feast.

In 2010, I spoke at an event at the George W. Bush Presidential library on digital activism. I was struck by the fact that our program specified events to the minute, not the nearest quarter or half hour. Evidently, Presidential libraries celebrate one or more characteristics of their patron, and the Bush library celebrated the former president’s punctuality. Indeed, W joined us for precisely 12 minutes, just as the schedule specified.

It’s possible that the signature attribute of the Obama legacy projects will be diversity. I spent two days in perhaps the most diverse room I’ve ever encountered at a conference in the United States. 12 of 30 featured speakers in the program were women, 19 were people of color. Sitting down for lunch, I found myself between a Nigerian roboticist and an American Sikh scholar who’s writing a book on islamophobia and its side effects. I didn’t have a bad or boring conversation over two days – the staff packed the room with people doing mentoring of young men on the South Side of Chicago, or combatting racism against Afro-Brazilians. I was impressed that the organizers found people beyond the usual suspects – Elaine Diaz, whose brilliant Periodismo de Barrio is transforming Cuban independent journalism – instead of a more widely known figure like Yoani Sanchez. It suggested to me less interest in virtue signaling than in opening interesting conversations.

Some of the key takeaways from the summit for me:

Heather McGhee of Demos knit together issues of inequality, race and economics with greater clarity than I’d previously heard. She offered an analogy for the contemporary economy: a massively multiplayer game where those who are winning can change the rules.
“Our democracy has become as unequal as our economy,” she argued, citing voter suppression efforts and the ability of wealthy voters to influence elections through political giving. She traces the increasing unfairness of the economy to our increasing diversity: “It’s no coincidence that it’s become harder for the average American to get by as the face of the average American has changed.” My friend Micah Sifry referred to her as the next black president of the US and I think he’s got a point – linking questions of economic and political unfairness to a realization that fairness hasn’t been equally through American society strikes me as a viable direction for the Democratic party in response to the Trump presidency.

– Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani Yogurt, won my heart with his passion for South Edmeston, NY, a small town in central New York that had lost much of its workforce due to plant closings. Ulukaya saw parallels between the rural Turkish community he’d grown up in and the community he moved to, and grew Chobani in a way that created not only jobs with livable wages, but a deep investment in community development and pride.

He shared the stage with Brian Alexander, who positioned himself as the anti-JD Vance: also passionate about the future of Appalachia, but sees the problem as structural and economic, not a problem of “hillbilly culture”. Asking us “What is capitalism for? Do we work for it, or does it work for us?” Alexander put forward a vision of a corporation’s role in a community that sounded both old-fashioned, and with Ulukaya’s example, worth returning to: “Companies used to be rooted in a place. Management used to play on softball teams.” Companies like that remain in their communities and work to support the people who depend on them, not just shareholders.

I’m used to community economics coming from inner cities, but it’s rare to see similar ideas coming from rural America. Exciting for me as the proud resident of a town of 3000. And, as Alexander pointed out, our communities are getting screwed over. Referencing the opioid epidemic and the dumping of drugs on West Virginia, then demanding people take responsibility for their addictions, he noted, “a culture of personal responsibility would mean demanding responsibility from the CEO who dumped 3.3 million doses of opiods into a county with 29,000 people.”

– In a workshop brainstorming the priorities of the Obama Foundation, one of the organizers asked a hard question about experts and expertise. (Despite the common root word, these often get put in opposition in social change circles – experts have degrees, while those with experience are people in beneficiary communities.) Introducing herself as a “sneakerhead”, she wondered how expertise in sussing out fake sneakers could translate to identifying and calling out fake news. “Sneakerheads are always calling out fakes. And I didn’t have to take an online course in ‘sneaker literacy’ – I got to know sneakers because I care about them.”

It’s an interesting point, not just about self-directed learning and about fake news. It’s a complicated point for people engaged in co-design, the practice of designing solutions in a way that deeply involves the beneficiaries in the planning and creation of projects intended to benefit them. When I’ve worked on co-design, I’ve had a tendency to think of communities I’m working with as experts on local conditions and priorities, while my teams tend to be experts on technologies and design methods. It’s an exciting challenge to think about how to work with community members not just as experts on their own problems, but on different ways of solving problems, of having insights that my students and staff are unlikely to have. How do people solve the problems they encounter in their lives, and how can those problemsolving skills change how we develop and design together?

– Listening matters. I have reached a point in my career where I rarely get to go to events unless I’m speaking. I’ve also developed the bad habit of dropping into conference to speak, and then heading to other engagements. I just got to spend two days listening, taking notes and tweeting and it was wonderful.

What was also wonderful was watching Obama listen. Half an hour into a fascinating conversation about the responsibility tech platforms have for the conversations they host, Obama stood up from the back of the room (none of us had seen him walk in), and asked a complex, nuanced question about how to balance principles of freedom of expression with the power of platforms to amplify misinformation. I watched him listening intently in another session, and saw him knit observations from two talks I’d been at into his closing remarks. If Obama can make time to listen this carefully, respectfully and closely, so can I.

The closing session featured two talks that I won’t forget for a long time. Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical Hamilton, and Chicago rapper Common took the stage together, and talked about how social issues inspired each of their work. Lin was clearly starstruck to be spending time with Common, who he credited as the inspiration for the flow of the rhymes he gave to George Washington – “Hamilton had to be the smartest guy in the room, so I had to model his flow on someone with the trickiest, most polysyllabic rhymes, like Eminem or Big Pun. But George Washington was respected by everybody, and so his flow had to be from someone everyone respects in hiphop: you.” When Common started a freestyle session, Lin was too flustered to bring his A game, leading to a tweet I’ll always cherish:

But the highlight for me was seeing my personal civic hero, Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and defender of countless youth trapped in the criminal justice system, offer his rules for engaged citizenship:

1) Get proximate and stay proximate to the problems you want to solve.

2) You can’t solve problems without changing the narrative – when it’s the war on drugs, we lost people we could save if we worked on treating addiction

3) Hope is your superpower. This isn’t about naiveté, but about finding strength to carry on when you encounter obstacles and frustration. “Hope is your superpower. Don’t let anyone take away your hope. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice.”

4) To make change, we have to be willing to do uncomfortable things. Bryan ended his talk with the story of a civil rights activist, an elderly man in a wheelchair, who showed him his scars from injuries during the protests of the 1960s. “These are not my cuts, my scars. These are my medals of honor.”

I’m grateful for the Obama Foundation for letting me take part, and I cannot wait to see what this will become.

by Ethan at November 03, 2017 02:10 AM

November 01, 2017

How the Networked Age is Changing Humanitarian Disasters
Information communication technologies and the data they produce are transforming how natural and manmade disasters alike unfold. These technologies are also affecting how populations behave and organizations respond when these events occur. In this talk, Nathaniel Raymond — founding Director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health — addresses the ethical, legal and technical implications of this pivotal moment in the history of humanitarianism. For more information on this event visit:

by the Berkman Klein Center at November 01, 2017 04:35 PM

October 31, 2017

Berkman Center front page
The March for Science: How a viral moment starts a movement


featuring public health researcher and educator Caroline Weinberg, MD, MPH


The March for Science went viral when it was nothing more than a name -- the very idea of a movement in defense of science in policy was enough to ignite the passion of more than one million people around the world. From January 24 to April 22, the movement lived on the internet, building on social media until it culminated in the largest science event in the history of the world.

Parent Event

Berkman Klein Luncheon Series

Event Date

Oct 31 2017 12:00pm to Oct 31 2017 12:00pm
Thumbnail Image: 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

The March for Science is a global movement focused on promoting science and its role in society and policy. That movement can be traced back to January 24, where in a five hour period @sciencemarchdc went from a few dozen followers to tens of thousands, growing exponentially in the following weeks. The idea for a March for Science went viral before any plan was in place, passionate supporters ready to act when all we had was the name. As we look to learn from the experience of the march — the triumphs and the struggles — it's worth discussing how MFS and future movements can harness the incredible, unexpected passion for a cause into a lasting movement.

Caroline Weinberg — one of the co-chairs and organizers of 2017's March for Science — discusses two broad questions: How is the Internet involved in the planning of large scale, high visibility political demonstrations? And, how can we harness the potential of demonstrations to build into movements?

The internet was fundamental to the success of the March for Science. The event first went viral on Twitter and continued to expand with an increasing number of Facebook followers. For Weinberg, using social media was a “remarkable way to be able to build a community of advocates around the world” and find out issues that are important to them. One of the biggest benefits of using social media in this way was the availability of immediate feedback and critique. Weinberg describe these critiques as being especially valuable in starting conversations about diversity and inclusion within the march itself, as well as within the broader scientific community. However, relying so heavily on social media for communication also had some downfalls. Specifically, Weinberg described how in addition to bringing important issues to their attention, the constant critique made organizers feel defensive and stated that social media, “invites snap judgements that are hard to reverse.” She also pointed out that it was difficult to keep up with the public’s desire for immediate information about the details of the march, because the behind the scenes planning was complex.

To help facilitate the march’s transition into a movement, Weinberg had two suggestions. First, she emphasized that scientists and science advocates must be able to communicate their evidence-based research effectively to the public. She suggested that scientists should be formally educated about public communication in undergraduate and graduate education, and that it should be part of national conferences. Second, Weinberg stated that we should continue to utilize the affordances of digital advocacy, such as letter writing campaigns, petitions, and making it easy for people to locate and contact their representatives.

Weinberg described the day of the march as “powerful,” but observed that afterwards, there was a transition period in which several questions arose that now need to be addressed. In her conclusion, Weinberg shared these questions with the audience: How can we sustain motivation from a single day into something people want to advocate for continuously in digital space? How can we encourage people to act, not only during crisis, but every day? How can we fight complacency?

- Notes by Donica O'Malley

About Caroline

Caroline Weinberg, MD, MPH, is a public health researcher and educator, with a focus on social determinants of health and increased health literacy as a means of improving health outcomes in under-served communities. Since 2002, she has also worked as a health educator with an emphasis on reproductive health and healthy relationships in adolescents.  

In 2017, her frustration with the persistent and pervasive anti-science policies that jeopardize our present and future led to her involvement in the March for Science, a global movement focused on promoting the role of science in society and policy.  She served as the National Co-Chair for the March for Science, culminating in the largest science event in history and uniting more than one million people in 600 locations worldwide.  She currently serves as a director of the March for Science organization, working with a dynamic team of science advocates around the globe to transition from a powerful moment to a lasting movement.


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by candersen at October 31, 2017 05:00 PM

October 30, 2017

Berkman Center front page
#FellowFriday! Get to know the 2017-2018 Fellows

This series of short video interviews highlights the new 2017-2018 Berkman Klein fellows. Check back every week for new additions!

published November 13

Jenny Korn is examining new and evolving representations of race and identity, both online and off.

Tell us about a research question you’re excited to address this year and why it matters to you.

I'll be looking at the way people talk about race and gender, both online and in person. I've pretty much always been interested in issues of race because I'm a woman of color that grew up in Alabama. I was reminded of my race in both positive and negative ways at a very early age and ever since then.

Why should people care about this issue?

Talking about race more openly promotes, my hope is that it promotes, a more just society eventually. Because if we can't talk about race then we definitely can't talk about racism. And so we have to get to the point where talking about race is not uncomfortable or feels forced. But rather feels the same as saying what your gender is or what your sexual orientation is. To say it all together naturally and comfortably so that all of us can discuss what that means to everybody across different levels of society.

What excites you the most about technology and its potential impact on our world?

The Internet has definitely changed the way that we socialize but also the ways that we interact with what we believe race is. We're not only consumers of the Internet. We're also producers. We actually can create different ways to discuss race. We can share different representations of race. And to me that's really exciting because we are able to reduce the distance and the time and the speed to creating those representations online instead of relying on publishers for books, or producers and distributors for movies. We can overlook that and use the Internet as the way to produce and broadcast and share those representations. And that means we can change old stereotypes and make new representations of what we believe it is to be of color, or to be white. It's a brand new medium in terms of how far we can get this kind of message. I'm excited by the possibilities.  


published November 13

Nathan Kaiser is a lawyer studying AI and Asia.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about a research question you’re excited to address this year.

I'm a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center. I’m very happy to be here. I'm originally Swiss but spent the past years in in Asia. I'm looking at AI and always from China and maybe a larger Asian angles. The research question is -- it's partially copy/paste from the 10 or 15 year old question. "What about the Internet in China and outside?" And now the question is "What about AI in China and outside of China?" There's a lot of a lot of stuff to to be looked at.

Why should people care about this issue?

AI will have as big an impact on society. And society always means me, you, and the family, and everybody around us. Just as with the Internet years ago, and over time. It would not be wise to say the Internet  is not for me or to say nowadays AI is not for me because it's going to be around you anyway. And so from a personal individual point of view or a company point of view or even a family point of view, I think it makes sense to start looking around and see what's going on. Does it help you? Does it hurt you? Should you use it? Should you not use it? Then once it's clear that you should use it and how do you use it? What are the tools, what are the risks for employees, risk for companies, risk for kids?

What scares you the most about technology and its potenital impact on our world?

I'm always worried about the people who are not able to enjoy a technology. I think that scares me because it creates a even larger gap. You don't only have rich people and poor people. You have an additional divide of using technology or not using technology. Being able and having the money to use technology will make the rich richer and the poor more poor. So that's something that scares me because it creates tension and we've seen that over the past 10 or 20 years.


published November 6, 2017

Joanne K. Cheung is an artist and designer studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Tell us about a research question you're excited to address this year and why it matters to you.

This year I’m developing an analytical framework for looking at public space, so physical space, all the stuff around us, and discourse on the internet. My background is in the fine arts, so I’ve always cared about how to communicate something, how something appears to someone not from my own discipline. A lot of this came from, well, I guess two things. One is the very jarring experience of the past election and realizing that geographically, my understanding of the country that I live in is very different than what I thought it was. Also, this summer I became an American citizen, so learning everything about the democratic process was really interesting, and I thought that I wanted to understand how my own discipline intersected with the political process.

Why should people care about this issue?

There is no opting out of existing in this system and I think now that everyone is so deeply connected... the other side of that is we’re all more alienated from the subjects of our actions, so whether they’re intentional, unintentional, or accidental, I think making those connections visible is really important now. 

What excites (or scares) you most about technology and its potential impact on our world?

I always go back to that William Gibson quote, “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed,” but then I go back and think about my own discipline, which is dealing with land and buildings, and I was thinking, well, the future doesn’t distribute itself, has land ever been evenly distributed? I can’t think of something that has. A lot of that comes down to human agency, it comes down to decisions humans make. I think it’s not technology doing the work, it’s people doing the work, and so, maybe that gives me some worry, it scares me because I want to define who those humans are, but it also gives me a little bit of hope because I’m a human, we all are, so there is potential for making change and making a difference.


published November 6, 2017

Emad Khazraee is a sociotechnical information scientist and an assistant professor in the school of information (iSchool) at Kent State University.

Tell us about a research question you're excited to address this year and why it matters to you.

Broadly, speaking, I’m interested in how human collectives use information technology to achieve their collective goals. I look at two levels. At one level, I look at very large collectives, how they use information technology for social transformations, for example, how activists use information technology to challenge authorities. On another level, I’m looking at very tightly connected communities, I call them communities of practice, how they use information technologies to produce knowledge. At Berkman Klein Center, I am looking to understand how we can theorize the dynamic of evolution of the tools and methods that activists use to challenge authorities. On a personal side, I’m Iranian and I have seen a lot of transformations in recent years happening in Iranian society. We’ve seen a very young population, educated population, use information technology to progress the state of society.

Why should people care about this issue?

We are living in an era that the pace of technology, changes and advancements, is so high, that some people have become anxious about what the impact of technology is in our society. It’s very important to see whether it helps us to improve our society or not. I think that’s how it is important for the average person, to see, in many contexts, such as oppressive environments, whether the use of information technology can be a force shifting the balance towards a more just and progressive society, or it might give more tools for oppressive governments to repress and restrict humans’ freedom.


published October 27, 2017

Desmond Upton Patton, PhD, MSW is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Columbia University and a faculty affiliate of the Data Science Instiute and the Social Interevention Group at Columbia University. 

Tell us about a research question you're excited to address this year and why it matters to you.
This year I'm really trying to understand how communication on social media leads to offline violence. So I'm studying a Twitter dataset of young people in Chicago to better understand how things like grief and trauma and love and happiness all play out on Twitter and the relationship between that communication and offline gun violence. 

I started my research process in Chicago and I have been just completely troubled by the amount of violence that happens in the city. And one of the ways in which that violence happens or occurs is through social media communication. And so I want to be a part of the process of ending violence through learning how young people communicate online.  


published October 27, 2017

Jenn Halen is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at the University of Minnesota and a former National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

Tell us about a research question you're excited to address this year and why it matters to you.
I’m working on the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence project, here at Berkman Klein. There are a lot of questions as to how exactly incorporating this new technology into different social environments is really going to affect people, and I think one of the most important things is getting people’s perspectives who are actually going to be impacted. So, I’m looking forward to participating in some early educational initiatives and some discussions that we can post online in blog posts and things, to help people feel like they’re more familiar with this subject and more comfortable, because it can be really intimidating.

Why should people care about this issue?
Right now, this technology or early versions of machine learning and artificial intelligence applications are being used in institutions ranging from the judicial system, to financial institutions, and they’re really going to impact everyone. I think it’s important for people to talk about how they’re being implemented and what the consequences of that are for them, and that we should have an open discussion, and that people can’t do that if they’re unfamiliar with the technology or why it’s being employed. I think that everyone needs to have at least a basic familiarity with these things because in ten years there’s not going to be an institution that doesn’t use it in some way.

How did you become interested in this topic?
I grew up in a pretty low income community that didn’t have a lot of access to these technologies initially, and so I was very new to even using a computer when I got into college. It’s something that was hard for me initially, but that I started really getting interested in, partially because I’m a huge sci-fi fan now, and so I think that sci-fi and fiction really opens up your eyes to both the opportunities and the potential costs of using different advanced technologies. I wanted to be part of the conversation about how we would actually approach a future where these things were possible and to make sure that we would use them in a way that would benefit us and not this scarier, more dystopian views of what could happen.

What excites you most about technology and its potential impact on our world?
Software, so scalable, that we can offer more resources and more information to so many more people at a lower cost. We’re also at a time where we have so much more information than we’ve ever had in history, so things like machine learning and artificial intelligence can really help to open up the answers that we can get from all of that data and maybe some very non-intuitive answers that people just have not been able to find themselves.

What scares you most?
I think that the thing that scares me most is that artificial intelligence software is going to be employed in institutions and around populations that don’t understand both ends of the things it has to offer, but also its limitations. It will just be taken as objective fact or a scientific opinion that you can’t question, when it’s important to realize that this is something that is crafted by humans, that can be fallible, that can be employed in different ways and have different outcomes. I think my biggest fear is that we won’t question it and that these things will just be able to be deployed without having any kind of public dialogue or pushback if it has negative consequences.




by gweber at October 30, 2017 05:36 PM

Justin Reich
From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Three Myths about Education Technology and Equity
Mimi Ito and Justin Reich are releasing a new report "From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity by Design in Learning Technologies."

by Justin Reich at October 30, 2017 04:54 PM

October 25, 2017

Berkman Center front page
The Slippery Slope of Internet Censorship in Egypt


This report explains the dramatic increase in Internet censorship in Egypt, examines the Twitter conversation around website blocking in Egypt, and identifies ways that users disseminate banned content.

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The first Internet Monitor research bulletin summarizes the recent, dramatic increase in Internet censorship in Egypt, examines the Twitter conversation around website blocking in Egypt, and identifies ways that users disseminate banned content.

Internet filtering in Egypt illustrates how censorship can be a slippery slope. After an extended period of open access to the Internet in Egypt lasting several years following the January 2011 revolution, the government dramatically increased its censorship of political content between December 2015 and September 2017. What started with the filtering of one regional news website in 2015 has led to the filtering of over 400 websites by October 2017. The blocked websites include local and regional news and human rights websites, websites based in or affiliated with Qatar, and websites of Internet privacy and circumvention tools. This bulletin examines how Egyptian Internet users have reacted to the pervasive blocking and describes their efforts to counter the censorship. These efforts center on disseminating banned content through platforms protected by encrypted HTTPS connections such as Facebook and Google Drive, which makes individual objectionable URLs challenging for the censors to block. 

Read the complete bulletin on the Internet Monitor website.

by gweber at October 25, 2017 05:47 PM

Badges of Oppression, Positions of Strength: Digital Black Feminist Discourse and the Legacy of Black Women’s Technology Use


featuring Catherine Knight Steele, University of Maryland


The use of online technology by black feminist thinkers has changed the principles, praxis, and product of black feminist writing and simultaneously has changed the technologies themselves. Texts from the antebellum south through the 20th-century contextualize the contemporary relationship between black women and digital media.

Parent Event

Berkman Klein Luncheon Series

Event Date

Nov 21 2017 12:00pm to Nov 21 2017 12:00pm
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Tuesday, November 21, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Harvard Law School campus
*VENUE CHANGE* Wasserstein Hall, Room 3019 (HLS campus map)
RSVP required to attend in person
Event will be live webcast at 12:00 pm.

Black women have historically occupied a unique position, existing in multiple worlds, manipulating multiple technologies, and maximizing their resources for survival in a system created to keep them from thriving. I present a case for the unique development of black women’s relationship with technology by analyzing historical texts that explore the creation of black womanhood in contrast to white womanhood and black manhood in early colonial and antebellum periods in the U.S. This study of Black feminist discourse online situates current practices in the context of historical use and mastery of communicative technology by the black community broadly and black women more specifically. By tracing the history of black feminist thinkers in relationship to technology we move from a deficiency model of black women’s use of technology to recognizing their digital skills and internet use as part of a long developed expertise. 

About Catherine

Catherine Knight Steele is an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland - College Park and the Director of the Andrew W. Mellon funded African American Digital Humanities Initiative (AADHum). As the director of the AADHum, Dr. Steele works to foster a new generation of scholars and scholarship at the intersection of African American Studies and Digital Humanities and Digital Studies. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on race, gender, and media with a specific focus on African American culture and discourse in traditional and new media. She examines representations of marginalized communities in the media and how traditionally marginalized populations resist oppression and utilize online technology to create spaces of community. Dr. Steele has published in new media journals such as Social Media & Society and Television & New Media; and the edited volumes Intersectional Internet (Ed. S. Noble & B. Tynes) and the upcoming edited collection A Networked Self: Birth, Life, Death (Ed. Z. Papacharissi). She is currently working on a book manuscript about Digital Black Feminism. 

by candersen at October 25, 2017 03:58 PM

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Update on the 2018 Triennial 1201 Rule-Making

The Copyright Office has once again opened its triennial rulemaking proceedings for exemptions to the anti-circumvention clauses of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). This will be the seventh iteration of the rulemaking proceedings for the Copyright Office since Congress enacted 17 U.S.C. § 1201 in 1998 to reinforce copyright protection against an envisioned increase in piracy due to technological advancement. The anti-circumvention law prohibits the use of technology to bypass technology protection measures (“TPM”) that copyright owners implement, such as encryption tools that prevent consumers from copying movies or songs off a disk or simple password systems for website content or software “locking” mechanisms that prevent copying. Unfortunately, the broad reach of 17 U.S.C. § 1201 also jeopardized many otherwise non-infringing and publicly-beneficial activities that may require circumventing TPMs.

St Jude Medical pacemaker in hand

An artificial pacemaker (serial number 1723182) from St. Jude Medical, with electrode. By Steven Fruitsmaak, CC BY 3.0…), via Wikimedia Commons.

In an effort to rescue circumvention for lawful purposes, Congress identified certain classes of permanent exemptions to the anti-circumvention law, allowing, for example, reverse engineering research and security testing to be valid reasons for circumventing technological protections measures. In addition to the permanent exemptions, Congress also created the triennial rulemaking mechanism which creates 3-year temporary exemptions as a catch-all to prevent the anti-circumvention law from prohibiting lawful practices.

For the upcoming 2018 rulemaking proceedings, the Cyberlaw Clinic has submitted an anti-circumvention exemption request on behalf of the Software Preservation Network (“SPN”) and a renewal request on behalf of a coalition of medical device patients and researchers (“Medical Device Coalition”) for the Copyright Office’s seventh triennial rulemaking proceedings for anti-circumvention exemptions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). SPN seeks an exemption for libraries and archival institutions to circumvent technology protection mechanisms for the preservation of software for future research or usage. The Medical Device Coalition seeks a renewal for an exemption that the Cyberlaw Clinic successfully helped to secure in the 2015 rulemaking proceedings, which permits patients and security researchers to circumvent technological measures in medical devices to access output data. The SPN petition and medical device renewal request join 22 other new exemption petitions and 38 other exemption renewal requests submitted for the 2018 rulemaking proceedings.

Updating the DMCA Exemption Rulemaking Process

To improve the rulemaking process for the upcoming seventh triennial rulemaking proceedings, the Copyright Office recently conducted a study of 17 U.S.C. § 1201 by receiving public comments on the statute’s effectiveness, the permanent exemptions, and the rulemaking process. The criticisms targeting the rulemaking process generally addressed two problems: (1) lack of clarity in the criteria used to review the exemptions; and (2) the extensive work required to process a petition seeking renewal of an existing exemption. For the Copyright Office’s study, the Cyberlaw Clinic submitted a public comment requesting increased predictability and clarification of the criteria used in the rulemaking process. In a report generated from the comments from the study, the Copyright Office clarified the criteria it will use for the 2018 rulemaking process and introduced a new streamlined renewal procedure detailed below.

Petitioning for a New Exemption

The basic framework of the 2018 rulemaking process for petitions seeking new exemptions will not be different from that used in the sixth triennial rulemaking proceedings in 2015. The process begins with the submission of petitions detailing only the scope of the exemption requested—the petitioner does not have to submit any background or legal facts in support of the exemption during the petition phase. Following the petitions, the Copyright Office will group the petitions into distinct classes and invite public comments on the proposed exemption classes through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The commentary period is divided into three rounds: (1) comments with legal and evidentiary facts from supporters or neutral parties regarding the proposed exemptions; (2) comments with legal and evidentiary facts from opposing parties regarding the proposed exemptions; and (3) limited comments from supporters or neutral parties in response to arguments raised in an earlier round of comments. The third round of comments will not raise new issues regarding the exemptions. The Copyright Office will hold public hearings following the final commentary round to address specific issues identified in the comments. With the information gathered from the comments and the public hearings, the Register of Copyrights, in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”), will then make a final recommendation to the Librarian of Congress, often constricting the scope of many requested exemptions. The Librarian of Congress will then review the recommendations and issue a final list of exemptions in the Federal Register.

The New Streamlined Renewal Process

Prior to the enactment of the renewal process for the seventh triennial rulemaking proceedings, all renewal requests were treated as new petitions that required the same arduous 3-round commenting process even though the existing exemptions had already been filtered through the same commenting process three years prior. Critics of the rulemaking process found the process to be inefficient and redundant.

As mentioned above, the Copyright Office implemented a streamlined renewal process for the seventh triennial rulemaking proceedings in response to the public comments from its DMCA study. Instead of submitting a new petition, renewal proponents submit a separate renewal petition detailing the basis for its request to renew an existing exemption. Specifically, the Copyright Office requires a statement that explains how there has been no changes in the law that would prohibit the exemption and that failure to renew the exemption would lead to the detrimental ban of non-infringing uses of copyrighted works. The renewal process is available only for exemptions as they currently exist—expansion of current exemptions must go through the standard new petition process.

During the collection of renewal requests, the Office will also collect comments regarding any meaningful opposition—“new developments in case law or new factual evidence”—to the renewal requests. Any renewal request facing meaningful opposition will be treated as a new petition and filtered through the standard rulemaking process. If a renewal request is unopposed, the renewal will be automatically granted and published in the Federal Register.

Petitions submitted for the Seventh Triennial Rulemaking Proceedings

In the current round of proceedings, there are 23 new exemption petitions and 39 renewal requests. The new exemption petitions include: (1) expansion requests for current exemptions, such as expansion of the current video game exemption, requested by the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, to include multiplayer online games, video games with online multiplayer features, and massively multiplayer online games (MMOs); (2) new classes of exemptions, such as a petition submitted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) to allow circumvention for the repair and diagnosis of a software-enabled device. All petitions and renewals can be found here.

To general surprise, there was only one opposition comment submitted on behalf of The Software Alliance opposing the renewal of the “jailbreaking” exemption. The Software Alliance cites three claims in its opposition: (1) that “jailbreaking” may compromise the security and integrity of device platforms, increasing risks of privacy violations; (2) that alternatives to circumvention may exist; (3) the exemption may violate § 1201 by facilitating piracy of software applications.

Four other comments submitted on behalf of The DVD Copy Control Association (“DVD CCA”) and The Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator (“AACS LA”), the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (“AAM”), and an alliance of Joint Creators and Copyright Owners raise concerns with the renewal process. The comments submitted by the DVD CCA, AACS LA, and the AAM raise concerns that certain renewal requests include expansions that should be filtered from the renewal petition or otherwise treated as a new exemption petition. The comment submitted by the Joint Creators and Copyright Owners highlight concerns regarding the streamlined renewal process, requesting that the Copyright Office adhere by five implicit “rules” in the renewal process:

  • That the renewal is applicable only to current exemptions without added modification and that any exemption seeking expansion will require a new petition;
  • That the renewal is applicable only to the classes of users who request a renewal. The exemption should be repealed for all other classes of users who failed to request a renewal;
  • That the renewal should only be granted if the petitioners have personal knowledge or experience with the facts that support renewal. Generalized renewal petitions should not be granted;
  • That renewal petitions based on need to offer circumvention assistance should not be considered a renewal request. Instead, these should be considered expansions unless the original exemption specifically immunized the provision of such assistance;
  • That renewal petitions facing meaningful opposition should be treated as a new petition.

Next Steps for the Cyberlaw Clinic

The Cyberlaw Clinic is looking forward to submitting a comment in support of the SPN petition when the Copyright Office posts its Notice for Proposed Rulemaking. Since there has been no meaningful opposition submitted against the clinic’s request for renewal of the medical device exemption, it is expected that the renewal will be automatically granted.

Evelyn Chang is a second-year student at Harvard Law School and current clinical student in the Cyberlaw Clinic.

by Evelyn Chang at October 25, 2017 01:43 PM

October 24, 2017

Berkman Center front page
Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces


with author John Palfrey, Head of School at Phillips Academy, Andover


Often in today’s political climate our commitments to liberty and equality are set at odds with one another. This tension is nowhere more evident than when we pit free expression against our goals for a diverse, equitable, and inclusive society. This book explores these tensions and seeks ways to make progress toward shared goals, for campuses and societies alike.

Event Date

Oct 24 2017 5:00pm to Oct 24 2017 5:00pm
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Tuesday, October 24, 2017
5:00-6:15 pm Book Talk, followed by 6:30-7:30 pm Reception
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

Video and audio will be shared on this page soon!

Can diversity and free expression co-exist on our campuses?  How about in our town squares, our cities, and our world?  Join us for a discussion of two of the foundational values of our democracy in the digital age.


Read the Open Access book here!


About John

John is the Head of School at Phillips Academy, Andover.  He serves as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Knight Foundation and LRNG.  He also serves as a Board member of the Data + Society Research InstituteSchool Year Abroad, and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

John’s research and teaching focus on new media and learning.  He has written extensively on Internet law, intellectual property, and the potential of new technologies to strengthen democracies locally and around the world.  He is the author or co-author of several books, including Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age (Basic Books, revised edition, 2016) (with Urs Gasser); BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google (Basic Books, 2015); Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems (Basic Books, 2012) (with Urs Gasser); Intellectual Property Strategy (MIT Press, 2012); (with Urs Gasser); and Access Denied: The Practice and Politics of Global Internet Filtering (MIT Press, 2008) (co-edited).

John served previously as the Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School.  At the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, he served as executive director from 2002-2008 and has continued on as a faculty director since then. John came back to the Harvard Law School from the law firm Ropes & Gray, where he worked on intellectual property, Internet law, and private equity transactions. He also served as a Special Assistant at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration.  He previously served as the founding President of the Board of Directors of the Digital Public Library of America.  He also served as a venture executive at Highland Capital Partners and on the Board of Directors of the Mass2020 Foundation, the Ames Foundation, and Open Knowledge Commons, among others.  John was a Visiting Professor of Information Law and Policy at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland for the 2007-2008 academic year.

John graduated from Harvard College, the University of Cambridge, and Harvard Law School.  He was a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar to the University of Cambridge and the U.S. EPA Gold Medal (highest national award).



This event is being co-sponsored by the Harvard Law School Library and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

by ahancock at October 24, 2017 10:00 PM

How the Networked Age is Changing Humanitarian Disasters


featuring Nathaniel Raymond, founding Director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health


How is technology changing humanitarian crises? Is information humanitarian aid? Do we need a new Geneva Convention for cyberwarfare?

Parent Event

Berkman Klein Luncheon Series

Event Date

Oct 24 2017 12:00pm to Oct 24 2017 12:00pm
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Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

Information communication technologies and the data they produce are transforming how natural and manmade disasters alike unfold. These technologies are also affecting how populations behave and organizations respond when these events occur. This talk will address the ethical, legal and technical implications of this pivotal moment in the history of humanitarianism.

About Nathaniel

Nathaniel Raymond is the founding Director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. He has over fifteen years of experience as a humanitarian aid worker and human rights investigator. Raymond was formerly director of operations for the George Clooney-founded Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) at HHI.
Raymond served in multiple roles with Oxfam America and Oxfam International, including in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. He has published multiple popular and peer-reviewed articles on human rights, humanitarian issues, and technology in publications including the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, the Lancet, the Annals of Internal Medicine, and many others.

Raymond served in 2015 as a consultant on early warning to the UN Mission in South Sudan and as a technical consultant to Home Box Office on detainee abuse during the Bush Administration. He was a 2013 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow and is a co-editor of the technology issue of Genocide Studies and Prevention. Raymond and his Signal Program colleagues were prize winners in the 2013 USAID/Humanity United Tech Challenge for Mass Atrocity Prevention and received the 2012 U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation Industry Intelligence Achievement Award.


Notes from the talk

Humanitarianism has gone through several transformations since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century. According to Nathaniel Raymond, we are now at another crucial moment in humanitarian history, a time which he referred to as the “digital Goma,” referencing the cholera outbreaks in camps around Goma during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Raymond criticized the “humanitarian innovation narrative,” which assumes that increases in innovation and technology will lead to better humanitarian aid.

The use of ICT and data, while well intentioned, are causing secondary data disasters. Raymond cautioned that, “new ways of seeing create new ways of being blind.” For example, during Hurricane Katrina, people used cellphones to identify needs and request help, but the result was that white communities, in which cellphones were more prevalent, received more aid than communities of color. Such problems are the result of integrating new technologies into humanitarian efforts without adhering to a rights-based approach. In response to these issues, the Signal Program at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative has developed the Signal Code, described as a “human rights approach to information during crisis.” The code identifies five rights: the right to information; the right to protection; the right to privacy and security; the right to data agency; and the right to rectification and redress. The Signal Program hopes that the code will be the foundation for continued transformation of the humanitarian doctrine in this technological era.

Raymond concluded by asking whether we need a fifth Geneva Convention for the age of cyber warfare. We are either moving towards a “golden age of new regulations” or a post-normative world, in which the word “humanitarian” may not mean anything anymore. Currently, we are at a pivot point, on the precipice of a third world war, or a “war on trust.” Several key questions are at stake: Do we develop new norms? If so, how, and who gets to develop them? Finally, what are the consequences if we do not develop them?

Notes compiled by Donica O'Malley

Download original audio and video from this event.

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by candersen at October 24, 2017 05:00 PM

Justin Reich
The Worldwide Educating for the Future Index - A Blueprint for Change
The recently released Worldwide Educating for the Future Index urges governments to reevaluate their education systems and provides a blueprint for change.

by Beth Holland at October 24, 2017 03:51 PM

October 23, 2017

Deep Mediatization: Social Order in the Age of Datafication
Social and communication theorists Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp draw on their recent book "The Mediated Construction of Reality" (Polity 2016) to explore what happens to the concept and practice of 'social order' in the era of datafication. Today we are living in an era not just of mediatization, but deep mediatization where every element of social process and social life is composed of elements that have already been mediated. This shifts the question of media's 'influence' on the social into a higher-dimensional problem. Datafication is a good example of this, and its tension with classical forms of social phenomenology will be discussed in detail in the talk. Developing particularly the social theory of Norbert Elias (and his concept of 'figuration'), Couldry and Hepp explore how social theory can help us grasp the deep conflicts that exist today between our material systems of interdependence (particularly those focussed on information technology and data processing systems) and the normative principles such as freedom and autonomy. Such conflicts as legal theorists such as Julie Cohen note are crucial to the life of democratic subjects and the orders (democratic or not) that they inhabit. For more info on this event visit:

by the Berkman Klein Center at October 23, 2017 03:13 PM

October 22, 2017

Harry Lewis
Alumni reaction to the social club policy
A fascinating set of alumni letters appears in the current Harvard Magazine. The picture that emerges is a good deal more nuanced than the broad-brush stereotyping of social clubs in the Clark-Khurana report and associated administrative writings. Joan Hutchins '61, past president of the Board of Overseers and one of Harvard's most dedicated alumnae, describes herself as "appalled" by the policy and calls on the faculty to reject it. Heather Furnas, a distinguished plastic surgeon whose daughter graduated from Harvard this past spring, ties the importance of women's clubs to women's professional development, and dryly notes that her daughter joined a women's club only after being rejected by both Crimson Key and the Advocate. Like others, Furnas notes the lack of either logic or factual basis in the sanctions policy, but she goes a step further by announcing that she is going to stop donating to Harvard.

I cannot think of another time when alumni and parents so strongly spoke out in support of faculty opposition to an administrative action. There is no nostalgia in these voices; they are speaking up on principle and on the basis of their lived experiences. It takes courage to do so; apostasy serves no one's self interest. I am saddened by the fractures this is causing in the Harvard family. But these women are repelled by what Harvard is doing, and I am grateful to them for saying so.

by Harry Lewis ( at October 22, 2017 05:31 PM

October 19, 2017

Ethan Zuckerman
Stop killing protesters, including those protesting violence against protesters!

This morning, Twitter offered me a video of my friend Boniface Mwangi getting shot point blank with a tear gas container, leading to a hematoma. The irony of assaulting a man who was leading a peaceful march against police violence while wearing a t-shirt that read “Stop Killing Us” seems to have been lost on Kenyan authorities.

Given that Boni was kind enough to check in with me this morning to see if I could come to his talk at Amherst College next week (I can’t, but you really should – he’s a terrific speaker), I thought I’d take a moment to check in on Kenya’s disputed election.

Kenyan elections have not always been smooth affairs. The disputed 2007 election between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga led to protests – both peaceful and violent – and to waves of political and ethnic violence. Over a thousand people died. Tens of thousands were displaced. Kenya’s reputation as a stable and safe country suffered.

With 2007 firmly in mind, the international community has watched Kenya’s past two elections closely, though not always carefully. The election held in August of this year was widely certified as free and fair by international election observers, despite the fact that election tally forms were forged, the system for transmitting votes from polling stations to tabulation centers utterly failed, and the IT manager for the electoral commission was tortured and killed, likely to obtain his passwords to the system. It’s likely that international observers acted too hastily in certifying results, hoping to avoid post-election strife.

I have always marveled at how Kenyans rise to challenges. The 2007-8 strife led to a wave of civic engagement by young Kenyans that helped birth crowdmapping site Ushahidi, anti-violence efforts like Kuweni Serious and started countless young Kenyans down the path of political activism. Boni’s photographs of the 2007-8 protests helped bring his work as an artist and activist to international visibility.

And in 2017, Kenya’s supreme court rose to the challenge and overturned a flawed election demanding a clean re-run just a few weeks later. This was a remarkable act of judicial independence, given that all judges had been appointed by Uhuru Kenyatta, the winner of the disputed poll. Unfortunately, Kenya’s election body made very few of the changes the Supreme Court demanded, and it became increasingly clear to Odinga’s camp that a rerun of the elections later this month would have many of the same flaws of the previous poll. On October 10th, Odinga pulled out of the poll and encouraged his supporters – who had already been protesting – to demonstrate their refusal to let the election be stolen. Two days ago, elections commissioner Roselyne Akombe resigned and fled to the US, stating that she did not believe the commission could conduct a free and fair election, and that she’d begun fearing for her own safety given threats of violence.

As Odingo supporters have taken to the streets, Kenyan police have reacted with force, which has led to deaths – Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report at least 33 protesters killed by police in the immediate aftermath of the August poll. On Monday, a high school student was shot and killed by police during protests in Kisumu, a stronghold for Odinga.

These deaths were the backdrop for the “Stop Killing Protesters” march Boni and Team Courage organized today in the central business district of Nairobi. The protest was registered with local authorities and Boni’s team gave careful instructions to protesters, hoping to minimize confrontation with police. As his arrest and injury demonstrate, that’s been harder than it should be.

The situation in Kenya is hard to predict and it’s clearly a tense and scary time ahead. I know a lot of truly remarkable young Kenyans and I have a great deal of faith that 2017 will give birth to another wave of activism, engagement and innovation. I have less confidence in existing Kenyan institutions, which seem to be facing a situation more complex than they’re able to handle.

One aspect of the current situation that I find especially worrisome: international attention. When democracies stumble, international pressure often keeps the train on the rails, showing leaders that autocratic behavior will be noticed and will lead to consequences. It’s hard to imagine the Kenyan situation getting much attention in the US right now, given competition from crises like Puerto Rico and the ongoing recovery in Texas and Florida, not to mention the crisis du jour coming from the Trump administration. One of the dangers of the wave of nationalism and nativism sweeping across the world is that positive pressure of globalization weakens.

by Ethan at October 19, 2017 07:16 PM

Berkman Center front page
National Security, Privacy, and the Rule of Law


A live webcast featuring Alex Abdo, Cindy Cohn, Alexander MacGillivray, Andrew McLaughlin, Matt Olsen, Daphna Renan, David Sanger, Bruce Schneier, Elliot Schrage, and Jeffrey Toobin in conversation with Professor Jonathan Zittrain

Event Date

Oct 27 2017 11:00am to Oct 27 2017 11:00am

Friday, October 27, 2017 
Live webcast at 11-12:30pm at

While civil libertarians and conventional national security advocates have typically found little to agree on, today they share a profound anxiety about the trajectory of state intelligence gathering. For some, this reflects concern about invasions of privacy made possible by a digital environment in which every click and inquiry can be tracked and where our homes and workplaces have welcomed internet-aware appliances that could be repurposed for surveillance.

For others, there is a sense of undue empowerment of those who wish to cause harm and disruption, thanks to technologies that permit untraceable communications and cultivation and rallying of like-minded extremists.

Through a concrete hypothetical--ripped from tomorrow's headlines, if not today's--we will explore the difficult decisions to be made around these issues, including actors from business, government, civil society, and the citizenry at large.

This event is part of Harvard Law's School's bicentennial activities.

by gweber at October 19, 2017 07:00 PM

How Facebook Tries to Regulate Postings Made by Two Billion People


Berkman Klein Center hosts a day of conversation about reducing harmful speech online and hears from the Facebook executive in charge of platform moderation policies

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On September 19, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society hosted a public lunch talk with Monika Bickert, the Head of Global Policy Management at Facebook. The public event was followed by a meeting at which members of the Berkman Klein Center community explored broader research questions and topics related to the challenges of keeping tabs on the daily social media interactions of hundreds of millions of people.

The day was hosted by the Center’s Harmful Speech Online Project. Questions surrounding the algorithmic management of online content, and how those processes impact media and information quality, are also a core focus of the center’s Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative.

Later in the afternoon, members of the Berkman Klein Center community came together for additional discussion about content moderation broadly, and related questions of hate speech and online harassment. About 80 community members: librarians, technologists, policy researchers, lawyers, students, and academics from a wide range of disciplines attended.

The afternoon included presentations about specific challenges in content moderation by Desmond Patton, Assistant Professor of Social Work at Columbia University and Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center, and Jenny Korn, an activist-scholar and doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Berkman Klein Fellow.

These researchers explained just how difficult it can be to moderate content when the language and symbols used to convey hate or violent threats evolve in highly idiosyncratic and context-dependent ways.

Read the full event summary on Medium.

by gweber at October 19, 2017 04:58 PM

Will Wikipedia exist in 20 years?
Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, joins Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler for a conversation about the future of Wikipedia and global crowdsourced knowledge. Find out more about this event here:

by the Berkman Klein Center at October 19, 2017 04:31 PM

October 18, 2017

Harry Lewis
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day
Forbes has a nice story in its online edition about what can happen to you as a Harvard professor if you just teach your classes and pay a little bit of attention to the students Admissions keeps putting in front of you.
 The Harvard Professor Who Taught Gates and Zuckerberg 
Same-day bonus link, about another of my wonderful students!
Students Promote Computer Science Professor for Harvard Presidency

by Harry Lewis ( at October 18, 2017 11:06 PM

Berkman Center front page
Deep Mediatization: Social Order in the Age of Datafication


with Nick Couldry, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK and Berkman Klein Faculty Associate and Andreas Hepp, Zemki, University of Bremen, Germany


Social order - what counts as order in the social world - is changing in the digital era, the era of deep mediatization. How can social theory help us understand this shift, and what are the consequence for fundamental democratic values such as freedom and autonomy?

Event Date

Oct 18 2017 4:00pm to Oct 18 2017 4:00pm
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Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at 4:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

Social and communication theorists Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp draw on their recent book The Mediated Construction of Reality (Polity 2016) to explore what happens to the concept and practice of 'social order' in the era of datafication. They start out from their proposal made in the book that today we are living in an era not just of mediatization, but deep mediatization where every element of social process and social life is composed of elements that have already been mediated. This shifts the question of media's 'influence' on the social into a higher-dimensional problem. Datafication is a good example of this, and its tension with classical forms of social phenomenology will be discussed in detail in the talk. Developing particularly the social theory of Norbert Elias (and his concept of 'figuration'), Couldry and Hepp will explore how social theory can help us grasp the deep conflicts that exist today between our material systems of interdependence (particularly those focussed on information technology and data processing systems) and the normative principles such as freedom and autonomy. Such conflicts as legal theorists such as Julie Cohen note are crucial to the life of democratic subjects and the orders (democratic or not) that they inhabit.

About Nick Couldry

Nick Couldry is a sociologist of media and culture. He is Professor of Media Communications and Social Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author or editor of twelve books including most recently The Mediated Construction of Reality (with Andreas Hepp, Polity, 2016), Ethics of Media (2013 Palgrave, coedited with Mirca Madianou and Amit Pinchevski), Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice (Polity 2012) and Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics After Neoliberalism (Sage 2010). He is Visiting Researcher at the Microsoft Research Lab, Cambridge, MA during August to December 2017 and a Faculty Associate of  the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society for 2017-2018. Full bio here.

About Andreas Hepp

Andreas Hepp is Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research (ZeMKI), University of Bremen, Germany. He is co-initiator of and principal investigator in the research network ‘Communicative Figurations’ as well as the DFG funded priority research program ‘Mediatized Worlds’ (2010-2017). His main research interests are media sociology, mediatization, transnational and transcultural communication, datafication, and qualitative methods of media research. Publications include the monographs Cultures of Mediatization (Polity, 2013), Transcultural Communication (Wiley, 2015) and The Mediated Construction of Reality (with Nick Couldry, Polity, 2017). Full bio here.


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by candersen at October 18, 2017 09:00 PM

October 17, 2017

Berkman Center front page
Will Wikipedia exist in 20 years?


Featuring Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, in conversation with Harvard Law School Professor Yochai Benkler


Join us for a stimulating conversation highlighting different perspectives of the question, "Will Wikipedia exist in 20 years?"

Parent Event

Berkman Klein Luncheon Series

Event Date

Oct 17 2017 12:00pm to Oct 17 2017 12:00pm
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

Please join us to hear the Executive Director of Wikimedia Foundation, Katherine Maher, in discussion with Harvard Law School Professor Yochai Benkler on the topic, "Will Wikipedia exist in 20 years?"

About Katherine

From Wikipedia: Katherine Roberts Maher is the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, a position she has held since June 2016. Previously she was chief communications officer. In addition to a background in the field of information and communications technology (ICT), Maher has worked in the non-profit and international sectors focusing on the use of technology to empower human rights and international development, specifically improving communities, promoting inclusivity and transparency, and deepening participation.

About Yochai

Yochai Benkler is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard, and faculty co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Before joining the faculty at Harvard Law School, he was Joseph M. Field '55 Professor of Law at Yale. He writes about the Internet and the emergence of networked economy and society, as well as the organization of infrastructure, such as wireless communications.


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Notes from the talk

For the past year, according to Maher, the Wikimedia Foundation has been consumed by the question: what does the future hold for Wikipedia?

Wikipedia (the encyclopedia arm of the organization) has been around for 15 years and has grown exponentially since its inception in 2001. Wikipedia now receives 1.4 billion unique device visits a month and is the world’s fifth largest website.

Although Wikipedia is the most used aspect of the organization, Wikimedia also encompasses Wikimedia Commons, a gallery of freely usable media files, and WikiData, a collection of editable data sources, amongst other projects.

In 2017 Wikimedia launched the Wikimedia2030 initiative, which aimed to create a strategic direction for the organization’s future. The process involved conversations with more than 80 Wikimedia communities and groups. From the Wikimedia2030 project, the organization learned that it does not come close to serving the whole world, that it is still largely a global north project, and that structural inequalities prevent them from achieving their mission. In particular, Maher noted that though they have made some progress, the organization still struggles with gender bias. They also heard from participants that they need to adapt to both changing knowledge needs and new technologies. Maher questioned whether idea of encyclopedias themselves were irrelevant for younger generations and stated that many people around the world do not use search interfaces.

Based on the results of the project, Wikimedia has created a list of comprehensive goals for the future. These goals include building healthy, inclusive communities, advancing with technology, creating a truly global movement, becoming the most respected source of knowledge, and engaging in the knowledge ecostream.

Finally, Maher emphasized Wikimedia’s plan to become the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge. She conceptualized knowledge in two ways – as service and as equity. Wikimedia views itself as providing a service to the world – they want to build better tools for themselves and their allies, and enable new forms of knowledge through creative platforms, such as hosting oral histories and multimedia projects. Additionally, Wikimedia is committed to social equity. They plan to break down barriers to information and help bring forward knowledge left out by systems of privilege and power. Ultimately, Wikimedia is “embedded in the spirit of learning and exploration, and curiosity,” and aims to be an organization “that can help increase the amount of information in the world,” Maher concluded.

Notes compiled by Donica O'Malley

by candersen at October 17, 2017 05:00 PM

October 13, 2017

Justin Reich
101 Apps NOT Mentioned in this Post
How might we create the ideal conditions for professional learning and promote conversations about deeper learning and systemic change?

by Beth Holland at October 13, 2017 05:39 PM

October 12, 2017

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Massachusetts Considers Digital Right to Repair

On September 26, 2017, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure heard testimony on proposed digital “right to repair” bills H.143 and S.96. The two proposed bills would require manufacturers of digital devices to provide diagnostic, repair, and service information to independent technicians and owners of devices, information that is currently only available to technicians selected and authorized by the manufacturers. The bills would further require manufacturers allow independent technicians and owners to purchase replacement parts and service tools at a reasonable price. The bills by their terms relieve manufacturers of the obligation to reveal any trade secret; however, they do not address the practicality of providing service manuals and diagnostic information without exposing trade secrets, particularly for manufacturers who rely heavily on trade secret protection.

Massachusetts has tackled right to repair before. In 2012, Massachusetts became the first state to pass right to repair legislation for motor vehicles. Rather than face future legislation from other states, auto manufacturers agreed to make the Massachusetts law their national standard.

The right to repair bills discussed on Tuesday shift the focus to digital devices. The bills cover only “digital electronic product[s],” defined as a device that “contain[s] a microprocessor,” but expressly excluding class III medical devices (high-risk implantable devices) and vehicles. This definition conceivably includes consumer electronics, medical devices, and any other digital device containing a microprocessor.

Senator Michael D. Brady, presenting the Senate bill, explained that both bills are designed to protect consumers from manufacturers who currently control the price of repair. The lack of competition, according to Senator Brady, leads to decreased innovation in service repair and prevents local repair business from performing repairs. However, Senator Brady indicated that he was open to the Joint Committee making minor changes.

Proponents of the bills argued that allowing independent repair and granting access to repair manuals, diagnostic information, and security patches ultimately improves security and device safety. Rachel Kalmar, a research fellow at Harvard University, explained that the device manufacturers’ current method of “security through obscurity” does not work. In the long run, Kalmar explained, published systems are ultimately more secure because researchers are able to find and fix security flaws. Kalmar also explained that safety is improved when individuals have access to updates. When companies stop supporting old devices, those devices may not get the latest software patches and can pose a threat to the larger network. The network is only as secure as its weakest link.

Proponents furthered argued that the current monopoly manufacturers hold on repair hurts consumers by inflating the cost of repair. Manufacturers, motivated to sell more new products and to protect repair as a revenue stream, are incentivized to make repair more expensive than replacement. Adam Fullerton, a manager at MEGA MOBILE, a Boston company specializing in unlocked smartphone repairs, testified that he has watched the cost of repair parts for Apple products skyrocket over the past few years, when the parts were even available to independent technicians at all. In the context of medical devices, Scot Mackeil, a Boston-based medical repair technician, explained that he could make more repairs on critical equipment, without sending the equipment to the manufacturer or waiting on an authorized technician, if he had access to repair manuals and parts.

Finally, the bills’ supporters argued that the monopoly on repair also hurts the secondary market for electronic devices. Rohi Sukhia of used computer wholesaler TradeLoop explained that when a consumer attempts to patch a device she bought used, manufacturers will often refuse to sell the patch or offer it at the cost of a new device, rendering the used hardware worthless.

The bills were primarily opposed by representatives of the manufacturers, especially technology and medical device manufacturers.

Opponents argued that the bills presented a threat to IP and trade secrets, despite the language that had been included to accommodate this concern. Sarah Faye Pierce, who represented a home appliance trade group, was the first to point out that releasing service manuals and repair information may require a release of sensitive IP. Matthew Mincieli of TechNet, a group representing technology companies and their executives, agreed, arguing that these bills will hurt the “tech ecosystem” and may disincentivize technology companies from coming to Massachusetts. Tim Johnson of the Entertainment Software Association agreed that the bills threaten IP and argued that the bills are unnecessary because there is an incentive for manufacturers to fix game consoles: “No one buys games for broken consoles.” Johnson also pointed out that the Copyright Office is currently conducting a review of a possible national right to repair exception.

Representatives of the medical device manufacturers were primarily focused on the potential threat to the quality of repair. Representatives of the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council (MassMEDIC) believed that the legislation would allow unqualified third parties to perform repairs on critical medical equipment without adherence to regulations imposed by the FDA. The FDA currently regulates repairs performed by manufacturers, but third parties may be exempt. Tom Tremble of the Advanced Medical Technology Association thought this threat was particularly acute for class II medical devices, such as infusion pumps, which present a moderate risk to patients.

Opponents were also concerned about potential security risks of exposing service manuals and diagnostic information. Faye Pierce explained that many home appliances are now “smart” appliances and that exposing service information could make these devices more vulnerable to hacks. Mincieli pointed out that releasing software repair information would allow bad actors to more easily identify vulnerabilities.

The Joint Committee raised a few questions of its own, for example, whether a car like the Tesla was more like a motor vehicle or a digital device, and seemed receptive to arguments from both sides. If the bills were to pass, they would be the first of their kind nationwide.

Alex Noonan is a second-year student at Harvard Law School and current clinical student in the Cyberlaw Clinic.

by Alex Noonan at October 12, 2017 01:54 PM

Harry Lewis
Professor Allen's Puzzling Motion, Part 2
When I introduced my motion, I referred to Professor Allen’s motionas “astonishingly sweeping.” Yet I did not appreciate how sweeping it was until a student asked me a question. Before I report her question, let’s back up and parse the motion as best we can.

Opinion is divided among my colleagues about the significance of the Allen motion. Some think it is tautologous, therefore meaningless, and therefore harmless. Others see it as threatening and disingenuous. Given the confusion, after more than a year of debate and with an impending vote, it is safer to respond to the motion’s intentions and to assume that the text is just badly drafted—in spite of being a third draft.

And in spite of having been supported by a 17-0 vote of the Faculty Council. That vote suggests that the Council may have thought the motion uncontroversial. But that only adds to the puzzle, since Dean Smith, who chairs the Council but is not a voting member of it, seems uncertain what its impact would be:
“Personally I don’t see all the clear next steps,” Smith said of Allen’s motion. “I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not even going to try to play one here.”
What sort of group dynamics resulted in a 17-0 vote by a faculty committee whose chair won’t opine on the motion’s meaning?

Adding to the irony of an ambiguous motion being voted up 17-0 by the Faculty Council is that the same body (with the same chair and significantly overlapping membership) refusedto take a vote on the motion I filed last year, “citing uncertainty about whether a vote for the motion would impact the policy,” as the Crimson paraphrased the body’s reasoning.

In any case, let’s assume that the intention is, as Professor Allen explained in supporting materials, to require all student organizations to which Harvard students belong to adhere to the nondiscrimination and other rules Harvard requires of recognized student organizations. A student belonging to a noncompliant organization would have three choices: force the organization to change, resign from it, or be “suspended or expelled.” (Professor Allen uses the term “expel,” so I too am using it and its cognates. Again, it is unclear whether what she says is what she really means—in Harvard parlance, to “expel” is more severe than to dismiss, which is more severe than requirement to withdraw. In modern times very few students have been expelled or dismissed. Expulsion is the equivalent of capital punishment--permanent separation with no possibility of return.)

The motion uses the Massachusetts anti-hazing statute to define “student organization.” That criminal statute applies to
every student group, student team or student organization which is part of such institution or is recognized by the institution or permitted by the institution to use its name or facilities or is known by the institution to exist as an unaffiliated student group, student team or student organization.
That broad definition is of course meant to hold colleges’ feet to the fire. I am not a lawyer either, but it’s plainly an anti-hazing statute, not a nondiscrimination statute. It says that colleges have to communicate with off-campus fraternities and the like. In fact, communication is all the statute actually requires colleges to do: to inform the organizations of their responsibilities under the law, to inform all students of the statute, and to attest to the Commonwealth that it has done so.

Professor Allen’s motion puts this category to an entirely different use: to force Harvard’s nondiscrimination rules on them. That is why the Allen motion is such an astounding assertion of power over private associations, far beyond anything Dean Khurana or the Clark-Khurana committee proposed. As I observed in my previous blog post, it would cover ROTC. Indeed, ROTC is exactly the sort of organization the state might want warned about hazing. The statutory definition would also cover the interuniversity fraternities and sororities, including the ones to which many African-American and Hispanic students belong. Again, it makes perfect sense that the anti-hazing statute would apply to them—if we accept the intent of that statute as legitimate, then such organizations and the student bodies from which they draw their members shouldn’t miss out on those warnings just because the students aren’t exclusively drawn from one school.

Like it or not, the definition of “student organization” in the anti-hazing statute makes sense for an anti-hazing statute. But that definition has no rational applicability to the membership policies of organizations Harvard students join. By what legal or ethical reasoning can that definition be used to threaten their student members with expulsion if the clubs they join aren’t co-educational?

And so to the student’s question. I was asked about the impact of the Allen motion on the Harvard Knights of Columbus and the Harvard Daughters of Isabella. Until I got the question, I had no idea these organizations even existed. They aren’t recognized student organizations, and indeed they run afoul of several of the requirements for recognition. They are single-sex organizations. They are under outside control. They may even impose a religious test on their members. They use the Harvard name, probably without permission. In compliance terms, they are worse than final clubs.

Will the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, by passing the Allen motion, assert its authority to force the Knights of Columbus and the Daughters of Isabella to go co-ed, and to expel their members if they do not?

Doubtless there are other student organizations which will unexpectedly fall under Harvard’s authority if the Allen motion passes. Harvard students are both diverse and creative. They are constantly forming new groups, recognized and unrecognized, in response to common interests and commitments.

If the text of Professor Allen’s motion is not further revised as such absurdities become apparent, those supporting the motion may point to the vague language about writing rules that will balance freedoms and rights. But that would simply authorize the administration to use its best judgment to decide whether to sanction individual clubs and organizations, without any unambiguous direction from the faculty about the meaning of its standards of nondiscrimination. The way out of this snarl is not to get into it, which is the idea behind my motion.

In retrospect, the Verba reportnow seems such a masterpiece. It took Harvard’s nondiscrimination rules seriously, and concluded they applied even to ROTC. Some of us gasped at that, but its logic was inescapable. But the report also recognized the illogic and illiberality of punishing student members for what Harvard might regard as an organization’s shortcomings. It combined moral clarity with humility. Not so the Allen motion, which lacks both.

(Corrected 10/14 as to the use of expulsion in response to a comment.)

by Harry Lewis ( at October 12, 2017 02:28 AM

October 11, 2017

Programming the Future of AI: Ethics, Governance, and Justice
How do we prepare court systems, judges, lawyers, and defendants to interact with autonomous systems? What are the potential societal costs to human autonomy, dignity, and due process from the use of these systems in our judicial systems? Harvard Law School Clinical Professor and Director of the Cyberlaw Clinic Chris Bavitz, along with Harvard's Cynthia Dwork, Christopher L. Griffin, Margo I. Seltzer, and Jonathan L. Zittrain, discuss the evolution of artificial intelligence, with an emphasis on ethics, governance, and criminal and social justice. Drawing from the research, community building, and educational efforts undertaken as part of our Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence initiative, leading experts in the field share and reflect on insights from ongoing activities related to the judiciary and fairness. Find out more about this event here:

by the Berkman Klein Center at October 11, 2017 03:36 PM

Berkman Center front page
International students team up with Berkman Klein mentors to learn open source development


This summer six students from around the world remotely worked on the development of open source projects with mentorship from members of the Berkman Klein community through the Google Summer of Code (GSoC) program.

by Daniel Oyolu

This summer six students from around the world remotely worked on the development of open source projects with mentorship from members of the Berkman Klein community through the Google Summer of Code (GSoC) program. Designed to introduce students to the development of open source software (or software whose code is openly available to be viewed, altered, or improved), the program pays selected students a stipend to work as interns at organizations supporting open source software projects.

While separate from the Berkman Klein Center’s flagship on-site Summer Internship Program, the GSoC program is similar in that it aligns with and furthers the Center’s commitments to education, diversity, and network-building.

“The GSoC initiative matches the Berkman Klein Center’s mission of building out into cyberspace and making tools freely available to the public and researchers,” said Ellen Popko, the staff technologist who oversees the Berkman Klein Center’s involvement with GSoC. “The program allows students to acquire real world working experience as they learn about workflows, development cycles, and working with developers.”

The students worked on several projects under the guidance of Berkman Klein community members:

  • Dongge Liu, a master’s student of software engineering at the University of Melbourne in Australia, used machine learning to implement topic creation in Media Cloud, a joint project of the Berkman Klein Center and the MIT Media Lab that is an open-source platform for studying media ecosystems. Liu was mentored by Linas Valiukas, a former GSOC student who has continued to work remotely with the Berkman Klein Center from Lithuania on Media Cloud for the past five years.   (Read more about this work on GitHub.)

  • Gaurav Koley, obtaining his master’s in information technology at the International Institute of Information Technology in Bangalore, India, worked on the Berkman Klein Center’s BookANook project with support from Berkman Klein mentors Jessica Yurkofsky and Justin Clark. BookANook is an open source tool that makes it easier for users to reserve a room in community spaces, like a study room in a library. Gaurav worked to improve the tool’s overall user interface. (Learn more about this project on GitHub.)

  • Morgan Gangwere, a communications student at the University of New Mexico, worked under the mentorship of Berkman Klein affiliate Jason Griffey on the LibraryBox project. The LibraryBox website describes itself as an “open source, portable digital file distribution tool that enables delivery of vital information to individuals with no internet.” (Read more about this work on GitHub.)

  • Kumar Shubham, a computer science and engineering student at VIT University in Chennai, India, worked on the Teem project, an application that allows potential collaborators to connect with community projects they would like to support, under the supervision of Berkman Klein fellow Samer Hassan and Antonio Tenorio-Fornés. This summer Kumar helped make Teem more open and connected to other popular online services by implementing a contextual link preview, embedding functions, and sharing functions across various social media platforms. (Read more about this work on GitHub.)

  • David Llop, a master’s student studying security in ICT at the Open University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, worked with the SwellRT team with direction from Berkman Klein fellow Samer Hassan and Pablo Ojanguren. He helped provide end-to-end encryption to SwellRT in order to enhance user privacy. (Read more about this work on GitHub.)

To participate in the GSoC program, a potential mentor organization applies to and must be accepted by the Google Open Source Office. Students then propose projects directly to the mentor organization, which then selects the students it would like to work with. Students must be currently enrolled in a university program and eligible to work in their home country.  If they meet all the obligations over the course of the internship, they receive a stipend from Google.

This summer, the program accepted more than 200 mentor organizations, of which just a handful are academic institutions.

"We are excited to provide an opportunity for rising coders to work on academic research with open source principles,” said Sebastian Diaz, Director of Technology at the Berkman Klein Center. “Academic groups are building and sharing cool things, too.”

The Berkman Klein Center first began its involvement with Google Summer of Code in 2010, and since then a handful of GSoC students have continued to work with the Center on a variety of projects. In addition to Linas Valiukas, who works on Media Cloud, Miriam Marrouf, a 2016 GSoC student from Egypt worked on Internet Monitor and other Berkman Klein projects throughout the past academic year. Chaitanya Choudhary, another 2016 GSoC intern, came to Cambridge this summer from India as a member of our onsite summer internship program. Choudhary continued his development work on the DotPlot tool.

“This program allows us access to student we wouldn’t normally be working with,” said Popko. It’s rewarding to be able to work with students from so many different backgrounds and on a global scale.”

GSoC student Morgan Gangwere said he has enjoyed the mentorship aspect of the program. “Jason [Griffey] is a fantastic mentor, giving me a huge amount of support on keeping me on track and getting things done,” he said.  Morgan worked to move LibraryBox over to a new kind of hardware, the Raspberry Pi.

“This will do a huge number of things for the project,” said Griffey. “It frees us from the whims of commercial hardware that we've been using and that has become increasingly locked-down and hard to customize, it gives users a more powerful platform to build new and exciting customizations on, and it gives the project itself the ability to start fresh with a new architecture that we can use in different ways to meet the needs of our users.”

You can read more about the GSoC Summer 2017 projects from the students’ perspectives on the Geek Cave blog.


by gweber at October 11, 2017 03:04 PM

October 10, 2017

David Weinberger
[liveblog][bkc] Algorithmic fairness

I’m at a special Berkman Klein Center Tuesday lunch, a panel on “Programming the Future of AI: Ethics, Governance, and Justice” with Cynthia Dwork, Christopher L. Griffin, Margo I. Seltzer, and Jonathan L. Zittrain, in a discussion moderated by Chris Bavitz.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

They begin with brief intros of their interests:

Chris Griffin: One of the big questions for use of algorithms in the justice system is what: is the alternative? Human decision making has its own issues.

Margo Seltzer: She’s been working on transparent models. She would always prefer to be able to get an index card’s worth of explanation of how a machine learning system has come up with its output.

Cynthia Dwork: What is our definition of fairness, and how might we evaluate the fairness of our machine systems? She says she’s not that big a fan of insisting on explanations.

Jonathan Zittrain: What elements of this ought to be contracted out? Can we avoid the voting machine problem of relying on a vendor we don’t necessarily trust? Also, it may be that expalantions don’t help us that much. Also, we have to be very wary of biases built into the data. Finally, AI might be able to shed light on interventions before problems arise, e.g., city designs that might lower crime rates.

Chris Bavitz: Margo, say more about transparency…

Seltzer: Systems ought to be designed so that if you ask why it came up with that conclusion, it can tell you in a way that you can understand. Not just a data dump.

Bavitz: The legal system generally expects that, but is that hard to do?

Seltzer: It seems that in some cases you can achieve higher accuracy with models that are not explicable. But not always.

Dwork: Yes.

Zittrain: People like Cynthia Rudin have been re-applying techniques from the 1980s but are explainable. But I’ve been thinking about David Weinberger’s recent work [yes, me] that reality may depend on factors that are deeply complex and that don’t reduce down to understandable equations.

Dwork: Yes. But back to Margo. Rule lists have antecedents and probabilities. E.g., you’re trying to classify mushrooms as poisonous or not. There are features you notice: shape of the head, odor, texture, etc. You can generate rules lists that are fairly simple: if the stalk is like this and the smell is like, then it’s likely poisonous. But you can also have “if/else” conditions. The conclusions can be based on very complex dependencies among these factors. So, the question of why something was classified some way can be much more complicated than meets the eye.

Seltzer: I agree. Let’s say you were turned down for the loan. You might not be able to understand the complex of factors, but you might be able to find a factor you can address.

Dwork: Yes, but the question “Is there a cheap and easy path that would lead to a different outcome?” is a very different quesiton than “Why I was classified some particular way?””

Griffin: There’s a multi-level approach to assessing transparency. We can’t expect the public to understand the research by which a model is generated. But how is that translated into scoring mechanisms? What inputs are we using? If you’re assessing risk from 1 to 6, does the decision-maker understand the difference between, say, a 2 and 3?

Zittrain: The data going in often is very reductive. You do an interview with a prisoner who doesn’t really answer so you take a stab at it … but the stabbiness of that data is not itself input. [No, Zittrain did not say “stabbiness”].

Griffin: The data quality issue is widespread. In part this is because the data sets are discrete. It would be useful to abstract ID’s so the data can be aggregated.

Zittrain: Imagine you can design mushrooms. You could design a poisonous one with the slightest variation from edible ones to game the system. A real life example: the tax system. I think I’d rather trust machine learning than a human model that can be more easily gamed.

Bavitz: An interviewer who doesn’t understand the impact of the questions she’s asking might be a feature, not a bug, if you want to get human bias out of the model…

Seltzer: The suspicion around machine algorithms stems from a misplaced belief that humans are fair and unbiased. The combination of a human and a machine, if the human can understand the machine’s model, might result in less biased decisions than either on their own.

Bavitz: One argument for machine learning tools is consistency.

Griffin: The ethos of our system would be lost. We rely on a judicial official to use her or his wisdom, experience, and discretion to make decisions. “Bias could be termed as the inability to perceive with sufficient clarity.” [I missed some of this. Sorry.]

Bavitz: If the data is biased, can the systems be trained out of the bias?

Dwork: Generally, garbage in, garbage out. There are efforts now, but they’re problematic. Maybe you can combine unbiased data with historical data, and use that to learn models that are less biased.

Griffin: We’re looking for continuity in results. With the prisoner system, the judge gets a list of the factors lined up with the prisoner’s history. If the judge wants to look at that background and discard some of the risk factors because they’re so biased, s/he can ignore the machine’s recommendation. There may be some anchoring bias, but I’d argue that that’s a good thing.

Bavitz: How about the private, commercial actors who are providing this software? What if these companies don’t want to make their results interpretable so as not to give away their special sauce?

Dwork: When Facebook is questioned, I like to appeal to the miracle of modern cryptography that lets us prove that secrets have particular properties without decrypting them. This can be applied to algorithms so you can show that one has a particular property without revealing that algorithm itself. There’s a lot of technology out there that can be used to preserve the secrecy of the algorithm, if that were the only problem.

Zittrain: It’d be great to be able to audit a tech while keeping the algorithm secret, but why does the company want to keep it secret? Especially if the results of the model are fed back in, increasing lock-in. I can’t see why we’d want to farm this out to commercial entities. But that hasn’t been on the radar because entrepreneurial companies are arising to do this for municipalities, etc.

Seltzer: First, the secrecy of the model is totally independent from the business model. Second, I’m fine with companies building these models, but it’s concerning if they’re keeping the model secret. Would you take a pill if you had no idea how it worked?

Zittrain: We do that all the time.

Dwork: That’s an example of relying on testing, not transparency.

Griffin: Let’s say we can’t get the companies to reveal the algorithms or the research. The public doesn’t want to know (unless there’s litigation over a particular case) the reasoning behind the decision, but whether it works.

Zittrain: Assume re-arrest rates are influenced by factors that shouldn’t count. The algorithm would reflect that. What can we do about that?

Griffin: The evidence is overwhelming about the disparity in stops by race and ethnicity. The officers are using the wrong proxies for making these decisions. If you had these tools throughout the lifespan of such a case, you might be able to change this. But these are difficult issues.

Seltzer: Every piece of software has bugs. The thought of sw being used in way where I don’t know what it thinks it’s doing or what it’s actually doing gives me a lot of pause.


Q: The government keeps rehiring the same contractors who fail at their projects. The US Digital Service insists that contractors develop their sw in public. They fight this. Second, many engineering shops don’t think about the bias in the data. How do we infuse that into companies?

Dwork: I’m teaching it in a new course this semester…

Zittrain: The syllabus is secret. [laughter]

Seltzer: We inject issues of ethics into our every CS course. You have to consider the ethics while you’re designing and building the software. It’s like considering performance and scalability.

Bavitz: At the Ethics and Governance of AI project at the Berkman Klein Center, we’ve been talking about the point of procurement: what do the procurers need to be asking?

Q: The panel has talked about justice, augmenting human decision-making, etc. That makes it sound like we have an idea of some better decision-making process. What is it? How will we know if we’ve achieved it? How will models know if they’re getting it right, especially over time as systems get older?

Dwork: Huge question. Exactly the right question. If we knew who ought to be treated similarly to whom for any particular classification class, everything would become much easier. A lot of AI’s work will be discovering this metric of who is similar to whom, and how similar. It’s going to be an imperfect but improving situation. We’ll be doing the best guess, but as we do more and more research, our idea of what is the best guess will improve.

Zittrain: Cynthia, your work may not always let us see what’s fair, but it does help us see what is unfair. [This is an important point. We may not be able to explain what fairness is exactly, but we can still identify unfairness.] We can’t ask machine learning pattern recognition to come up with a theory of justice. We have to rely on judges, legislators, etc. to do that. But if we ease the work of judges by only presenting the borderline cases, do we run the risk of ossifying the training set on which the judgments by real judges were made? Will the judges become de-skilled? Do you keep some running continuously in artesinal courtrooms…? [laughter]

Griffin: I don’t think that any of these risk assessments can solve any of these optimization problems. That takes a conversation in the public sphere. A jurisdiction has to decide what its tolerance for risk is, what it’s tolerance is for the cost of incarceration, etc. The tool itself won’t get you to that optimized outcome. It will be the interaction of the tool and the decision-makers. That’s what gets optimized over time. (There is some baseline uniformity across jurisdictions.)
Q: Humans are biased. Assume a normal distribution across degrees of bias. AI can help us remove the outliers, but it may rely on biased data.

Dwork: I believe this is the bias problem we discussed.

Q: Wouldn’t be better to train it on artificial data?

Seltzer: Where does that data come from? How do we generate realistic but unbiased data?

The post [liveblog][bkc] Algorithmic fairness appeared first on Joho the Blog.

by davidw at October 10, 2017 05:46 PM

Berkman Center front page
HUBweek 2017: Programming the Future of AI: Ethics, Governance, and Justice


featuring Harvard's Cynthia Dwork, Christopher L. Griffin, Margo I. Seltzer, and Jonathan L. Zittrain in conversation with Professor Chris Bavitz


How do we prepare court systems, judges, lawyers, and defendants to interact with autonomous systems? What are the potential societal costs to human autonomy, dignity, and due process from the use of these systems in our judicial systems?

Event Date

Oct 10 2017 12:00pm to Oct 10 2017 12:00pm
Thumbnail Image: 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

How do we prepare court systems, judges, lawyers, and defendants to interact with autonomous systems? What are the potential societal costs to human autonomy, dignity, and due process from the use of these systems in our judicial systems?

Harvard Law School Clinical Professor and Director of the Cyberlaw Clinic Chris Bavitz, along with Harvard's Cynthia Dwork, Christopher L. Griffin, Margo I. Seltzer, and Jonathan L. Zittrain, discuss the evolution of artificial intelligence, with an emphasis on ethics, governance, and criminal and social justice. Drawing from the research, community building, and educational efforts undertaken as part of our Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence initiative, leading experts in the field share and reflect on insights from ongoing activities related to the judiciary and fairness.

Download original audio and video from this event.

Subscribe to the Berkman Klein events podcast to have audio from all our events delivered straight to you!


Cynthia Dwork

John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science, Harvard University
Radcliffe Alumnae Professor, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Affiliated Faculty, Harvard Law School

Cynthia Dwork uses theoretical computer science to place societal problems on a firm mathematical foundation. She was awarded the Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize in 2007 in recognition of some of her earliest work establishing the pillars on which every fault tolerant system has been built for a generation (Dwork, Lynch, and Stockmeyer, 1984). Her contributions to cryptography include the launching of non-malleable cryptography, the subfield of modern cryptography that studies -- and remedies -- the failures of cryptographic protocols to compose securely (Dolev, Dwork, and Naor, 1991). She is a co-inventor of the first public-key cryptosystem based on lattices, the current best bet for cryptographic constructions that will remain secure even against quantum computers (Ajtai and Dwork, 1997). More recently, Dwork spearheaded a successful effort to place privacy-preserving analysis of data on a firm mathematical foundation. A cornerstone of this effort is the invention of Differential Privacy (Dwork, McSherry, Nissim, and Smith, 2006, Dwork 2006), now the subject of intense activity in across many disciplines and recipient of the Theory of Cryptography Conference 2016 Test-of-Time award. With its introduction into Apple's iOS 10 (2016) and Google's Chrome browser (2014), differential privacy is just now beginning to be deployed on a global scale. Differentially private analyses enjoy a strong form of stability. One consequence is statistical validity under adaptive (aka exploratory) data analysis, which is of great value even when privacy is not itself a concern (Dwork, Feldman, Hardt, Pitassi, Reingold, and Roth 2014, 2015a, 2015b).

Data, algorithms, and systems have biases embedded within them reflecting designers' explicit and implicit choices, historical biases, and societal priorities. They form, literally and inexorably, a codification of values. Unfairness of algorithms -- for tasks ranging from advertising to recidivism prediction -- has recently attracted considerable attention in the popular press. Anticipating these concerns, Dwork initiated a formal study of fairness in classification (Dwork, Hardt, Pitassi, Reingold, and Zemel, 2012). Dwork is currently working in all of these last three areas (differential privacy, statistical validity in adaptive data analysis, and fairness in classification). Dwork was educated at Princeton and Cornell. She received her BSE (with honors) in electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton University, where she also received the Charles Ira Young Award for Excellence in Independent Research, the first woman ever to do so. She received her MSc and PhD degrees in computer science at Cornell University. Dwork is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Engineering, and is a fellow of the ACM, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

Christopher L. Griffin

Research Director, Access to Justice Lab
Harvard Law School

Christopher L. Griffin. Jr. is the Research Director at the Access to Justice Lab at Harvard Law School. He earned his B.S. magna cum laude from Georgetown University, an MPhil in Economics at the University of Oxford, and his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was an Editor for the Yale Law Journal and Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law & Policy Review. Prior to joining the A2J Lab, Chris taught at Duke Law School (2010-2012) and William & Mary Law School (2012-2016). In addition to court administration and procedure, his research interests include employment discrimination and judicial decision-making.

Margo I. Seltzer

Herchel Smith Professor of Computer Science
John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University
Faculty Co-Director, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Margo I. Seltzer is a Herchel Smith Professor of Computer Science and the Faculty Director for the Center for Research on Computation and Society in Harvard's John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Her research interests are in systems, construed quite broadly: systems for capturing and accessing provenance, file systems, databases, transaction processing systems, storage and analysis of graph-structured data, new architectures for parallelizing execution, and systems that apply technology to problems in healthcare.

She is the author of several widely-used software packages including database and transaction libraries and the 4.4BSD log-structured file system. Dr. Seltzer was a founder and CTO of Sleepycat Software, the makers of Berkeley DB, and is now an Architect at Oracle Corporation. She is a Sloan Foundation Fellow in Computer Science, an ACM Fellow, a Bunting Fellow, and was the recipient of the 1996 Radcliffe Junior Faculty Fellowship. She is recognized as an outstanding teacher and mentor, having received the Phi Beta Kappa teaching award in 1996, the Abrahmson Teaching Award in 1999, and the Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising in 2010.

Professor Seltzer received an A.B. degree in Applied Mathematics from Harvard/Radcliffe College in 1983 and a Ph. D. in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1992.

Jonathan L. Zittrain

George Bemis Professor of International Law, Harvard Law School
Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources, Harvard Law School
Faculty Chair, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society
Professor of Computer Science, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University
Professor, Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government

Jonathan L. Zittrain is the George Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Director of the Harvard Law School Library, and Faculty Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. His research interests include battles for control of digital property and content, cryptography, electronic privacy, the roles of intermediaries within Internet architecture, human computing, and the useful and unobtrusive deployment of technology in education. He performed the first large-scale tests of Internet filtering in China and Saudi Arabia, and as part of the OpenNet Initiative co-edited a series of studies of Internet filtering by national governments: Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering; Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace; and Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace.

He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Board of Advisors for Scientific American. He has served as a Trustee of the Internet Society, and as a Forum Fellow of the World Economic Forum, which named him a Young Global Leader, and as Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the Federal Communications Commission, where he previously chaired the Open Internet Advisory Committee. His book The Future of the Internet -- And How to Stop It is available from Yale University Press and Penguin UK -- and under a Creative Commons license. Papers may be found at

Moderator: Chris Bavitz

Christopher T. Bavitz is Managing Director of Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, based at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. He is also a Clinical Professor of Law at HLS, where he co-teaches the Counseling and Legal Strategy in the Digital Age seminar and teaches the seminar, Music & Digital Media. Chris concentrates his practice on intellectual property and media law, particularly in the areas of music, entertainment, and technology. He oversees many of the Clinic’s projects relating to copyright, speech, and advising of startups, and he serves as the HLS Dean’s Designate to Harvard’s Innovation Lab. Prior to joining the Clinic, Chris served as Senior Director of Legal Affairs for EMI Music North America. From 1998-2002, Chris was a litigation associate at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and RubinBaum LLP / Rubin Baum Levin Constant & Friedman, where he focused on copyright and trademark matters. Chris received his B.A., cum laude, from Tufts University in 1995 and his J.D. from University of Michigan Law School in 1998.


by doyolu at October 10, 2017 05:15 PM

October 09, 2017

Harry Lewis
Remarks of Professor James Engell at the October 3 FAS meeting

[These remarks were delivered from handwritten notes, not a full script. Furthermore, the Parliamentarian, literally one minute prior to the meeting being called to order, urged great brevity on the speaker personally, so some of the notes were condensed and several paragraphs crossed out, which then required ex tempore transitions. This is the best reconstruction of what was said.]
It’s good we are discussing this vexed topic today. The Clark-Khurana Committee would not exist were it not for Prof. Lewis’s motion made last December [2016], when I spoke of the statutory power of discipline resting with the Faculty.
The Clark-Khurana Committee presents a narrative both explicit and implied. Explicitly, there exist problems with some of these organizations and some new action is required. Yes. There is also an underlying narrative. It goes something like this. “Most, or many”—the Report cannot make up its mind on that score and it names no names—of these organizations are not only exclusionary in the sense of not admitting every student who wishes to join, they are places where misogyny, racism, and class prejudice are fostered and practiced. From the Report: “While the larger issue of selective membership on campus is worth further discussion, our committee’s charge was to address those groups whose members and leadership are committed to practicing discrimination against their fellow students on such bases as gender, race, and class.” Acts demeaning to women have occurred at at least a few of these clubs. The kind of racial slur mentioned in the Report is abhorrent. Some of these clubs have dues not purely nominal.
However, the Report estimates that up to one-quarter of undergraduates belong to these organizations, and more women than men. Given that first-year students don’t often belong, that pushes up the fraction to closer to one-third of students in sophomore through senior years. The Report implies that these students are undermining the educational mission of the College.
Are one-third of our students in sophomore through senior year going to private spaces to practice misogyny, racism, and class prejudice? Is that why these organizations exist and attract many students? These are the students we accept and teach and whom we graduate. The College does not require students to live in the Houses, but more than 98% of them, including more than 98% of those who join these organizations, live in the Houses and participate fully in House life. The nature of some of these organizations is evolving and for some of them quite quickly. It would be unfortunate to take a sudden and absolute action regarding these organizations.
I would ask colleagues to consider what the Report implies about these organizations, and to consider that the story of the students in these organizations is more complex and often far more benign than what the Report does imply.
James Engell, Gurney Professor of English and Professor of Comparative Literature 

by Harry Lewis ( at October 09, 2017 09:13 PM

October 08, 2017

Harry Lewis
Professor Allen’s puzzling motion

Harvard Magazine gives the text of the motion Professor Danielle Allen offered at the October 3 FAS meeting:
that the policies of the Harvard College Handbook for Students for student organizations pertain to students participating in all student organizations recognized as such by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Faculty recognizes that on a college campus, as in society, basic freedoms and rights can come into conflict with each other. In such situations, the faculty and administration of Harvard College shall establish policies that protect individual freedoms while upholding the educational mission of the College.
This must have seemed benign and unobjectionable to the Faculty Council, since the Council voted in favor, 17-0. (Actually, the wording of the motion was changed after the Faculty Council voted for it – the revised version was distributed on paper at the beginning of the FAS meeting. Neither of these is the draft motion included in the report of the Clark-Khurana committee. So Professor Allen has offered three versions of her motion so far; perhaps a fourth will be offered before a vote gets taken. The Faculty Council opposed my motion, 2-16, so at least one faculty member, and perhaps two, voted for both.)

What is puzzling is that in a letterto the Crimson, Professor Allen describes the actual effect her motion would have.
Its effect would be that students who join student social groups that have become co-educational and that otherwise adhere to campus policies for student organizations will not face repercussions from the administration. Students who join social groups that have not become co-educational will be ineligible to continue enrollment at the College.
I have no idea how these conclusions follow from the text of the motion. The motion gives no protection to membership in any organization, as my motion would; it simply suggests which organizations would immediately be subject to institutional control. The statement that, if Professor Allen’s motion passes, members of noncompliant student groups would be punished harshly was also made at the FAS meeting and in an FAQ. As Harvard Magazine reports,
This approach seemingly would have the virtue of bringing regulation of USGSOs under FAS’s auspices, rather than relegating the decision to the president (to which some faculty members have objected, as described above). But it leaves what to do up to the dean. As for the risks students might face if they do not comply with regular oversight and regulation, Allen’s FAQ points, briskly, to “suspension or expulsion.”
In the Crimson, Professor Allen describes this way of proceeding as a “middle way between the two poles of the argument.” Hardly.

There is nothing new in the idea that Harvard should be trying to get all single-gender clubs to go co-ed; Dean Khurana has been doing his best at that for the past couple of years, with some success. Professor Allen’s recourse to Massachusetts Law as justifying such efforts to regulate the clubs is, as far as I can tell, without teeth. Indeed, it was exactly the fact that threats from Harvard could not be enforced that led the Clark-Khurana committee to reject the earlier draft of Professor Allen’s motion. So the argument that Harvard can legally regulate the clubs doesn’t advance the ball at all, and leaves the original question: what to do if the clubs do not cooperate. Professor Allen says their members should be suspended or expelled, and suggests that her motion implies that, but it doesn’t.

Let’s read it again:
that the policies of the Harvard College Handbook for Students for student organizations pertain to students participating in all student organizations recognized as such by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Yes, of course, the policies of Harvard College apply to Harvard students—to all Harvard students. The restrictive clause that follows (students participating in this or that) adds nothing to what we already know about the applicability of Harvard rules to Harvard students. The motion does not say that students may not participate in organizations that do not comply with rules governing recognized student organizations. That is, of course, the very question my motion seeks to clarify, by guaranteeing that they may.


Professor Allen seems to have couched her motion in bland language so that it will receive broad support, on the understanding that it would authorize the administration to work out the details without ever bringing anything contentious to a vote of the full Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Bland motions are dangerous. Even the unanimously voted FAS statement in favor of student body diversity has unexpectedly been citedby the president in justifying her attack on students’ freedom to join outside organizations.

The Allen motion offers a theory to justify Harvard’s legal right to regulate outside organizations—something I haven’t questioned (though others may have). So for me, the reference to Massachusetts anti-hazing statutes seems beside the point. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that if Harvard wants to make a rule that no member of the Bee or the Kappa Kappa Gamma may enroll, it can. My entire argument is that it shouldn’t have rules of that kind. In the particular hypothetical Professor Allen posed, in which a Harvard Pokémon Club staged cheating as an annual club ritual, she argued that all its members should be expelled. I am all in favor of throwing out cheaters, but I don’t see why some Pokémon-loving reformer who refused to go along with the crowd should get tossed too. As I have said many times, students should be punished for what they do, not for what clubs they join.

In the course of arguing that even the state sometimes steps in to regulate private organizations, the assurances in the First Amendment notwithstanding, Professor Allen makes a curious citation to support her case. (This and other documents are available here.)
[W]hen the Supreme Court handed down its 1987 decision in Rotary International, affirming California’s decision to prohibit gender-exclusive membership policies for clubs of that kind, the Court argued that “the State’s compelling interests in eliminating discrimination against women and in assuring them equal access to public accommodations. . . extends to the acquisition of leadership skills and business contacts, as well as tangible goods and services” (481 U.S. 537 [1987]: 548-549, emphasis added).
What is odd about that citation is how the Court got to the conclusion that, in the case of the Rotary Club, it could override the usual protections of free association. It was because the Rotary Club was so … inclusive. “The evidence in this case indicates that the relationship among Rotary Club members is not the kind of intimate or private relation that warrants constitutional protection,” Justice Powell states in his opinion. As the syllabus summarizes the argument,
In determining whether a particular association is sufficiently intimate or private to warrant constitutional protection, consideration must be given to factors such as size, purpose, selectivity, and whether others are excluded from critical aspects of the relationship. Here, the relationship among Rotary Club members does not warrant protection, in light of the potentially large size of local clubs, the high turnover rate among club members, the inclusive nature of each club's membership, the public purposes behind clubs' service activities, and the fact that the clubs encourage the participation of strangers in, and welcome media coverage of, many of their central activities
To apply this to the final clubs seems to require arguing simultaneously that Harvard shouldregulate them because they are exclusive and can regulate them because they are inclusive! And to the extent that certain clubs are not particularly selective (some of the sororities, for example), that makes them more vulnerable to intervention by the authorities, not less.

I am, in any case, skeptical that Harvard’s interest in getting women jobs in investment banking has much to do with its insistence that the Porcellian Club go co-ed. It would be the easiest thing in the world to ramp up the support of women who wanted high-paying jobs in the financial sector; the industry would gladly help any Harvard effort to do that. No Harvard administrator has ever said that anything of the kind was an institutional priority, except when complaining about the final clubs.

There are other curious aspects to the argument for the motion, for example the relevance of the anti-hazing statute:
The law has been taken to apply to final clubs since it was introduced, and the final clubs adhere to its provisions.
Taken by whom? But yes. It’s a criminal statute. I am not surprised that the clubs acknowledge that they comply with it. It is a huge leap to suggest that this statute somehow justifies Harvard intervening in their membership practices. And to take another matter Professor Allen cites, I am also not persuaded that a Harvard rule against faculty having sex with students—a condition of an employment relationship—has any relevance to students’ club memberships.

Of course there can be such limits on individual freedoms in the context of our contractual relationship with the institution. The question is which ones Harvard should impose. The motion is dangerously vague on that substantive question, handing it off to “the faculty and administration.” Which seems to mean that another Clark-Khurana committee will make the rules, and the Faculty, corporately, will have no say.

I have from the beginning cited the Verba reportand its explicit rejection of the idea of punishing ROTC students for joining what was then a discriminatory organization. It seems that we can infer how Professor Allen would want such a dilemma of conflicting freedoms and rights to be handled in the future. If Harvard is unable to persuadethe government to drop its transgender ban in the military, will we expel our ROTC cadets?

So what should happen to a motion when its explanatory materials state a good deal more about its purpose and effects than does its text? It should be defeated. It is plainly intended as an alternative to my motion, and if it passes, the administration will surely use the apparatus surrounding the text to justify its harsh interpretation of the Faculty’s intentions.


One final point. The motion claims to be moderate because it limits the scope of institutional reach to student organizations as defined by Massachusetts Law. So it is meant to swat away the questions about political parties and the like.

What seems not to have been stated anywhere is that Professor Allen’s Index of Prohibited Organizations is a great deal longer than that of the Clark-Khurana Committee.For example, it would include all the ethnic fraternities and sororities. They were excluded from the Clark-Khurana list because that list was restricted to organizations that consisted mostly or entirely of Harvard students, and these organizations (the ones I know about, anyway) are joint with MIT, Tufts, BU, and/or Wellesley. (Here is a link to one of them.)

The ethnic fraternities and sororities are a piece of Harvard culture I don’t know much about. They do not turn up on police blotters or Ad Board dockets. The only time I ever hear about them is when students tell me how important their organizations are to them. They are old, some of them; W.E.B. Dubois was a member of one.

The recent funeral of Dr. Allen Counter, whose name is synonymous with inclusiveness and diversity at Harvard, ended with a moving display. About 40 of his fraternity brothers, old and young, including several senior African-American Harvard faculty and administrators, rose from the congregation, assembled in the front of the chapel, formed a ring by linking their little fingers, and gave him a solemn ritual sendoff.

I am not at all sure that Harvard understands the social structures it is seeking to destroy.

by Harry Lewis ( at October 08, 2017 11:39 PM

October 07, 2017

How should customers look to business?

The world of business has a default symbol for customers: the ones they put on restroom doors.

Outside of those, there is no universal symbol for a customer.

When business talks to itself, it mostly uses generic cartoon images such as these (from a Bing search) and these (from a Google one):

I’m sure all of us identify more with the restroom symbols (and emojis) than we do with those things.

It’s interesting how, even though we comprise 100% of the marketplace, we remain a prevailing absence in nearly every business conference, business book and business school class.

The notion that customers can be independent and fully empowered agents of themselves, with scale across all the businesses they deal with, at best gets the intellectual treatment (seeing customers, for example, as “rational actors”).

At worst, customers are seen as creatures that go moo and squit money if they’re held captive and squeezed the right ways.  Listen to the talk. Typically customers are “targets” that businesses “acquire,” “manage,” “control” or “lock in” as if we are cattle or slaves.

Often customers are simply ignored.

One example that showed up today was this press release announcing “an innovative initiative focused on the overhaul of open account trade finance infrastructure.” It’s from R3, which makes Corda, a ” distributed ledger platform designed specifically for financial services,” and is “a joint undertaking between R3, TradeIX, and twelve financial institutions.” This network, says the release, will “improve access to open account trade for the global ecosystem of banks, buyers, suppliers, technology providers, insurers, and other parties, such as logistics companies, that are critical to facilitating global open account trade flows.”

Never mind that distributed ledgers have been hailed as the second coming (or even the first) of the customer-empowering peer-to-peer world. Instead note the absence of customers: people and institutions who entrust their money and assets to all the parties listed in that long sentence.

Our goal with ProjectVRM is to equip customers (not just “consumers,” or “end users”) to say We’re not just at the same table with you guys. We are that table. And we are much bigger and far more powerful than you can ever make us on your own.

In other words, our job here is to give customers superpowers.

There are lots of people arguing that more policy is the answer. But we already have the GDPR. Huge leverage there. Let’s use it to highlight how own customer-empowering solutions put the companies that serve us in compliance.

In the last post we named one. That and many other forms of #customertech will be featured at VRM Day and IIW, later this month at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. Looking forward to seeing many of you there.

Let’s make customers powerful. Then it won’t matter how they look to business, other than real.


by Doc Searls at October 07, 2017 01:19 AM

October 06, 2017

Making it impossible for business to keep customers out of the conversation

It’s time for business to stop talking to itself, and start obeying customers.

That’s right, I said obeying.

It hasn’t happened yet, but it will.

This is what we were predicted with “Markets are Conversations” in The Cluetrain Manifesto, way back at the start of the millennium.

When that didn’t happen, I launched ProjectVRM in 2006.

Encouraged by our progress, I wrote The Customer as a God, a cover story for The Wall Street Journal‘s Marketplace section. That ran not long after The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge came out in 2012. The image above was most of that Journal section’s front page (you can see the fold below the middle there).

That it still hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t. That a glass is empty doesn’t mean it can’t be filled. Instead it’s a promise that it will be filled. There is already plenty happening in that glass—far more than there was five years ago.

One sign of the “before” state of things we’re still in is a certain absence in every business conference, every business book, every business school class.

That absence is customers.

The notion that customers can be independent and fully empowered agents of themselves, with scale across all the businesses they deal with, at best gets the intellectual treatment (seeing customers, for example, as “rational actors”). Still, mostly customers are seen as creatures that go moo and squit money if they’re held captive and squeezed the right ways.  Listen to the talk. We are “targets” businesses “acquire,” “manage,” “control” or “lock in” as if we are cattle or slaves.

A good example of customer absence at non-work is this press release announcing “an innovative initiative focused on the overhaul of open account trade finance infrastructure.” It’s from R3, which makes Corda, a ” distributed ledger platform designed specifically for financial services,” and is “a joint undertaking between R3, TradeIX, and twelve financial institutions.” This network, says the release, will “improve access to open account trade for the global ecosystem of banks, buyers, suppliers, technology providers, insurers, and other parties, such as logistics companies, that are critical to facilitating global open account trade flows.”

Never mind that distributed ledgers have been hailed as the second coming (or even the first) of the customer-empowering peer-to-peer world. Instead note the absence of the people and institutions who entrust their money and assets to all the parties listed in that long sentence.

The goal of ProjectVRM is to equip customers (not just “consumers,” or “end users”) to say We’re not just at the same table with you guys. We are that table. And we are much bigger and far more powerful than you can ever make us separately and on your own.

In other words, our job here is to give customers superpowers.

There are lots of people arguing that more policy is the answer. Or that we need a new Google or Facebook to fight the incumbents.

In fact we already have the policy we need for leverage, in the GDPR. Let’s use that leverage to point to our own customer-empowering solutions.

In our last post we named one. That and many others will be on the table and open to being worked on during VRM Day and IIW, later this month at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. Looking forward to seeing many of you there.


by Doc Searls at October 06, 2017 03:01 PM

October 05, 2017

Berkman Center front page
Enabling Competition & Innovation on a City Fiber Network


The municipally owned fiber-optic network of Ammon, Idaho provides one model for U.S. public entities and policymakers seeking to increase service competition and innovation.

Publication Date

5 Oct 2017

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Authored by Paddy Leerssen and David Talbot

This case study of Ammon, Idaho’s city-run fiber-optic network describes an unusual strategy for encouraging retail Internet service competition and innovation. Cities, towns and counties seeking to help their citizens and businesses by building fiber-optic networks may do so under a number of models, including building unused or “dark” fiber and then finding private providers to install network electronics and provide services. By contrast, Ammon decided to take all the steps required to operate the network, then use a technology called network virtualization to make it very easy for retail providers to provide services, which are then presented to users via an online dashboard. In theory, Ammon’s residences and businesses can take multiple services simultaneously, create private networks within Ammon’s city network, and obtain city services and emergency alerts over the network even if they don’t take an Internet access subscription. As of the date of publication, two ISPs have started to provide service, and Ammon itself has developed certain public safety applications. Though at an early stage, the project represents a versatile technological and operational model for other public fiber networks.

by djones at October 05, 2017 02:42 PM

October 04, 2017

Berkman Center front page
Zero Rating & Internet Adoption

Workshop Paper & Research Agenda


The Role of Telcos, ISPs, & Technology Companies in Expanding Global Internet Access

Publication Date

5 Oct 2017


Zero rating, which allows users to access select Internet services and content without incurring mobile data charges, is not a new concept. But it has become an object of debate as mobile carriers and major app providers have used it in the developing world to attract customers, with the goal of increasing Internet access and adoption. While some feel these programs violate net neutrality and create the potential for a two-tiered Internet, others argue that zero rating programs bring the developing world online and could be modified to uphold, rather than violate, net neutrality principles. At the same time, little research evaluating zero rating programs exists, and many different program formulations are lumped under the term “zero rating,” some of which are more compatible with net neutrality than others. In March of 2016, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society gathered a diverse group of stakeholders from academia, the media, the government sector, industry, and the open software community to discuss the use of zero rating as a means to improve Internet adoption in the developing world and how and when it could be an effective tool, if at all. This paper captures the resulting dialogue and recommendations. The workshop summary is followed by a collection of briefing papers representing the viewpoints of many of the workshop participants.


  • Many different models of industry initiatives currently fall into the loose definition of zero rating. Creating a better defined taxonomy of program parameters, technical mechanisms, and impacts may allow for greater nuance and understanding in the field, as well as more targeted regulatory responses.
  • Universal Internet access and adoption is a common goal but one that requires significant investment in global infrastructure. Some assert that zero rating programs may serve as a helpful stopgap measures to increase access, while others argue that these programs contribute to the creation of a tiered internet ecosystem without providing meaningful benefits to the targeted beneficiaries.
  • Zero rating initiatives may be employed in pursuit of goals other than Internet adoption, such as emergency services messages or security updates, and the goals of a particular program may make it more or less controversial.
  • More empirical research is required to fully assess the impact of specific zero rating initiatives, as well as zero rating generally, on Internet adoption in the developing world. This research will sometimes require access to usage information held by mobile carriers and zero rating service providers that should be handled with user privacy in mind.

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by djones at October 04, 2017 08:36 PM

Did fake news save Kenya from an Internet shutdown? Emerging Trends in Tech and Elections in Africa
Did fake news save Kenya from an Internet shutdown? Kenya held general elections on August 8, 2017. The presidential election was nullified due to irregularities and is set for a repeat on October 26, 2017. Technology played a key role in the polls at two levels - there was use of tech in aspects such as results transmission and social media was employed massively in political campaigns with propaganda and fake news flowing freely. The talk explores emerging trends in use of technology in elections and their effect on Internet freedom and what to expect as Kenya gears up for repeat elections. About Grace Grace was a 2016/17 OTF Information Controls Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center studying freedom online during election periods in East Africa. She analysed freedom online in the Uganda elections of 2016 and is part of an election observer mission in Kenya's 2017 elections. Grace is also an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and an associate at the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) where she carries out ICT policy and legal analysis. Find out more about this event here:

by the Berkman Klein Center at October 04, 2017 08:13 PM

Berkman Center front page
Did fake news save Kenya from an Internet shutdown? Emerging Trends in Tech and Elections in Africa


featuring Grace Mutung'u, the 2016/17 OTF Information Controls Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center


Technology and elections and the politics of technology​. How use of technology in Kenyan elections is shaping Internet freedom in Africa.

Event Date

Oct 4 2017 12:00pm to Oct 4 2017 12:00pm
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Wednesday, October 4, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
23 Everett Street, Second Floor, Conference Room (campus map)

Kenya held general elections on August 8, 2017. The presidential election was nullified due to irregularities and is set for a repeat on October 26, 2017. Technology played a key role in the polls at two levels - there was use of tech in aspects such as results transmission and social media was employed massively in political campaigns with propaganda and fake news flowing freely.

In this talk Grace Mutung’u explores emerging trends in the use of technology in elections and their effects on Internet freedom. She gives a short background on the history of technology and elections in Kenya and then participates in a Q&A with BKC affiliate Ellery Biddle of Global Voices and answers questions from the audience.

Notes from the talk

People in Kenya take elections very seriously, said Mutung’u. In the seven presidential elections since independence in 1963, all but one have been disputed. The 2007 election led to reform and to a new constitution in 2010. By 2017, she said, issues related to corruption, historical injustices, and equity were all important topics for discussion and continue to be as the country gears up for the repeat elections on October 26th.

As technology and the internet play more of a role in elections, there are consequences such as an increased polarity of the country, increased policing of the internet, and a general increase in discourse. Technology was integral to the 2017 election in Kenya, including playing a role in voter registration, voter identification, and results transmission. It was the argument that voting technology had been hacked during results transmission that led to the courts to examine the paper voting records and ultimately determine that significant enough irregularities existed to warrant calling for a new election. Questions remain as to how the transmission system will function on October 26th.

Technology also played a large role in the 2017 Kenyan election in terms of the dissemination of information, both in terms of the content itself as well as how it spread. Mutung’u reported that there was a lot of fake news and propaganda, primarily spread on WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook and that the government attempted in various ways to regulate online information, including through regulations, surveillance, and direct online engagement with critics. Much of the fake news, however, was spread through private groups on WhatsApp, which kept it hidden from the open web and also in many cases rendered stories more powerful as they were spread through trusted networks.  At the same time, much of the fake news and negative campaigning was very professionally done, she said. “There were really nice videos and really nice memes. They really understood the landscape and made the news as easy as possible to consume,” she said. “And they shared it in closed groups.”  Later, due to people “calling them out” and sharing these stories on the open web, it was revealed that the company Cambridge Analytica may have been responsible for much of this content in their role running communications for the incumbent party. Other brigades were also producing false content that benefitted the other political parties.

Another key role technology played in the election was in campaigning. Mutung’u said that nearly all candidates used Facebook in one way or another for political engagement. Some, she said, forgoed traditional campaigning methods altogether and relied exclusively on social media. Corporations did take steps to fight back against the waves of false stories being spread (Facebook ran a full-page newspaper ad trying to educate people about how to tell what is fake news, she said), but in general, their response has not been contextualized to the situation. “They are not understanding the problem of why elections are such a high stakes game in Africa,” she said. “All this fake news is because people really want to win elections. It’s a life and death situation. It would be interesting to try another way. The people who spread harmful content - why? What do they really want to talk about? Is there a place we can sit down and find out what their issues really are and find a way to solve these issues?”

Mutung’u said that in some ways, the problem of fake news is actually helping Kenyans tackles issues of truth, justice, and reconciliation, topics that need to be addressed but that formal processes have not been successful with.  “Sometimes, fake news helps us talk about about these issues that were not on the table before.” She said that fake news also may have prevented an internet shutdown around the election. “All indications were that there would be a shutdown,” she said. But in the end the government did not shut it down. This is likely for a number of reasons, including that government was benefitting from much of the false content, that fake news was motivating more people to go to the polls, and that the political cost for shutting down the internet may have been too high, she said.

In addition to discussing the role of technology and social media on the election, Mutung’u also talked about the importance of data protection and data privacy. Kenya does not yet have a data protection framework, she said, noting that there’ a right of protection of privacy in the new constitution, but no enabling legislation. “It’s a delicate balance,” she said, citing the example of publishing of the country’s voter register so that people can see that it's clean, but noting that, too much personal information was shared. “We need to lead Africa in getting data protection laws that protect people from both companies and their own government,” she said.

About Grace

Grace was a 2016/17 OTF Information Controls Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center studying freedom online during election periods in East Africa. She analysed freedom online in the Uganda elections of 2016 and is part of an election observer mission in Kenya's 2017 elections.
Grace is also an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and an associate at the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) where she carries out ICT  policy and legal  analysis.
Follow her on Twitter a @Bomu

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by candersen at October 04, 2017 04:00 PM

Harry Lewis
Professor Jason Mitchell's Minority Report
Professor Mitchell has kindly allowed me to post his minority report. It is very much worth reading, a model of reasoned analysis and clear writing.


29 September 2017

In its Final Report, the Committee on Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations (USGSOs) has modified its preliminary recommendation of June 2017, which would bar undergraduates from joining Final clubs, fraternities, sororities, or similar off-campus single-gender organizations (such as the Hasty Pudding).  In lieu of a single policy, the Final Report considers a variety of strategies for addressing the USGSOs, which range from the sanction policy of May 2016 to calls for engagement with students to more aggressive police enforcement of underage drinking and noise statutes.  The choice to adopt such a “multiple recommendation” approach reflects the continuing deep divisions within our community about how best to address the USGSOs.  In discussions with many colleagues and students—and over many hours of debate within the Committee itself—it has become obvious that these issues do not admit to any straightforward solution, and that colleagues who start from the same goal of making Harvard the best place it can be may nevertheless arrive at very different end points.  The purpose of this note is to offer an analysis of the main sources of these differences.  As such, it is not intended as a dissent per se, but as a formal attempt to clarify some of the principles and conceptual distinctions that seem to matter most to my colleagues and students.
As I see it, when members of our community disagree about how to address the all-male Final clubs and other USGSOs, we may be disagreeing about either of two distinct questions.  The first of these asks, “What problem are we trying to solve?”; the second, “What is the best way to solve it?”  The Committee’s Final Report makes clear that a range of answers exists to the latter—thus, its “multiple recommendations” strategy.  But, likewise, different members of our community provide very different answers to the question of what problem we are, in the first place, trying to solve.  These differences have been reflected in the seemingly different ways that the problem of Final clubs has been framed for the Faculty over time and in different documents—many colleagues feel that the rationale for sanctioning USGSO membership has morphed from an initial focus on sexual assault, to later concerns about gender-based discrimination, and most recently, to issues of inclusion, belonging, and privilege.  Indeed, the Committee spent a good deal of time discussing not only these problems, but also additional ones, such as the distorting effects of Final clubs on student social life and the health and safety concerns they pose for our students.
Some of my colleagues have decided that these shifts in rationale reflect some form of political expediency (“let’s keep making different arguments until the Faculty buy one of them”).  But we may do better to conclude instead that the problem of the all-male Final clubs is—as psychoanalysts and philosophers of science would say—overdetermined.  That is, we should not disavow the all-male Final clubs because they increase the incidence of sexual assault orbecause they discriminate against women orbecause they advance the prerogatives of a few individuals at the expense of many others or because the undermine student life or because they encourage unsafe drinking.  We should repudiate them because they do all of these things.  Perhaps any one such aspect of the clubs would be sufficient to make the case against them; together they lead, as the Final Report notes, to our community’s shared sense that we cannot afford to do nothing about them.
Note that I have restricted the point above to all-male Final clubs, and this is with intent.  Many of us believe firmly that despite its shifting rationales, the College is “really” trying to address problems specific to the all-male Final clubs.  After all, these are the only groups that own property adjacent to campus and that host the parties outside of which female undergraduates queue in the hopes of being admitted.  These are the groups that perpetuate privilege most perniciously.  And these are the groups that our colleagues have uniquely identified as important loci of sexual assault.  Indeed, it is hard not to perceive a direct line connecting the Final Report in March 2016 of President Faust’s Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault to the announcement two months later of the first sanctions policy.  That Task Force repeatedly makes the case that it is the all-male Final clubs that pose serious concerns with regard to sexual assault, and that this is mainly possible because they control the space in which many undergraduates socialize (unlike other USGSOs).
My sense is that our current divide has emerged, in part, because of a continual choice to first select one or another of the specific problems caused by the all-male Final clubs and to then develop policies designed to address that problem broadly throughout undergraduate life.  This impulse is understandable—we are, after all, a community that values first articulating our principles and then developing policies that serve them.  When our goal is to achieve a particular outcome (say, the end to all-male Final clubs) we naturally want to start by defining the principles at stake, such as an opposition to gender-based discrimination, and then allow our policies to flow from that principle.  But thus far, this approach has created something of a dragnet, which threatens to sweep in student groups that many of us feel are not much of a problem (or, at least, not nearly as much of a problem as the all-male Final clubs); fraternal organizations without houses in which to host parties and womens’ Final clubs, not to mention the Hasty Pudding, do not really seem to be at the root of campus ills.  It is my own belief personally—and I think the sentiment of many faculty colleagues—that we would have done better to clearly identify what we are trying to achieve, which is an end to the noxious, distorting, and often abhorrent influence of the all-male Final clubs on undergraduate life.  This is surely the point on which the greatest number of us agree; if for no other reason, it would serve well as the starting point for discussions about what policies best achieve our goal.

Which brings us squarely to the second major source of disagreement within our community: regardless of how one answers the question of what goal we ought to be aiming for, there remains an open—and very contentious—question of how best to go about achieving it. 
To date, much of the debate around this issue has been cast a clash between competing values.  On the one hand, our community is committed to inclusion, we fight against discrimination in all its pernicious forms, and we have rightly begun to identify and dismantle the many structures that prevent members of our community from feeling that they belong at Harvard (and that it belongs to them).  On the other hand, we recognize that this set of values is one among many that progressive, well-intentioned individuals espouse.  Another set of such values includes notions of free expression, of individual autonomy, and of the right to free association.  One frame on the current faculty debate concerns how to adjudicate between these values when they conflict with one another.  The choice of some students to socialize off-campus with only certain people acts as a barrier to inclusion and belonging for other students; to whom do our responsibilities lie?  Each of us recognizes that rights (even those enumerated in the law) are not absolute but must be balanced against our responsibilities to one another—thus, the restrictions on free expression that enjoin us from shouting “fire!” in a crowded faculty meeting or the like.  One way of thinking about our current state of division is as a disagreement about whether the hazards posed by the all-male Final clubs and other USGSOs warrants a similar abrogation of (some of) our students’ rights (such as to free and lawful assembly).  [I am, of course, glossing over many nuanced aspects of this point of view, but only because I wish to make the observation below.]
This way of framing the debate tends to bottom out in the question of whether we should intervene against the all-male Final clubs and other USGSOs.  But another way we might have this discussion is by instead asking the question of how we ought to intervene.  What I mean is this: For much of the past 16 months, we have been led to think in binary terms—either we take the extraordinary step of patrolling the off-campus social lives of students, or we wave a white flag of surrender to the status quo and acquiesce as the Final clubs continue to exert an adverse effect on our community.  What is missing from this duality is any substantive discussion of how we might effect meaningful change on the Final clubs through more ordinarymeans.  The policies of sanctioning USGSO membership surely comprise extraordinarymeasures: they make extraordinary and unprecedented claims on the private, off-campus lives of our students; implementing them will require a radical reimagining (for many of us) of the relationship between the faculty and its students’ private lives; and they seem (to many of us) to contravene other values that ought to characterize a liberal institution committed to free inquiry and personal transformation.  One index of just how extraordinary these policies seem is the amount of time spent by the USGSO Committee on the question of whether the various sanctions policies are even legal.  Such policies will take us into uncharted places.
Is there nothing short of such extraordinary measures that can bring change to our campus?  The USGSO Committee’s Final Report tells us the answer to this question is no, that we have tried in vain for years to rein in the Final clubs through normal channels.  But a look at what is described suggests that the College’s ordinary attempts have been limited to various forms of “moral suasion,” mainly comprising various meetings between administrators and club leaders and alumni boards.  If the College’s efforts have indeed consisted mostly of an occasional stern talking-to, then we have little reason for surprise at their failure.  Social scientists—economists, sociologists, those in psychology departments and business schools—have learned a great deal about how to change people’s behavior, and we know that “moral suasion” is probably the least effective ways of going about it.  This is why when public health officials aim to decrease cigarette smoking, they do not simply tell people, “Cigarette smoking is bad, you shouldn’t do it.”  Instead, they have waged a sustained campaign to inform consumers of the dangers of smoking; they make it harder for young people to obtain cigarettes; they have worked relentlessly to transform cigarette smoking from something with social cachet into something that borders on shameful and “uncool”; and so on.  No, this has not proven straightforward, and yes, it has taken time and real effort.  But walk around Harvard Square on a Saturday night, and you will struggle to find an (American) student smoking a cigarette, an absence that would have leapt out for its strangeness not all that long ago.
So we might then ask ourselves: Can we use these kinds of techniques to change student behavior regarding the all-male Final clubs and other USGSOs?  Are there no such ordinary means by which to drain these clubs of their vitality (or to “shrivel” them, as a colleague has colorfully put it)?  Again, we have been led to believe not.  But many of us are skeptical of this claim.  Thus, my sense that when we look past the legislative motions and parliamentary maneuvers, the blog posts and leaks to The Crimson, a good deal of opposition to the sanction policies flows from a desire to try—seriously for the first time—to rein in the Final clubs through a full suite of methods that we ordinarily use to change social behavior.[1]  That is, we have not had—but should be having—a full-throated conversation about whether we can reach our shared goals in ways that do not require us to compromise other core institutional values.  I am not convinced we can, but many of us believe it is worth first trying. 
However, any serious attempt to use such “ordinary” measures to undermine the Final clubs’ influence on campus needs to start from an analysis of why exactly they play such an outsized role in campus social life in the first place, and thus what the College must do to drain their vitality.  During the USGSO Committee discussions, we heard, in every meeting, that the Final clubs dominate undergraduate social life precisely because few good on-campus alternatives exist.  A similar point was made manifest in the Implementation Committee’s report: that if the College wants to rob the Final clubs of their appeal, it must start by creating attractive alternative social spaces for undergraduates.  Many of our students want a place to “have fun”—which we would do well to acknowledge means drinking alcohol, acting in mildly transgressive ways, and being out from under the watchful eye of tutors and resident deans.  Wonderful as they are, the Houses do not—and perhaps cannot ever—fully serve that desire.  And although I resist the notion that Harvard College is somehow obliged to administer its students an appropriate dosage of fun (surely, something somewhere in the Boston area caters to the needs of college students?), we should acknowledge that the (real or) perceived lack of alternative spaces for “letting loose” remains a powerful draw of the Final clubs for our students.  Thus, draining energy away from the Final clubs will require that we direct it elsewhere.
Finally, it is impossible not to comment on the current campus morass without also noting the deep and abiding concerns of the Faculty regarding its role in informing College policy.  The implementation of either sanctions policy will permanently reshape the relationship between the faculty and our students (perhaps for the better, perhaps not).  At the same time, however, the specific way in which these policies have been advanced threatens at theh same time to alter the relationship between the Faculty and its Administration.  Many of us—including many of us who would otherwise not be opposed to taking extraordinary measures against the USGSOs—are deeply disturbed by what we view as unprecedented administrative overreach, including the widespread perception that our Administration is committed to avoiding a faculty vote on the proposed policies.  From my conversations with many colleagues, it is hard to overstate how divisive and demoralizing this posture towards the Faculty has been, not least because it could have been avoided in the first place.  In many ways, it is this aspect of our current situation that troubles me most.
One final note, this one of appreciation for my fellow committee members—students, staff, and faculty alike—for their unfailing civility, eloquence, and clarity of thought throughout our discussions; you have been a continual reminder of the things that make Harvard great.  Suzannah Clark deserves special recognition for her thoughtful leadership of the Committee, and for her truly herculean efforts on our behalf. 

Jason Mitchell
Professor of Psychology

[1] As a side note, I object to the Final Report’s characterization that opponents of the sanctions policy “argue that suasion is always better than sanctions” (p. 14).  That statement does not reflect my understanding of the discussion within the Committee, nor do I know any colleagues who traffic in such absolutes.  A more accurate statement might be to suggest that some opponents of the sanction policies are arguing that suasion (or other ordinary measures) are in this instance a better course of action right now than the sanction policies as formulated.

by Harry Lewis ( at October 04, 2017 03:17 PM

Professor Steven Pinker's remarks at the October 3 Faculty meeting
I was opposed to the recommendations of USGSO report, and support the motion by Professor Lewis to rule out such draconian measures in the future.  I believe they run afoul of the principles on which liberal education are based.

First, a human institution is not an omnipotent embodiment and enforcer of morality but must be grounded in a social contract with circumscribed responsibilities. A university contracts with its students to provide them with an education. It does not require them to submit to control over their lives, 24/7. Legal activities that students do on their own time and off university premises are none of the university’s business.

Second, a university is not a religion with a mandatory creed. One of the essential values in higher education is that people can differ in their values, and that these differences can be constructively discussed. Harvard has a right to value mixed-sex venues everywhere, all the time.  If some of its students find value in private, single-sex associations, some of the time, a university administration is free to argue against, discourage, or even ridicule those choices. But it is not a part of the mandate of a university to impose these values on its students over their objections.

Third, universities ought to be places where issues are analyzed, distinctions are made, evidence is evaluated, and policies crafted to attain clearly stated goals. Policies that restrict students’ freedoms should not be symbolic statements of values; they should be means to justifiable ends. But punishing students for belonging to private organizations is a sledgehammer. It doesn’t distinguish between single-sex and other private clubs. It doesn’t target illegal or objectionable behavior such as drunkenness or public disturbances. Nor by any stretch of the imagination could it be seen as an effective, rationally justified, evidence-based policy for reducing sexual assault. As my colleague Jason Mitchell argued in his minority report, there are plenty of proven ways of altering behavior between the extremes of moral suasion and authoritarian prohibition.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the policy of banning students from private organizations is widely seen outside Harvard as exemplifying some of the worst tendencies of elite universities. It can only contribute to the impression that universities are not dispassionate forums for clarifying values or analyzing problems but institutions determined to impose their ideology on a diverse population by brute force. In an era in which the credibility of reason-based institutions is vital yet endangered, this can have pernicious effects.

Let me be concrete. Those of us who engage in argument with intelligent people on the opposite end of the political spectrum often encounter the objection that the near-consensus among academic scientists (on climate change, for example), cannot be trusted. Everybody knows, they say, that university research is distorted by the political agenda of elites trying to exert control over individual choices. “No, no,” we insist; “Universities aren’t like that; we open-mindedly identify problems and try to come up with solutions.” A policy that is widely seen by the outside world as repressive virtue-signaling makes our job that much harder.

by Harry Lewis ( at October 04, 2017 02:55 AM

Professor Eric Nelson's remarks at the Faculty meeting of October 3
I would like us to reflect for just a moment on how we got here.  Two years ago, a University task force on sexual assault asserted that final clubs were responsible for a wave of sexual violence against women on our campus.  The administration responded to this report by announcing an unprecedented set of sanctions against undergraduates who join unrecognized social groups, including final clubs and sororities.  As the subsequent debate unfolded, it emerged that the task force’s claim about the link between final clubs and sexual violence was false, and that the data on which it had relied in making this claim had been misconstrued.  From that point on, we ceased to hear anything from the administration and its supporters about the problem of sexual assault—although it must be said that the task force’s assertion has not to date been retracted, nor has any apology been offered to the large numbers of Harvard students and alumni who were mistakenly (and very publicly) branded as sexual predators by the University. 

The rationale for the sanctions then shifted; the danger was no longer assault, but discrimination based on gender.  Single-gender social organizations were now said to be no less odious in principle than racially segregated ones—a remarkable finding from a College that admits hundreds of students each year from single-gender schools, maintains a host of single-gender sports teams, clubs, and performing groups, and divides students by gender in undergraduate housing.  Presumably we would not do these things if we regarded them as tantamount to Jim Crow.  Indeed, I wonder if it has been noticed that several of the fellowships from which the administration proposes to exclude members of single-sex clubs are themselves tenable at single-sex institutions. 

But before a proper debate could be had about this revised rationale, it shifted yet again—this time to the value of inclusion, full stop.  On this view, the final clubs and sororities were to be anathematized, not for admitting members of only one sex, but for choosing their members at all.  The question became whether it was so urgent to rescue some Harvard students from the discomfort of rejection that we ought to deny all of them the right to form any intimate associations of like-minded peers, even off-campus.  But this too is now old news.  The most recent justification for the proposed ban seems to be that we are worried about the integrity of the residential system at Harvard—the prospect of undergraduates fleeing the houses to live in a “Greek” world of fraternities and sororities.  This despite the fact that 99% of undergraduates voluntarily elect to live in the houses—and that, if we are truly worried about this issue, we remain perfectly free to require undergraduates to live on campus, whatever the fate of the Lewis motion. 

When the reasons offered for a given policy change as frequently as they have in this case, we should begin to wonder whether the policy in question has anything to do with reasons.  The bottom line here, as it seems to me, is that we just don’t like these clubs.  And some of them, at least, clearly merit our dislike.  But the first principle of a liberal arts education—and of the liberal society to which we are all rightly committed—is that disliking something is an insufficient reason to punish people for doing it.  Here, I think, we might profitably learn from our students, two-thirds of whom rejected the proposed sanctions in a referendum last year.

Lastly, I think we need to take seriously the broader national context in which this debate is unfolding.  It is news to no one in this room that we are currently facing a concerted effort by dangerous opponents to paint Harvard and our peer institutions as bastions of ideological groupthink, in which a frenzied and menacing political correctness has replaced common sense—and in which freedom of speech and association are routinely sacrificed upon the altar of diversity and inclusion.  I do not think this is who we are, but it strikes me that, over the last two years or so—on issue after issue—we have been doing our level best to make it easier for these opponents to caricature us.  This would perhaps be a price worth paying if we were right on the merits—but, as it happens, I believe we have not been.  We have been getting it wrong and looking foolish in the process.  My suggestion is that we ought to stop.  There are, alas, very real battles ahead of us, for which we will require the support of a united faculty, student body, and alumni community—to say nothing of our fellow citizens.  I don’t see why on earth we would further risk that support merely to destroy a bunch of tweedy Victorian relics.

That there are problems with undergraduate social life at Harvard, no one will deny.  But, as the committee report helpfully notes, these have primarily resulted from decisions that we ourselves have taken—and it is our responsibility to address them.  Let us turn to that important business.

I urge colleagues to support the motion.

Thank you.

by Harry Lewis ( at October 04, 2017 02:32 AM

October 03, 2017

Harry Lewis
My remarks introducing the motion on clubs
There was a good discussion in the FAS faculty meeting. The matter will be put to a vote on November 7. Here is what I said:

I move: HarvardCollege shall not discipline,penalize, or otherwise sanctionstudents for joining, oraffiliating with, any lawful organization,political party, or social, political,or other affinity group.

This is a simple motion. It says Harvard College can’t punish students for joining a club. It does NOT say that students who belong to clubs can’t be punished for bad things they do. It does NOT take away any tool that has been used in the past to discipline students for their behavior. It would, however, block several social club policies that have been proposed over the past year and a half.

I cannot find a single case prior to May 2016 when Harvard said it would punish a student for joining any organization -- a club or anything else. To the contrary, when Harvard barred ROTC from campus, we explicitly rejected the idea of punishing ROTC students for joining a discriminatory organization. And in the 1950s, when Senator McCarthy called on Harvard to fire one of us, Wendell Furry of the Physics Department, for being a member of the Communist Party, President Pusey refused on principle, in spite of enormous political pressure and his own anti-communist sentiments. Harvard today holds the moral high ground. We would give it up if we were to adopt any policy that would punish students for joining a club.

Some who are concerned about my motion have asked me, “but what if a student joins X”—and then name some particularly odious national organization. Well, we have survived a long time without any rules against joining hated organizations. This is not the time to institute such a rule in order to crush some off-campus sorority.

Students should not give up their rights peaceably to assemble off campus when they enroll here, any more than they give up their rights to read, write, and say what they wish. Indeed, by becoming students they do not give up their right to have private lives. All these freedoms are fundamental to our educational mission.

In a Faculty meeting last year, I teasingly referred to the possibility of an Index of Prohibited Organizations, like the Index of Prohibited Books of the medieval Church. Little did I expect that the Clark-Khurana Committee would publish exactly such an Index—in fact a list that was expanded beyond what had been proposed before the committee reviewed the policy. Let’s not go down the path of trying to maintain a list of the sort that even the Roman Church eventually realized was a bad idea.

If we can’t remember history, at least let’s look to the future. Suppose we publish a list of clubs and punish their members. What will we do when government officials again demand that we punish members of some allegedly un-American group? In the year of the Muslim ban, would anyone be surprised if the government tried to put us to the test? Would we say, “Oh no. At Harvard, we suspend civil liberties onlyfor organizations that threaten our deepest values, like the Bee and the Owl, not the ones you think are bad for the nation.”

I am grateful for the hard work of the committees that have worked on this difficult task, but I must note how little is said in their reports about the social structures they seek to destroy. The caricature of off-campus clubs as bastions of privilege, full of the stock of the Puritans learning to discriminate against other people, is not based in fact, certainly not in any facts presented in the report. Indeed, the report contains almost no facts of any kind. It does not even mention that more women than men are members of affected clubs. There is no data showing how many incidents have been reported at which clubs. That data might have shown that most of the trouble is caused by only a handful of the clubs, including only a few of the men’s and coed clubs and none of the women’s clubs. That would suggest that a narrower remedy made more sense than the broader ones that are proposed.

Data may be hard to come by, but then how will the College know who is in these private organizations? The report doesn’t say. Will we encourage students to turn each other in?

It is not true that everything else has been tried to combat bad behavior at the problematic clubs. There is no right to unpeaceable assembly; we should call in the police when students break the law. And we should tell students which clubs are dangerous places, and why. When muggings occur in Cambridge, we don’t just say, “there is crime in Cambridge, so students must stay on campus.” We tell them where they shouldn’t go, explain why, and expect them to protect themselves. To the extent that Harvard’s legal liability is driving any of this, or indeed to the extent that we are worried about student safety, education would be more effective as well as more appropriate.

I urge you to read Jason Mitchell’s superb minority report. From the beginning this has been an attempt to kill the men’s final clubs without much concern for the collateral damage from making a much broader rule. Let’s be clear what problem we are trying to solve and then go straight after it. Strengthening the Houses does not require punishing students for hanging out off campus sometimes. Opening “networks of power” to women does not require destroying the networks they have created for themselves.

And there is no silver bullet in Professor Allen’s astonishingly sweeping motion either. Toestablish policies that protect individual freedoms while upholding the educational mission of the College” is exactly what committees have been trying to do for a year; it is time for a statement of principle from the faculty, not a carte blanche handoff to the administration. As the Clark-Khurana committee notes, the Allen motion raises but does not answer the question of what to do if the clubs do not cooperate. Punishing their members is not the right answer.

I beg you, this is not a trivial matter. Students engaged in unlawful or violent behavior should pay a price for what they do. But nobody should be punished just for joining a club. Not us, and not our students. Thank you.

Added after the meeting. A medievalist points out that the Index was NOT, in fact, a medieval invention; it emerged in the sixteenth century. In other words, it was a reaction to the Enlightenment, not a piece of pre-Enlightenment church culture. I regret the error.

by Harry Lewis ( at October 03, 2017 11:05 PM

October 02, 2017

Justin Reich
To Ban or Not to Ban? Technology, Education, and the Media
Before citing research or editorials as a rationale to ban technology, we need to question the underlying assumptions that the authors make about student learning.

by Beth Holland at October 02, 2017 09:57 PM

Berkman Center front page
In AI We Trust?


Do we already have the necessary trust in AI, and if not, how do we create it?

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Urs Gasser shares some thoughts on how we learn to trust new technologies in a time of rapid change:

We are witnessing a wave of AI-based technologies that make their way out of the labs into industry- and user-facing applications, and we know from history that trust is an important factor that shapes the adoption of new technology. Given today’s quicksilver AI environment, it seems fair to ask: Do we already have the necessary trust in AI, and if not, how do we create it?

Read Urs Gasser's Medium post

by djones at October 02, 2017 05:47 PM

September 27, 2017

Berkman Center front page
How to Watch Them Watching You


Researching Social Media, Online Platforms, and Algorithmic Systems From the Outside


Join us at the University of Michigan for a discussion with Eric Gilbert, Cedric Langbort, Jeff Larson, Casey Pierce, and Christo Wilson on how researchers can navigate and investigate huge and complex datasets, algorithms, and online platforms to improve transparency and accountability.

Event Date

Sep 29 2017 10:00am to Sep 29 2017 10:00am
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Friday, September 29, 2017
10-11:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (UTC/GMT -4 hours)

6050 Institute for Social Research (map/directions)
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI USA

Visit the full event page for more details

A public roundtable discussion. Online streaming video available with live questions taken from Twitter (#algoaudit) and the BKC Live Question Tool.


  • Eric Gilbert, University of Michigan
  • Cedric Langbort, University of Illinois
  • Jeff Larson, ProPublica
  • Casey Pierce, University of Michigan
  • Christo Wilson, Northeastern University


The equations of big-data algorithms have permeated almost every aspect of our lives. A massive industry has grown up to comb and combine huge data sets — documenting, for example, Internet habits — to generate profiles of individuals. These often target advertising, but also inform decisions on credit, insurance and more. They help to control the news or adverts we see, and whether we get hired or fired. They can determine whether surveillance and law-enforcement agencies flag us as likely activists or dissidents — or potential security or criminal threats….Largely absent from the widespread use of such algorithms are the rules and safeguards that govern almost every other aspect of life in a democracy. There is an asymmetry in algorithmic power and accountability…Fortunately, a strong movement for greater algorithmic accountability is now under way. Researchers hope to find ways to audit for bias….Society needs to discuss in earnest how to rid software and machines of human bugs.

–Unsigned Editorial, Nature (2016)


[We] need to create a new field around the social algorithm, which examines the interplay of social and computational code.

–David Lazer, Op-Ed, Science (2015)

by djones at September 27, 2017 05:15 PM

The Computer Says No


The Bad News About Online Discrimination in Algorithmic Systems


Join us at the University of Michigan for a discussion with Solon Barocas, J. Nathan Matias, H. V. Jagadish, and Christian Sandvig on the potential for discrimination and digital redlining posed by the development of purportedly neutral algorithms.

Event Date

Sep 28 2017 4:00pm to Sep 28 2017 4:00pm
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Thursday, September 28, 2017
4:00-5:30 pm Eastern Daylight Time (UTC/GMT -4 hours)

1430 Institute for Social Research (map/directions)
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI USA

Visit the full event page for more details

A public roundtable discussion. Online streaming video available with live questions taken from Twitter (#algoaudit) and the BKC Live Question Tool.


  • Solon Barocas, Cornell University
  • J. Nathan Matias, Princeton University
  • H. V. Jagadish, University of Michigan
  • Christian Sandvig, University of Michigan


…[Personalization] leaves room for subtle and not-so-subtle forms of discrimination in pricing, services, and opportunities….[A]lgorithmic decisions raise the specter of ‘redlining’ in the digital economy–the potential to discriminate against the most vulnerable classes of our society under the guise of neutral algorithms.

–Executive Office of the President of the United States, Report on Big Data (2014)

by djones at September 27, 2017 05:05 PM

Juan Carlos De Martin
Editoriale: "Una riforma per gli onesti"
Una riforma per gli onesti

Juan Carlos De Martin

La Repubblica, p. 1, 27 settembre 2017

Nel pieno di uno scandalo come quello di Firenze, riguardante docenti universitari di diritto tributario, non è facile scrivere nulla che non sia un attacco puro e semplice alla corruzione in ambito universitario. Da un certo punto di vista è inevitabile e forse anche doveroso. Tuttavia la riflessione pubblica non può limitarsi all'ennesima geremiade sull'ennesimo scandalo.

Occorre innanzitutto chiedersi come mai le presunte panacee di questi ultimi otto anni non abbiano funzionato, dalla riforma Gelmini (approvata nel 2010 a colpi di fiducia), riforma che avrebbe dovuto scardinare il potere dei "baroni" e che invece ha verticalizzato il potere nelle università, agli algoritmi e alle "misure oggettive" dell'Agenzia nazionale di valutazione del sistema universitario e della ricerca (ANVUR), che avrebbero - secondo le promesse - dovuto creare un paradiso di meritocrazia in terra e che, invece, a quanto pare hanno solo modificato le modalità della corruzione, non la sostanza. E' evidente che un intero approccio, basato sull'accentramento del potere e su una montagna di regole e formalismi, ha mancato il bersaglio e andrebbe ripensato da zero.

Ma bisogna anche avere il coraggio, anche in un momento come questo di forte indignazione, di ricordare che abbiamo il dovere di ragionare non solo di casi (che siano 5, 15 o 50), ma anche e soprattutto di sistema universitario.

Perché non si discute del sistema universitario nello stesso modo in cui si ragiona, per esempio, di sistema sanitario nazionale, di Forze Armate o di Forze dell'Ordine, ovvero, valutando il sistema nel suo complesso? Solo così è possibile dare un contesto a qualsiasi fenomeno, inclusi quelli di malcostume o di illeciti. Non per sminuire o sviare l'attenzione, ma per capire, a testa fredda e dati alla mano. Quante università vogliamo? Distribuite come? Di quale dimensione? Con quante risorse complessive? Con quali salari? Con quale livello di diritto allo studio e con quali tasse?

E quando volessimo ragionare di prestazioni, il sistema universitario italiano come si confronta coi sistemi francese, inglese, tedesco, ecc.? Uno dei modi più immediatamente comprensibili per valutare un sistema nazionale sanitario è guardare, per esempio, alla durata media della vita dei cittadini, nel caso dell'Italia molto alta (tra l'altro con una spesa complessiva decisamente contenuta). Perché non facciamo quasi mai lo stesso col sistema universitario?

Se lo facessimo, scopriremmo che l'Università italiana si colloca solidamente e sistematicamente tra le prime dieci al mondo per la ricerca; e se normalizzassimo questo risultato per le risorse investite (l'Italia è il penultimo paese OCSE per finanziamento pubblico all'Università), sarebbe addirittura la prima al mondo.

E i 50.000 ricercatori italiani all'estero (quasi sempre forzati ad emigrare a causa della spaventosa carenza di posti in patria), come li giustifichiamo se non con un sistema perfettamente in grado di formare persone ai massimi livelli?

Questi dati di sistema giustificano forse nepotismo o corruzione? Ovviamente no. Ma ci dicono qualcosa con cui tutte le persone intellettualmente oneste dovrebbero necessariamente fare i conti: che è materialmente impossibile che l'Università italiana sia - come a volte viene descritta - un'istituzione popolata da lazzaroni o da incapaci. Ci deve per forza essere una maggioranza di docenti e ricercatori che lavora onestamente e con onore, altrimenti le buone prestazioni del sistema sarebbero semplicemente impossibili da spiegare.

Il fatto che un sistema nazionale sia sicuramente dignitoso e forse anche qualcosa di più - come credo sia ragionevole sostenere a riguardo sia del sistema sanitario italiano, sia di quello universitario sia di quello delle Forze dell'Ordine - significa che allora va tutto bene, che possiamo tranquillamente ignorare scandali e altri problemi?

Ripeto: ovviamente no. E' doveroso contrastare con la massima energia sprechi, nepotismi, ecc., ovunque si presentino, e forse con un'energia ancora maggiore nel caso dell'Università, considerato l'alto ruolo educativo e civile che svolge l'istituzione (di cui faccio parte e che vorrei con tutte le mie forze fosse in grado di superare i suoi limiti).

Ma contemporaneamente dobbiamo tenere la testa fredda e valutare la situazione senza generalizzazioni indebite e senza scorciatoie demagogiche, avendo sempre a cura il futuro del sistema nel suo complesso. Da questo punto di vista chi oggi sostiene che gli scandali indeboliscono la richiesta di risorse per l'Università, prostrata da quasi dieci anni di tagli, non fa che assicurare una cosa: il definitivo scoraggiamento di chi va ogni giorno in aula, in laboratorio, in biblioteca.

Combattiamo senza pietà corruzione e nepotismi, ma assicuriamo contemporaneamente sia risorse adeguate, sia una ricerca di possibili soluzioni ai problemi che coinvolga, come non è mai stato fatto in passato, tutti i docenti e ricercatori, non solo i vertici accademici.

by Juan Carlos De Martin at September 27, 2017 04:54 PM

David Weinberger
[liveblog][pair] Blaise Agüera y Arcas on the source of bias

At the PAIR Symposium, Google’s Blaise Agüera y Arcas is providing some intellectual and historical perspective on AI issues.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

[Note: This is a talk tough to live-blog because it is carefully structured intellectually. My apologies.]

He says neural networks have been part of the computing environment from the beginning. E.g., he thinks that the loop at the end of the logic gate symbol in fact comes from a 1943 symbolization of biological neural networks. There are indications of neural networks in Turing’s early papers. So these ideas go way back. Blaise thinks that the majority of computing processes in a few years will be running on processors designed for running neural networks.

ML has raised anxiety reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s concern — he cites The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction — about the mass reproduction of art that strips it of its aura. Now there’s the same kind of moral panic about art and human exceptionalism and existence. (Cf. Nick Bostrom’s SuperIntelligence). It reminds him of Jakob Mohr’s 1910 The Influencing Machine in which schizophrenics believe they’re being influenced by an external machine. (They always thought men were managing the machine.) He points to what he calls Bostrom’s ultimate colonialism, in which we are able to populate the universe with 10^58 human minds. [Sorry, but I didn’t get this. My fault.] He ties this to Bacon’s reverence for the domination of nature. Blaise prefers a feminist view, citing Kember & Zylinksa’s Life After New Media.

Many say we have a value alignment problem, he says: how do we make AI that embeds human values? But AI systems do have human values because they’re trained on human data. The problem is that our human values are off. He references a paper on judging criminality based on faces. The paper claims it’s free of human biases. But it’s based on data that is biased. Nevertheless, this sort of tech is being commercialized. E.g., Faception claims to classify people based on their faces: High IQ, Pedophile, etc.

Also, there’s the recent paper about a ML system classifies one’s gender preferences based on faces. Blaise ran a test on Mechanical Turk asking about some of the features in the composite gay and straight faces in that paper. He found that people attracted to the same sex were more likely to wear glasses. There were also significant differences in facial hair, use of makeup, and face tan, features also in the composite faces. Thus, the ML system might have been using social markers, not physiognomy, “There are a lot of tells.”

In conclusion, none of these are arguments against ML. On the contrary. The biases and prejudices, and the social signalling, are things ML lets us hold a mirror up to.

The post [liveblog][pair] Blaise Agüera y Arcas on the source of bias appeared first on Joho the Blog.

by davidw at September 27, 2017 12:48 AM

September 26, 2017

Berkman Center front page
Summer Internship Program: 2017 Wrap Up


The Berkman Klein Center summer internship program is a cohesive, integrated experience that brings together students from around the world to work closely with faculty, staff, and fellows on a wide range of projects and initiatives related to the internet and society. 

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The Berkman Klein Center summer internship program is a cohesive, integrated experience that brings together students from around the world to work closely with faculty, staff, and fellows on a wide range of projects and initiatives related to the internet and society. Over the last ten years, more than 400 interns have joined us in Cambridge to conduct research, exchange ideas, gain exposure to new areas for exploration and study, expand networks, and form friendships. Providing this 10-week intensive paid experience for students from a wide range of backgrounds and areas of interest, ranging from high school to PhD level, is one of the main ways the Center demonstrates its commitments to education, diversity, and network-building. The length of time and intensity of the experience allows interns to form lasting bonds with each other and with the Berkman Klein Center. Many interns return to join us as staffers or fellows, or stay in our network through ongoing projects or by joining a peer institution.

While the Center has provided opportunities for students to participate in our research projects since it’s earliest days, it was in 2008 that we began a deliberate effort to provide a structured community experience for a cohort of interns, and since then the program has grown considerably.  In 2008, we welcomed 31 interns drawn from a pool of 66 applicants. This summer, we welcomed nearly 50 interns to Cambridge selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants. From the beginning, the summer interns have reflected the global nature of our community, with seven countries represented in our 2008 cohort, and more than 15 countries, including Colombia, Spain, Nigeria, and India, represented in 2017.

This summer, interns worked on more than 17 projects around the Center, including the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence, Youth and Media, Harmful Speech, Privacy Tools, Lumen, Internet Monitor, the Harvard Open Access Project, Global Access in Action, and the Cyberlaw Clinic. In addition to working closely with their research teams, interns had opportunities to showcase their expertise and interests through skillshares and formal talks, and were able to get to know the Berkman Klein community through weekly programmed “intern hours,” and BKC public events, and more informally through social gatherings and connections formed from working amidst the activity here at 23 Everett Street. Each summer, interns also participate in a group project, which in the past has resulted in explainer videos, interviews with incoming community members, and, this summer, online learning experiences for students on topics such as cybersecurity, digital health, and freedom of expression. These learning experiences will be published and made freely available on the Digital Learning Resources Platform.

For an intern’s inside look at the summer 2017 experience, visit Summer Snapshot 2017, created by BKC communications intern Tym Yee. And check out the the summer internship page for more information about the program and to learn when and how to apply.

by gweber at September 26, 2017 07:20 PM

David Weinberger
[liveblog][pair] Golan Levin

At the PAIR Symposium, Golan Levin of CMU is talking about ML and art.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The use of computers for serendipitous creativity has been a theme of computer science since its beginning, Golan says. The job of AI should be serendipity and creativity. He gives examples of his projects.

Put your hand up to a scanner and it shows you hand with an extra finger. Or with extra hands at the end of your fingers.

Augmented Hand Series (v.2), Live Screen Recordings from Golan Levin on Vimeo.

[He talks very very quickly. I’ll have to let the project videos talk for themselves. Sorry.]

Terrapattern provides orbital info about us. It’s an open source neural network tool which offers similar-image search for satellite imagery. It’s especially good at finding “soft” structures often not noted on maps. E.g., click on a tennis court and it will find you all of them in the area. Click on crossroads, same thing.

Terrapattern (Overview & Demo) from STUDIO for Creative Inquiry on Vimeo.

This is, he says, an absurdist tool of serendipity. But it also democratizes satellite intelligence. His favorite example: finding all the rusty boats floating in NYC harbor.

Next he talks about our obsession with “masterpieces.” Will a computer ever be able to create masterpiece, he keeps getting asked. But artworks are not in-themselves. They exist in relationship to their audience. (He recommends When the Machine Made Art by Grant D. Taylor.)

Optical illusions get us to see things that aren’t there. “Print on paper beats brain.” We see faces in faucets and life in tree trunks. “This is us deep dreaming.” The people who understand this best are animators. See The illusion of Life, a Disney book about how to make things seem alive.

The observer is not separate from the object observed. Artificial intelligence occurs in the mind as well as in the machine.

He announces a digression: “Some of the best AI-enabled art is being made by engineers,” as computer art was made by early computer engineers.

He points to the color names ML-generated by Janelle Shane. And Gabriel Goh’s synthetic porn. It uses Yahoo’s porn detector and basically runs it in reverse starting with white noise. “This is conceptual art of the highest order.”

“I’m frankly worried, y’all,” he says. People use awful things using imaging technology. E.g., face tracking can be abused by governments and others. These apps are developed to make decisions. And those are the thoughtless explicit abuses, not to mention implicit biases like HP’s face scanning software that doesn’t recognize black faces. He references Zeynep Tufecki’s warnings.

A partial, tiny, and cost-effective solution: integrate artists into your research community. [He lists sensible reasons too fast for me to type.]

The post [liveblog][pair] Golan Levin appeared first on Joho the Blog.

by davidw at September 26, 2017 07:00 PM

[liveblog][PAIR] Rebecca Fiebrink on how machines can create new things

At the PAIR symposium, Rebecca Fiebrink of Goldsmiths University of London asks how machines can create new things.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

She works with sensors. ML can allow us to build new interactions from examples of human action and computer response. E.g., recognize my closed fist and use it to play some notes. Add more gestures. This is a conventional suprvised training framework. But suppose you want to build a new gesture recognizer?

The first problem is the data set: there isn’t an obvious one to use. Also, would a 99% recognition rate be great or not so much? It depends on what was happening. IF it goes wrong, you modify the training examples.

She gives a live demo — the Wekinator — using a very low-res camera (10×10 pixels maybe) image of her face to control a drum machine. It learns to play stuff based on whether she is leaning to the left or right, and immediately learns to change if she holds up her hand. She then complicates it, starting from scratch again, training it to play based on her hand position. Very impressive.

Ten years ago Rebecca began with the thought that ML can help unlock the interactive potential of sensors. She plays an early piece by Anne Hege using Playstation golf controllers to make music:

Others make music with instruments that don’t look normal. E.g., Laetitia Sonami uses springs as instruments.

She gives other examples. E.g., a facial expression to meme system.

Beyond building new things, what are the consequences, she asks?

First, faster creation means more prototyping and wider exploration, she says.

Second, ML opens up new creative roles for humans. For example, Sonami says, playing an instrument now can be a bit wild, like riding a bull.

Third, ML lets more people be creators and use their own data.

Rebecca teaches a free MOC on Kadenze
: Machine learning for artists and musicians.

The post [liveblog][PAIR] Rebecca Fiebrink on how machines can create new things appeared first on Joho the Blog.

by davidw at September 26, 2017 06:33 PM

Cyberlaw Clinic - blog
Clinic Files Amicus Brief on Behalf of Members of Congress in Support of Access to Law

On September 25, 2017, the Cyberlaw Clinic and local counsel Catherine Gellis filed an amicus brief on behalf of members of Congress Zoe Lofgren (D-CA 19th District) and Darrell Issa (R-CA 49th District) in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The brief supports defendant-appellant (Public Resource) in the case American Society of Testing Engineers (ASTM) et. al. v., Case No. 17-7035 (D.C. Cir.). The appeal — a consolidation of two district court cases, both filed by standard developing organizations (SDOs) — addresses the copyrightability of the law and standards incorporated therein. The crux of the case is whether the text of applicable law may be shared freely by non-profit organizations like Public Resource. 

When model codes and standards become part of federal, state, or local regulations, the text is often not reproduced in the location where the law is published. Rather, citizens interested in reading the content of enacted statutes and regs must access the incorporated materials via the SDOs’ publication channels. These may come with high access fees or remain incompatible with online accessibility tools for the disabled. Public Resource acquired copies of a number of standards and codes, made them public, and was sued for copyright and trademark infringement by the SDOs.

The Clinic previously filed amicus briefs on behalf of legal scholars in support of Public Resource in both cases brought in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  The district court ruled in favor of both sets of plaintiffs-appellees, the “ASTM Plaintiffs”—ASTM, National Fire Protection Association, Inc. (NFPA), and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)—and the “AERA Plaintiffs”—American Education Resource Association (AERA), American Psychological Association (APA), and the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME), finding copyright and trademark infringement in the publication on Public Resource’s website of model codes and standards incorporated into law.

The Brief:

In this brief, Members of Congress weighed in to discuss the public policy implications of the lower courts’ decisions. The brief discusses possible constitutional due process implications of SDOs’ using copyright to restrict on access to laws, noting that “[a] citizen’s ability to take notice of a law or regulation depends on that citizen’s ability to access the text of such law or regulation,” and that “[t]here can be no due process when people cannot remain informed of the laws by which they are bound.”

Amici also expressed concerns on the dual impact of copyright restrictions on general welfare, namely: (1) allowing SDOs to maintain their copyright interest in incorporated model codes “would open the floodgates to claims of joint authorship by all the various stakeholders who contribute to drafting laws,” tampering with the lawmaking process by undermining the fundamental principle that the law belongs to the public; and (2) restricting access to the law also poses a threat to public safety—the poor may have trouble paying the high model code access fees to ensure that their housing is safe; the disabled may not be able to access the model codes due to the incompatibility of the SDO platforms with accessibility tools.

Finally, the brief argues that, even if SDOs maintain an interest in the law, Public Resource’s open publication of the law is fair use. The model codes and standards are factual—not creative—in nature, and online reproduction of relevant material is reasonable and necessary, because “increasing public access to information constitutes a public benefit.”

Other Amicus Briefs in Support of Public Resource:

Four other amicus briefs were filed in support of Public Resource. Public Knowledge filed a  brief on behalf of a group of library associations, non-profit organizations, legal technology companies, former government officials, librarians, innovators, and law professors addresses the societal detriment of restricting access to the law—stifling innovation, fostering discrimination and bias, and violating the First Amendment right to information.

Non-profit organizations Public Citizen, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumers Union, National Employment Law Project, and United StatesPublic Interest Research Group, filed a brief discussing the importance of open access to regulatory texts in preserving public and environmental safety. These organizations argue that restricting access to the law would “impede the public’s ability to participate in rulemaking proceedings, engage in discussion of regulatory requirements, challenge illegal regulations, and hold those who violate regulations accountable for their actions.”

The Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic at Stanford Law School filed a brief on behalf of Sina Bahram, a digital accessibility researcher and advocate for disabled individuals. Bahram argues that Public Resource publication of model codes constitutes fair use because it provided a transformative service to the disabled in creating an accessible online format of regulatory codes. He asserts that SDO-provided online reading platforms are incompatible with accessibility tools and hence, violate the American Disabilities Act requirement that prohibits discrimination against the disabled.

Finally, a group of intellectual property filed an amicus brief addressing the trademark arguments advanced by plaintiffs-appellees, arguing that the trademark infringement claims should be barred because the SDOs objections do not create a separate trademark cause of action distinct from copyright.


Special thanks to HLS Cyberlaw Clinic students Evelyn Chang, Jillian Goodman, and Anderson Grossman who worked closely with clinical supervisors Kendra Albert and Chris Bavitz to write the brief. (Evelyn also played a key role in drafting this blog post!) Cyberlaw Clinic summer interns Steven Deolus and Teddi Josephson did a lot of the legwork that led to the filing of the brief, and Clinical Instructor Jessica Fjeld was instrumental in crafting and honing the arguments. The Clinic is also grateful to students Michael Shafer and Ben Shiroma for their assistance with filing.

Court of Appeals Image courtesy of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit website, (last accessed September 26, 2017).

by Clinic Staff at September 26, 2017 06:27 PM

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