The Institute for Rebooting Social Media, based at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University (BKC), is accepting applications for its Visiting Scholars program. These outstanding faculty members will collaborate with the Institute during the 2022-2023 academic year. Each visiting faculty member will produce original work while engaging with other Institute scholars and the broader community at BKC.
Applications will be accepted until Friday, November 19, 2021, at 11:59pm Eastern Time.
Learn more below about the Institute and the inaugural Visiting Scholars program, along with its opportunities and expectations, eligibility and qualifications, logistical considerations, access to university resources, commitment to diversity, and application.
About the Visiting Scholars Program
The Institute for Rebooting Social Media seeks Visiting Scholars to develop publicly-accessible research projects that better articulate the harms and opportunities of networked communication and social media; grapple with questions about the legitimacy of who should address these harms and opportunities; test under-discussed ideas and develop new ones; prototype tools and protocols; develop policies enriched by attention to sociotechnical issues; and/or encourage accurate and accessible narratives about the harms and possibilities of social media.
Below are the Institute’s three core areas of interest for Visiting Scholars for the upcoming year. Applicants whose research agendas fit within these areas will be prioritized, though applications from scholars who study other areas of social media and networked communication are also welcome.
Content Governance Models
We are particularly interested in scholarship related to current, previous, and potential content governance models on social media platforms. Platforms host significant, important “public” conversations and debate, yet companies set the terms of acceptable behavior and are governing speech for millions, even billions, of people around the world, without sufficient input from users, transparency, and accountability. What might it look like to have users as real partners with companies and be able to share in governance models?
Business Models & Incentives
We are also interested in scholarship on social media business models and their misalignment of incentives for the broader public interest and democracy. Currently, there’s a misalignment of incentives and a failure to internalize externalities, and a lack of clarity and imagination around “socially-conscious” business models. For more democratic models of content governance to emerge, how might social media business models need to change? How might we realign government policy and social media business models to incentivize improved, more democratic governance models for online discourse?
Reinventing social media will require changes in the hardware and the software that comprise online platforms. We are interested in research that tackles relevant engineering problems on the client-side and the back-end. For example, how should distributed storage systems be constructed to respect user-defined privacy policies? What UX interventions would help platforms to reduce harassment and ease its reporting? At the network level, what are the best ways to detect and thwart the spread of disinformation?
The Institute anticipates hosting a small inaugural cohort of three to six Visiting Scholars. Through their participation in the program, Visiting Scholars will be expected to pursue their own research interests around social media and online networked communication, produce public scholarship, and engage with the Institute’s participants and programming. As members of the Institute community, Visiting Scholars will have the opportunity to cultivate relationships with key faculty and experts in related fields, engage with a range of stakeholders in broader research and policy circles, and learn with and from Institute participants.
The speed and urgency of public conversations about social media, democracy, and the public interest is increasing. The Institute seeks to be a space for both established scholars and emerging ones, particularly those under-represented in the field, to both further develop their scholarship and contribute to relevant public conversations.
Opportunities and Expectations
The specific expectations for individual participants in the Visiting Scholars program will be unique to each scholar, with broad expectations outlined below.
Producing public scholarship
Visiting Scholars will be expected to produce at least one public output, in consultation with the Principal Investigators and Institute leadership, that informs the scholarly and public debates on social media’s most urgent problems and possible paths forward. These outputs could take many forms, including:
- technical or design prototype(s)
- public writing, such as long form pieces, op-eds, blog posts, or interviews
- a series of events or convenings organized and led by the participant
- reports or white papers
- a website or other online resource
- academic writing, such as a research paper
Engaging with Institute participants and programming
Beyond this required output, Visiting Scholars will benefit from engaging with faculty, students, staff, and other members of the Institute, Berkman Klein Center, and Harvard University communities. Visiting Scholars will be expected to regularly participate in Institute programming (within reason, of course!) to learn with others and strengthen their own work. This programming could include participating in and/or speaking at workshops, research sessions, and regular conversations with other Visiting Scholars and Institute faculty. Visiting Scholars will have the opportunity to give at least one public talk. We hope that Visiting Scholars will be excited and available to mentor and/or advise students involved in Institute programming.
Eligibility and Qualifications
The Visiting Scholar Program welcomes applications from faculty:
- For whom serving as a professor is their full-time commitment, including assistant, associate, and full professors or equivalent roles in countries outside of the U.S.
- From any discipline whose scholarship deeply engages with questions and ideas related to social media and networked communication
- Who are looking to develop independent work, alongside others; who are eager to engage with other faculty and practitioners around key questions on the future of social media and networked communication; who are excited to engage publicly; and who are eager to mentor students
- Who have a clear sense of the problem(s) their work is addressing, a clear vision of their proposed project and potential output (of course, this is flexible, as the project develops), and a plan to access any necessary data, research interviews, etc.
- With a commitment to centering equity, inclusion, and justice in their work
- Who have prior published work in this space and a demonstrated record of contributing to public and scholarly conversations
International applicants: For visiting scholar positions with the Institute, we work with the Harvard International Office (HIO) to sponsor visa paperwork for our eligible international scholars. An outline of the visa application process and requirements may be found on the HIO website at: http://hio.harvard.edu/scholar-visa-process.
Stipend: There are two pathways for Visiting Scholars to join the Institute: those who will bring external funding to support their visits, and those who will receive funding from the Institute and will engage more frequently and regularly with Institute programming, participants, and staff.
- External funding: applicants on sabbatical or otherwise with their own funding support. The Institute will complement this funding with an additional stipend of $10,000 that can be used for living, travel, and research expenses.
- Institute funding: the Institute has a limited pool of funding to support Visiting Scholars. Visiting Scholars are eligible to receive stipends of $72,000 annually, plus additional funding of up to $5,000 for research-specific expenses. The first half of the stipend is guaranteed to cover the first half of the year. We will conduct a mid-year review with Visiting Scholars to share feedback, review engagement, and check in on progress on research, and, provided scholars are on track, at this stage we will clear the way for funding for the second half of the year.
The stipend may be taxable, depending on individual circumstances.
Time Commitment: The inaugural Visiting Scholars program will run for the full academic year from fall 2022 to spring 2023. Visiting Scholars are expected to be free of the majority of their regular commitments so that they may fully devote themselves to the work outlined in their application, though we recognize that Visiting Scholars bringing their own funding might have specific commitments due to their funding arrangements.
Location: Depending on the course of the pandemic and university health guidelines, Visiting Scholars will be required to be in Cambridge, MA for at least one semester of their appointment, and are very welcome to spend both fall and spring semesters on campus. During the time spent in Cambridge, they will work from the Harvard University campus and the Berkman Klein Center offices. During any time they are not physically on campus, Visiting Scholars will participate in programming remotely.
Research support: Visiting Scholars will have the option to hire a part-time Harvard University student research assistant during the duration of their appointment. This research assistant funding will be paid for by the Institute, in addition to the stipends described above.
Access to University Resources
Office and Meeting Space: Visiting Scholars will be provided with either shared or individual office/work space, depending on availability. We endeavor to provide additional comfortable and productive spaces for coworking and flexible use by the community. Visiting Scholars are supported in their efforts to host small meetings and gatherings at the Berkman Klein Center (BKC) and in space on the Harvard campus. BKC’s office is wheelchair accessible, and our bathrooms are gender-neutral.
- Library Access: All participants will be provided with access to Harvard’s extensive libraries and research facilities.
- Courses: visitors often audit classes across Harvard University; however, they must individually ask for permission directly from the professor of the desired class.
- Campus Resources: Visiting Scholars are welcome and encouraged to connect with Harvard University’s countless research centers, initiatives, resource groups, associations, organizations, and specialized offices.
Harvard Health Insurance and Harvard Housing: Visiting Scholars are not eligible to purchase health insurance through Harvard University. They are eligible to use Harvard University housing services.
Teaching at Harvard: Visiting Scholars may be able to teach at one of several Harvard schools. This would be determined on a case-by-case basis, arranged directly by the Visiting Scholar in collaboration with the administration of said schools. The Institute cannot promise any teaching engagement during the program.
Commitment to Diversity
The work and well-being of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society are profoundly strengthened by our differences in background, culture, experience, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, ability, and more. We actively seek and welcome applications from people of diverse backgrounds, including Black, Indigenous, Asian, Hispanic, and Latino/Latina/Latinx people; LGBTQIA+ people; non-binary people; women; people with disabilities; people at intersections of these identities; and people from and working across the spectrum of disciplines.
Applications will be accepted until Friday, November 19, 2021, at 11:59pm Eastern Time.
Instructions for creating an account and submitting an application through BKC's Application Tracker may be found here.
Application questions you will be asked to answer:
- Faculty career level
- Title of faculty role (optional)
- Current institution
- Primary discipline(s)
- Are you requesting funding or bringing your own funding into the program? This will not impact review of your application.
- Preferred semester(s) to be in-person, if selected. This will not impact review, and is simply useful information for the Institute in designing programming.
- Previous involvement in Berkman Klein Center programs (optional)
- Any additional information you’d like to share with us (optional)
- Demographic data (optional)
Attachments you will be required to upload include the following. Please consider this information carefully and ensure your attachments meet these requirements:
- Academic CV
- Cover letter: one page cover letter introducing yourself. This should briefly summarize your professional career – including current faculty position, previous faculty positions, key areas of study, key publications – and explain your interest and excitement in participating in the Institute and its programming.
- Project proposal: one to two pages summarizing your proposed project. What question or problem will the project address? How will the project aim to explore that question or problem? How, specifically, will you use your Visiting Scholarship to advance and complete the project? Which particular Harvard or local resources will be especially important or useful? What might the output of the project be (of course, this is flexible as the project develops)? What resources are needed or assumed (data, research assistants, IRB support, etc.)? How might your work benefit the fields of Internet and society, public interest networked communication, and social media?
- 1-3 work samples: submit a PDF of work samples for a public audience, such as articles, op-eds, events, etc. Ideally, these should connect to the project proposal in some way, or help to demonstrate the feasibility of the project proposal. Please submit these samples as one combined PDF. Do not include more than three samples; we will only review the first three samples.
If contacted for an interview and requested, you should be prepared to share reference letters from two references. At least one reference should be academic; the other can be from a practitioner in the fields of Internet and society, networked communication, and social media; or both references can be academic.
About the Institute for Rebooting Social Media
To accelerate progress addressing social media’s most urgent problems, Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center (BKC) for Internet & Society is launching an ambitious, three-year, “pop-up” research initiative, the Institute for Rebooting Social Media. Conceived of by two BKC faculty directors: Professor Jonathan Zittrain, George Bemis Professor of International Law and Professor of Computer Science, and James Mickens, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science, the Institute will convene world-class practitioners, policymakers, scholars, and students to improve the future of social media and online communication. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Craig Newmark Philanthropies have committed generous donations to support the new initiative.
There's an emerging consensus that social media – to the extent there’s even agreement on what "social media" is – is broken, on a global scale, even as the reasons offered vary greatly. Some of the concerns: Platforms initially perceived as engines for democracy and truth-telling appear to have instead facilitated the spread and acceptance of lies, division, and physical harm. Confidence in institutions, elections, and collective truth has demonstrably decayed, while racial, ethnic, political, religious, and gender-based animosities have grown. Digital platforms’ design and policy decisions have permitted and even, by their own accounts, at times encouraged this state of affairs, and the actions of a handful of private entities can influence the shape of public communication in unprecedented ways.
Still, social media, and the online environment generally, offer unprecedented access to knowledge, have forged valuable and often self-governed communities, and have cultivated flourishing cultural movements. Preserving and strengthening the benefits of online communication, while minimizing the various harms, is a key challenge of our era.
By bringing participants together across academia, civil society, government, and industry in focused, timebound collaboration, the Institute will build a portfolio of programming, research, collaborative projects, and educational opportunities to accelerate progress in improving the state of the digital social space. Participants will be encouraged to address a wide range of some of today’s thorniest topics and questions related to social media, including those related to mis- and disinformation, privacy, harassment, and content governance.
Visiting Scholars Program Advisory Committee:
- Prof. Biella Coleman
- Prof. Nien-hê Hsieh
- Prof. James Mickens
- Prof. Jordi Weinstock
- Prof. Jonathan Zittrain