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Assembly: Disinformation

Assembly: Disinformation

Assembly: Disinformation takes up disinformation in the digital public sphere from a cybersecurity perspective, exploring the challenges and prospective upside of potential public and private sector responses to disinformation and related problems of foreign interference.

The program combines disinformation and cybersecurity expertise, innovative approaches to cross-sectoral partnerships, and thoughtful interdisciplinary programming with the Berkman Klein Center's history as a convener and long view on the problems and promise of the internet.

The Assembly: Disinformation Program

Assembly: Disinformation brings together cohorts of experts, professionals, and students to better understand -- and make progress on -- the complex issues of disinformation and foreign interference. To do this, the program is organized around three tracks:

  • THE ASSEMBLY FORUM is a discussion forum for senior leadership from industry, the U.S. national security community, the academic field, and civil society. The Forum hosts high-level briefings and conversations, covering the unique challenges that government and industry must address in the domain of disinformation and cybersecurity. 
  • THE ASSEMBLY STUDENT FELLOWSHIP convenes a cohort of Harvard students from a range of disciplines and schools. Student fellows participate in problem-oriented seminars led by Harvard faculty and collaborate on student-led projects aimed at tackling real-world disinformation problems. The Assembly Student Fellowship is an evolution of the Techtopia program, which ran during the 2018-2019 academic year.
  • THE ASSEMBLY FELLOWSHIP is an intensive non-residential four-month fellowship for technologists, managers, and policymakers. Assembly Fellows confront problems related to disinformation by creating collaborative provocations or prototypes aimed at better understanding, drawing attention to, and countering disinformation campaigns. Over the course of the fellowship, Assembly Fellows learn and build together with the support of our community. The Assembly Fellowship was first piloted in 2017 and was co-developed with the MIT Media Lab. This year, it is hosted by the Berkman Klein Center.

These three tracks build on existing work, including three programs at the Center which were formerly known as the Berklett Cybersecurity project, Techtopia, and the Assembly program, a joint initiative with the MIT Media Lab.

Tackling Disinformation

Foreign interference in the 2016 US general election made “fake news” and “disinformation” household terms overnight. The anxiety and uproar in the wake of the election was soon followed by significant civil society and academic efforts around disinformation. Assembly: Disinformation is situated within a growing field of scholars and practitioners tackling problems related to disinformation and our information ecosystem. Assembly is collaborative by design and builds on existing research. 

The Berkman Klein Center has itself contributed significantly to this growing field. Yochai Benkler, Rob Faris, and Hal Roberts’s essential work on Network Propaganda, has been hailed by many in the research community and beyond as one of the most rigorous studies of our information ecosystem published to this point. Our colleagues at the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media are building tools aimed at reconfiguring our relationship with social media at the expense of would-be propagandists. At the Shorenstein Center, Joan Donovan leads the Technology and Social Change Research Project, which combats media manipulation through knowledge and action.

The range and urgency of activity is heartening. It reflects the fact that disinformation is being treated as a truly interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral problem, and there’s clearly no shortage of talent to be engaged. Yet, it’s not entirely clear that a unified operational agenda is emerging from a sea of disparate efforts, not by any fault of those working in the field.

The lack of unified agenda in part reflects the complexity of disinformation and the vibrancy of debate around the topic. Several scholars have contributed significant insights; yet different researchers and disciplines have competing conceptualizations of the problems of disinformation, and significantly varying proposals about what to do and who should do it. 

We’re jumping in now because when we take the long view on the internet’s growth and development, the digital realm’s inability to cope with disinformation starts to look less like a niche problem and more like symptoms of long-deferred reckonings around intermediary responsibility and the connections between cybersecurity and our information ecosystem. Disinformation has the potential to serve as a forcing function for a conversation – and some resolution – that will be as uncomfortable as it is important. 

Leadership & Funding

Assembly: Disinformation is led by Professor Jonathan Zittrain, the George Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School and the Faculty Director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, and a talented team that includes Senior Program Manager Hilary Ross, Assistant Research Director David O'Brien, Staff Fellow Oumou Ly, Program Coordinator Zenzele Best, and Research Associate John Bowers.  A number of additional Berkman Klein fellows and staff members also support the project's efforts.

The program is generously supported by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Knight Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. More information about the Berkman Klein Center's funding and support can be found here.

Our Work 25

Jul 30, 2020

The Breakdown: Jonathan Zittrain reflects on 2019–2020 Assembly program, disinformation

Special two-part episode delves into BKC's Assembly program, big challenges with disinformation More

Jun 18, 2020

The Breakdown: Brian Scully on government response to disinformation

Disinformation and the U.S. 2020 presidential election, COVID-19

Disinformation and the U.S. 2020 presidential election, COVID-19 More

May 21, 2020

The Breakdown: evelyn douek on doctored media, platform response and responsibility

Do tech companies have a responsibility for false content beyond the impact of that content on the information environment on their sites?

The second episode of our new video series asks, do tech companies have a responsibility for false content beyond the impact of that content on the information environment on… More

May 14, 2020 @ 5:30 PM

[Virtual] Assembly Fellowship Project Showcase

2020 Assembly Fellows present projects designed to tackle the spread of disinformation

Learn about the 2020 Assembly fellowship projects More

Mar 31, 2020

Three new ideas for mitigating disinformation

Assembly discussion explores new ways to mitigate challenges of disinformation

Assembly discussion explores new ways to mitigate challenges of disinformation More

Mar 31, 2020

Assembly Fellows team up to combat disinformation

2020 cohort convenes to launch new projects

2020 cohort convenes to launch new projects More


Inside the Assembly Student Fellowship

Zenzele Best, Program Coordinator for Assembly: Disinformation, offers an inside look at the Assembly Student Fellowship.

Jan 29, 2020
Aug 14, 2019

Apply for the 2020 Assembly: Disinformation Fellowship

Application closes on September 15 at 9:00pm EST More

Jul 19, 2019

What We Created During Assembly 2019

Over three months the BKC and MIT Media Lab’s third annual Assembly program built four projects that offer ways to move forward on the thorny problems at the intersection of AI… More

Mar 27, 2019

Inside The R&D Of AI Ethics

Designing a roadmap for AI governance

It’s clear that the roadmap for AI governance won’t rely solely on business or academic research. That's where Assembly comes in. More

Feb 20, 2019

Zittrain and Zuckerberg discuss encryption, ‘information fiduciaries’ and targeted advertisements

CEO visits with students from the University’s Techtopia program and Zittrain’s Internet and Society course

Should Facebook be considered an “information fiduciary” when it comes to the privacy of its clients? More

Feb 5, 2019

"Don't Panic: Making Progress on the 'Going Dark' Debate" now in Portuguese.

"Don't Panic: Making Progress on the 'Going Dark' Debate" now in Portuguese after translation by ITS Rio More

Jan 29, 2019

The “Dataset Nutrition Label Project” Tackles Dataset Health and Standards

Algorithms can only be as good as the data that underly them. Learn about one project that is pulling back the curtain on the quality of datasets. More

Nov 27, 2018

The Dataset Nutrition Label Project

The Dataset Nutrition Label Project empowers data scientists and policymakers with practical tools to improve AI outcomes More

Jul 24, 2018

Apply Now to Join Our Assembly Cohort in 2019!

At the Berkman Klein Center and MIT Media Lab. Applications are due Sunday, September 2, 2018!

Seeking technologists with diverse skill sets to confront the concrete and constantly emerging problems related to artificial intelligence and governance. Applications are due… More

Jun 1, 2018

Coming in from the Cold: A Safe Harbor from the CFAA and DMCA §1201

A proposal for a statutory safe harbor from the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and DMCA for security research activities. More

Dec 12, 2017

Announcing the 2018 Assembly Cohort

At the Berkman Klein Center and MIT Media Lab

We are thrilled to announce the 2018 cohort for the Assembly program at the Berkman Klein Center and MIT Media Lab! Read more to learn about the twenty-one individuals who will be… More

Sep 13, 2017

Cross-Border Data Access Reform

A Primer on the Proposed U.S.-U.K. Agreement

A brief primer on how cross-border data access requests currently work, options for reform, and major challenges to reform ahead. More

Jun 20, 2017

Join Our 2018 AI Assembly Cohort!

At the Berkman Klein Center and MIT Media Lab

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the MIT Media Lab are excited to announce the launch of the … More

Dec 12, 2016

Announcing the Berkman Klein Assembly 2017 Cohort

We are thrilled to announce the 2017 cohort for the Berkman Klein Assembly pilot program launching January 2017! The cohort is made up of seventeen diverse participants with deep… More

Jul 2, 2016

The Berkman Klein Assembly Pilot Program 2017

Calling Developers and Tech Industry Professionals

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is excited to announce the Berkman Klein Assembly, an innovative pilot program that will experiment with… More

Feb 1, 2016

Don't Panic: Making Progress on the "Going Dark" Debate

This report from the Berkman Center's Berklett Cybersecurity Project offers a new perspective on the "going dark" debate from the discussion, debate, and analyses of an… More

Mar 25, 2015 @ 6:00 PM

Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World

With Berkman Fellow, Bruce Schneier. Moderated by Jonathan Zittrain with special guests, Yochai Benkler, Joe Nye, Sara Watson and Melissa Hathaway.

In Data and Goliath, security expert Bruce Schneier offers another path, one that values both security and privacy. He shows us exactly what we can do to reform our government… More

Community 01


Inside the Assembly Student Fellowship

Zenzele Best, Program Coordinator for Assembly: Disinformation, offers an inside look at the Assembly Student Fellowship.

Jan 29, 2020

People 12

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