The Berkman Klein Center’s Applied Social Media Lab celebrated its launch with the Future of the Internet Summit on Wednesday. The Summit hosted leaders from the private, public, academic, and advocacy sectors to address the current state of public interest technology and how to build a better Internet that serves the public good.
BKC Faculty Director Jonathan Zittrain kicked off with a debate on the tensions of distrust, accountability, and transparency between major social media platforms and their users with guests Kasia Chmielinski (BKC Assembly Program alum and co-founder of the Data Nutrition Project), Tracy Chou (CEO of Block Party), Jason Goldman (former Chief Digital Officer for the White House), and Yoel Roth (former Twitter Head of Trust and Safety). The panel also weighed in on the state of social media, generative AI, and other disruptive technologies that both erode and reinforce healthy democratic societies.
What should people expect from our platforms in terms of safety, access to information, and privacy– three concepts with many different meanings across cultures? Heavy-handed decisions, even when well intended, may come at a cost, according to Yoel Roth: “The more that we centralize these systems, you end up embedding different organizations’ values. I worry about the homogeneity of the future of the Internet. I worry that all of the Internet begins to look like Facebook.” Industry veterans at the Summit gave a firsthand account of tech sector upheavals and the need to design initial sprints that can navigate complex regulatory, economic, and social factors. As one panelist emphasized, “people fix problems, not technology.”
Other Summit discussions echoed a call for more diverse perspectives and conversations across differences, which technology can explode or thoughtfully facilitate – as Professor Lawrence Lessig’s new deliberative online tool attempts. The difference is engineers trained in empathy or “moral imagination,” as RSM Co-Director ASML Faculty Director Professor James Mickens said. According to Mickens, AI can then accelerate people’s distrust in products, platforms, and policies that were not designed with them or with them in mind.
The Applied Social Media Lab aims to give industry-trained technologists the freedom to build social media solutions that center the public interest. The team is currently recruiting for several open positions, including Senior Lab Director.
The day also featured conversations with industry leaders Nabiha Syed (CEO of The Markup) and DJ Patil (General Partner at GreatPoint Ventures and former White House Chief Data Scientist) plus key Harvard faculty members working on leading projects to address social media’s biggest challenges, including Latanya Sweeney (Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and Technology at the Harvard Kennedy School and Director of the Public Interest Tech Lab), Lawrence Lessig (Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School), Martha Minow (300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard Law School), and Nancy Gibbs (Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice of Press, Politics, and Public Policy and Director of the Shorenstein Center).
BKC launches the Applied Social Media Lab at the apex of its twenty-fifth year anniversary celebration.
Photo of Tracy Chou: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard University
Photo of DJ Patil, Latanya Sweeney, James Mickens and Lawrence Lessig: Niles Singer/Harvard University