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Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center Receives $2 Million From Knight Foundation To Combat Disinformation

The Berkman Klein Center was founded at Harvard Law School, but elevated to a University-wide center in 2008.
The Berkman Klein Center was founded at Harvard Law School, but elevated to a University-wide center in 2008. By MyeongSeo Kim
By Emmy M. Cho, Crimson Staff Writer

The Knight Foundation announced a $2 million grant to Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society in July to promote research on misinformation, disinformation, and how best to regulate online platforms.

The Berkman Klein Center plans to use the funds to develop a new initiative titled “Rebooting Social Media,” a three-year initiative which will investigate ways to combat disinformation and a rapidly polarizing digital landscape.

The grant was the largest among a bundle of donations announced by the Knight Foundation on July 21, which totaled $5.5 million. The funds are going towards efforts to “understand how technology is transforming our democracy” and allow for “evidence-based decisions on how to govern and manage the now-digital public square,” according to a press release.

John Sands, director of learning and impact at the Knight Foundation, said the Berkman Klein Center is uniquely positioned to make the most of the donation.

“There aren’t many places and academic centers of study that have the kind of talent, resources, and research infrastructure that Berkman Klein has to be able to direct the collaborative undertaking that we think is necessary to identify solutions to some of the information challenges we now face,” Sands said.

Sands added that the Knight Foundation has “a long-standing relationship” with the Berkman Klein Center and those who helm the Center’s projects, particularly Harvard Law School professor Jonathan L. Zittrain.

“We’re confident in the Center’s ability to bring together the types of people for the kind of extended, solutions-oriented exploration that we think needs to be an important part of the process for addressing these challenges,” Sands said.

Berkman Klein Center director James W. Mickens said that on top of research endeavors, the Center plans to use the donation to develop workshops and unite diverse experts in an effort to address pressing issues related to digital platforms.

“One thing that we’re going to do is organize workshops and other types of programming such as hackathons to bring together academics, programmers, people from civil society and public policy — to bring all those people together to tackle some of these big problems involving social media,” Mickens said.

Mickens said that the Center is “trying to be cross-disciplinary intentionally” in its research efforts, and is interested in hearing a “diversity of perspectives” not only industry-wise, but in terms of race and gender as well.

“Hopefully if we’re successful by drawing in all of these diverse perspectives, we’ll be able to come up with solutions that work for larger society as opposed to people who these tech platforms sometimes target narrowly,” Mickens said. “We really want to come up with solutions that make social media work for society as a whole.”

—Staff writer Emmy M. Cho can be reached at emmy.cho@thecrimson.com.

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