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Berkman Klein Center Announces Applied Social Media Lab, Funded Through Eight-Figure Donation

Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society is located in the Lewis International Law Center, pictured left.
Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society is located in the Lewis International Law Center, pictured left. By Courtesy of Stella A. Gilbert
By Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society will launch an Applied Social Media Lab as an offshoot of its existing Institute for Rebooting Social Media, the center announced in a press release last week.

The lab seeks to develop social media technology for the public good “rather than Big Tech’s bottom line,” according to an Oct. 13 press release, through collaboration between technologists, academics, and public servants. The initiative was funded by an eight-figure donation from billionaire entrepreneur Frank H. McCourt Jr. and tech nonprofit Project Liberty, which McCourt founded in 2021.

BKC also announced it would host a “Future of the Internet” summit on Oct. 18 to celebrate the lab’s launch. The event will feature conversations with former President Barack Obama and experts from industry, government, and Harvard’s faculty.

In the Oct. 11 press release, McCourt said that “current social media is designed to addict and exploit people, rather than connect and empower them.”

“Project Liberty is leading the efforts to build a better internet, and the solutions produced by those working at the Applied Social Media Lab at Berkman Klein will be concrete steps toward realizing a healthier digital world for society,” McCourt added.

Last week’s announcement marks the second new initiative from the Berkman Klein Center in its 25th year. In July, Harvard Law School and BKC announced a joint initiative to study the impact of artificial intelligence on the legal system.

According to Rebecca H. Rinkevich, the director of the Institute for Rebooting Social Media, the lab plans to “put out everything ranging from whitepapers to fully functional prototypes.”

“We don’t yet have specifics nailed down,” Rinkevich said. “The idea is that we would be putting out product that could be directly implemented into existing social media platforms, future ones, and wholly new ones.”

Rinkevich said that Wednesday’s “Future of the Internet” summit aims to “establish that this is a turning point for social media.”

“We really want to use this moment to, one, put out a message of hope that these are problems that are worth investing time in and are possible to solve,” she added. “And really inspire and recruit the next generation of technologists to come and work in the public interest to try and build the next wave of social media.”

Rinkevich said she hopes the lab becomes “a home for technologists who want to break away from the big social media companies or industry” and leverage their experience in support of the public good.

“The magic of this program is where the generative nature of academia meets the practicalities and impact of the private sector,” Rinkevich said.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @neilhshah15 or on Threads @kne.els.

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