This page features 15 years of conversations with leading cyber-scholars, entrepreneurs, activists, and policymakers as they explore topics such as: the factors that influence knowledge creation and dissemination in the digital age; the character of power as the worlds of governance, business, citizenship, and the media meet the Internet; and the opportunities, role, and limitations of new technologies in learning.

Most Berkman events, including conferences, luncheon series talks, and many meetings, are webcast then archived on this website.  Starting in 2015, webcasts are now archived on specific events pages and are no longer listed here.  Please consider this page an incomplete archive, while we transition how we display multimedia on our site. Many of these talks are also available on the Berkman Center's YouTube channel.

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Willow Brugh on Distributed and Digital Disaster Response

The citizen response to 2012's Hurricane Sandy was in many important ways more effective than the response from established disaster response institutions like FEMA. New York-based response efforts like Occupy Sandy leveraged existing community networks and digital tools to find missing people; provide food, shelter, and medical assistance; and offer a hub for volunteers and donors.

In this talk Willow Brugh -- Berkman fellow and Professor of Practice at Brown University -- demonstrates examples ranging from Oklahoma to Tanzania where such distributed and digital disaster response have proved successful, and empowered citizens to respond in ways traditional institutions cannot.

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The Digital Problem-Solving Initiative (DPSI) at Harvard

The Digital Problem-Solving Initiative (DPSI, or "dip-see") at Harvard University, is an innovative and collaborative project, hosted through the Berkman Center. DPSI brings together a diverse group of learners (students, faculty, fellows, and staff) to work on projects to address challenges and opportunities across the university.

In this talk DPSI participants showcase: a smartphone app to reduce campus assault; a method statisticians can use to protect the anonymity of their subjects; and an innovative, immersive documentary project.

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Aimee Corrigan on #StopEbola: What Nigeria Did Right

On July 20, 2014 the Ebola outbreak landed in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country. Public health officials warned that an outbreak could be catastrophic in Lagos, a densely populated city of 21 million. 19 confirmed cases left 11 dead from the disease, but Nigeria’s nightmare scenario never occurred. Within three months, the World Health Organization declared Nigeria Ebola-free, deeming the nation's efforts to contain the disease a "spectacular success story”.

In a country with 130 million mobile-phone users and active social networks, social media and mobile technology played a central role in Nigeria’s Ebola containment.

In this talk Aimee Corrigan -- Co-Director of Nollywood Workshops, a hub for filmmakers in Lagos, Nigeria -- discusses how viral video, SMS, and social media were used to sensitize audiences, manage fear and myths, and reduce stigma around Ebola. And how these strategies might be utilized in public health challenges in Africa and beyond.

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Development in the Digital Age: The role of online platforms & payments in enabling entrepreneurship in emerging markets

The Internet is democratizing access to the global marketplace for millions of people around the world. Thanks to online platforms, payment systems and logistics services, companies, nonprofits and individuals can embark on global journeys like never before.
In this conversation, Usman Ahmed -- Policy Counsel for eBay Inc -- and Jake Colvin -- Executive Director of the Global Innovation Forum at the National Foreign Trade Council -- explore the opportunities for economic development that the Internet unlocks, and the specific challenges that global entrepreneurs and micromultinationals in developing countries face.

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Carrie James on Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap

Fresh from a party, a teen posts a photo on Facebook of a friend drinking a beer. A college student repurposes an article from Wikipedia for a paper. A group of players in a multiplayer online game routinely cheat new players by selling them worthless virtual accessories for high prices. How do youth, and the adults in their lives, think about the moral and ethical dimensions of their participation in online communities?

In this talk Carrie James -- Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of "Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap" -- explores how young people approach questionable situations online as well as more dramatic ethical dilemmas that arise in digital contexts.

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Nathan Freitas: The Great Firewall Inverts

The world is witnessing a massive expansion of Chinese telecommunications reach and influence, powered entirely by users choosing to participate in it. In Usage of the mobile messaging app WeChat (微信 Weixin), for example, has skyrocketed not only inside China, but outside, as well. Due to these systems being built upon proprietary protocols and software, their inner workings are largely opaque and mostly insecure. (WeChat has full permission to activate microphones and cameras, track GPS, access user contacts and photos, and copy all of this data at any time to their servers.)

In this talk, Nathan Freitas -- Berkman Fellow, director of technology strategy and training at the Tibet Action Institute. and leader of the Guardian Project -- questions the risks to privacy and security foreign users engage in when adopting apps from Chinese companies. Do the Chinese companies behind these services have any market incentive or legal obligation to protect the privacy of their non-Chinese global userbase? Do they willingly or automatically turn over all data to the Ministry of Public Security or State Internet Information Office? Will we soon see foreign users targeted or prosecuted due to "private" data shared on WeChat? And is there any fundamental difference in the impact on privacy freedom for an American citizen using WeChat versus a Chinese citizen using WhatsApp or Google?

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Jessica Silbey on The Eureka Myth: Creators, Innovators and Everyday Intellectual Property

Why do people create and innovate? And how does intellectual property law encourage, or discourage, the process?

In this talk Jessica Silbey -- Professor at Suffolk University Law School -- discusses her recent book The Eureka Myth: Creators, Innovators, and Everyday Intellectual Property, which investigates the motivations and mechanisms of creative and innovative activity in everyday professional life.

Based on over fifty face-to-face interviews, the book centers on the stories told by interviewees describing how and why they create and innovate and whether or how IP law plays a role in their activities. The goal of the empirical project was to figure out how IP actually works in creative and innovative fields, as opposed to how we think or say it works (through formal law or legislative debate). Breaking new ground in its qualitative method examining the economic and cultural system of creative and innovative production, The Eureka Myth draws out new and surprising conclusions about the sometimes misinterpreted relationships between creativity, invention and intellectual property protections.

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Tim Davies on Unpacking Open Data: Power, Politics and the Influence of Infrastructures

Countries, states & cities across the globe are embracing the idea of 'open data': establishing platforms, portals and projects to share government managed data online for re-use. Yet, right now, the anticipated civic impacts of open data rarely materialize, and the gap between the promise and the reality of open data remains wide.

In this talk, Tim Davies -- Berkman affiliate and a social researcher focussing on the development of the open government data landscape around the world -- questions the ways in which changing regimes around data can reconfigure power and politics, and considers opportunities to re-imagine the open data project, not merely as one of placing datasets online, but as one that can positively reshape the knowledge infrastructures of civic life.

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Brad Smith and Jonathan Zittrain on Privacy, Surveillance, and Rebuilding Trust in Tech

One of the enduring issues in cyberspace is which laws apply to online activities. We see this most clearly today in the reaction to revelations about government surveillance: on one hand, individuals are increasingly seeking assurances that their content is protected from government overreach, while governments want to ensure they have access to information to enforce their laws, even if that content is stored outside their borders. We see this same tension in debates over privacy protection for data placed on line by consumers.

Brad Smith -- Microsoft’s general counsel and executive vice president of Legal and Corporate Affairs -- and Jonathan Zittrain -- Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society -- explore the role of law in protecting our rights in the physical world online, the complementary roles of law and technology in achieving this protection, and the need for governments to come together so that companies (and customers) don’t face conflicting legal obligations.

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Molly Sauter on "The Coming Swarm"

What is the role of the internet in political activism and speech? Is there any room for nuance between "hacking" and "cyber-terrorism?"

Molly Sauter -- research affiliate at the Berkman Center and author of "The Coming Swarm: DDoS, Hacktivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet" -- discusses the history, development, theory, and practice of distributed denial of service actions as a tactic of political activism.

*Correction from Molly Sauter: "The plea deal of the PayPal14 stipulates that each defendant owes $5,600 in restitution payments to the PayPal corporation, not $1,600 as I state in the video."

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Emily Horne & Tim Maly on The Inspection House: An Impertinent Field Guide to Modern Surveillance

In 1787, British philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham conceived of the panopticon, a ring of cells observed by a central watchtower, as a labor-saving device for those in authority. In French philosopher Michel Foucault's groundbreaking 1975 study, Discipline and Punish, the panopticon became a metaphor to describe the creeping effects of personalized surveillance as a means for ever-finer mechanisms of control.

Years later, the available tools of scrutiny, supervision, and discipline are far more capable and insidious than Foucault dreamed, and yet less effective than Bentham hoped. Shopping malls, container ports, terrorist holding cells, and social networks all bristle with cameras, sensors, and trackers. But, crucially, they are also rife with resistance and prime opportunities for revolution.

In this talk authors Emily Horne -- a creator of the webcomic A Softer World -- and Tim Maly -- writer and Fellow at Harvard’s metaLAB -- discuss their new book The Inspection House, and paint a stark, vivid portrait of our contemporary surveillance state and its opponents.

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aestetix on NymRights: Protecting Identity in the Digital Age

Do you have a name? More than one? Does it matter to you who knows it? As digital systems become more integrated into our lives, these questions are becoming very important. We're in the midst of a literal identity crisis where your identity is quickly becoming, rather than something you define, a social construct that is granted to you.

aestetix, after being suspended twice by Google Plus for violating their "Real Names" policy, helped found NymRights, which has consulted on President Obama's National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). In this talk he guides an exploration of the philosophy of names and identity, the digital systems we've created over the past decades, and the challenges that arise when the systems come into conflict with individual safety and freedom.

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Rebecca Weintraub on Digital Badges for Global Health Delivery Skills

Healthcare professionals worldwide often have extensive non-clinical skills in management, public health, policy, or other fields which are not officially recognized through a degree. In this talk, Rebecca Weintraub, MD -- Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and Faculty Director of the Global Health Delivery Project at Harvard University -- introduces the concept of digital badges for healthcare professionals, a means for demonstrating skills and experience to potential new employers, grant-giving organizations, and others. Like other well-known badge and certification systems -- such as Fair Trade and organic standards for food, or LEED certification for buildings -- digital badges can improve the quality of health services, and help others to recognize the skills of healthcare professionals. But how should such a system be implemented?

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John Kaag on Drone Warfare and the Public Imagination

In 2012, U.S. drone strikes occurred most often in which nation?

If you don’t know, you’re not alone. 27 percent of Americans reported they had no a clue and another 60 percent got it wrong.

What should the media cover when it comes to drones and military robotics? And what responsibility do journalists have to focus in on the most pressing moral and legal questions when it comes to drone technologies?

John Kaag -- Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and co-author of the recent "Drone Warfare" -- discusses how the American and international public think about drone warfare, and poses pressing ethical questions about drones in military and civilian use.

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Getting to Know the Berkman Center with Jonathan Zittrain

Learn more about the Berkman Center for Internet & Society -- and its incredible network of researchers, activists, faculty, students, technologists, entrepreneurs, artists, policy makers, lawyers, and more -- in an interactive conversation led by Faculty Chair Jonathan Zittrain. If you’re curious about connecting with our research, our community, or our events, or are just generally interested in digital technologies and their impact on society, find out more here!

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Tressie (McMillan) Cottom on Democratizing Ideologies and Inequality Regimes in Digital Domains

How are inequality regimes challenged, or sometimes perpetuated, in online environments? In this talk Tressie McMillan Cottom -- blogger, PhD candidate in the Sociology Department at Emory University, and PhD Intern at the Microsoft Research Network’s Social Media Collective -- discusses inequality in online learning, based on qualitative research with students taking courses online at for-profit institutions.

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Christian Sandvig, Karrie G. Karahalios, and Cedric Langbort Look Inside the Facebook News Feed

Our online lives are organized by computer algorithms that select and recommend advertisements, search results, news, and online social interactions. These algorithms are often closely-guarded secrets kept by Internet companies. But researchers, users, and the public might legitimately need to know how these algorithms operate.

In this talk, Christian Sandvig (University of Michigan), Karrie Karahalios (University of Illinois), and Cedric Langbort (University of Illinois) use the Facebook newsfeed as an example to ask how users can investigate how these algorithms work from the outside.

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Melissa Gira Grant: w4m - The End of the American Red Light District

The history of the American red light district is quite brief –- from railroad signal lights to hotel bathroom selfies -– and clouded in myth. Soon it may be lost. In this talk, Melissa Gira Grant -- freelance journalist and author of "Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work" (Verso, 2014) -- reconsiders how communication technologies shape sex-for-sale, proposes that sex work has merged with the network, and discusses what we can learn from how sex workers have remained a step ahead.

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Justin Reich on MOOCs and the Science of Learning

Millions of learners on platforms like edX and Coursera are generating terabytes of data tracking their activity in real time. Online learning platforms capture extraordinarily detailed records of student behavior, and now the challenge for researchers is to explore how these new datasets can be used to advance the science of learning.

In this edX co-sponsored talk Justin Reich -- educational researcher, co-founder of EdTechTeacher, and Berkman Fellow -- examines current trends and future directions in research into online learning in large-scale settings.

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Jim Gettys on (In)Security in Home Embedded Devices

We now wander in Best Buy, Lowes and on Amazon and buy all sorts of devices from thermostats, hi-fi gear, tablets, phones, and laptops or desktops as well as home routers to build our home networks. Most of these we plug in and forget about. But should we?

In this talk Jim Gettys -- American computer programmer and former Vice President of Software at the One Laptop per Child project -- discusses the immediate actions individuals can take, as well as the changes that must be made in the market, to make the "Internet of Things" more secure.

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Dino Sossi Discusses the Immigrant Experience Through Film

In this talk Dino Sossi -- Berkman Fellow, multimedia producer, and Doctoral Candidate in Instructional Technology and Media at Columbia University -- presents excerpts from his new documentary film "Home." "Home" focuses on the tension between a younger generation's need for self-discovery and an older generation's wish to move on. Shot throughout Europe and North America, "Home" explores issues of personal identity, memory and collective grief.

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Ivan Sigal on Caring for Audiences: Building Communities, Design, and Social Movements

The world is now saturated with media content, and attention is scarce almost everywhere. The fact of saturation and the ease of production does not mean equitable access to attention, even for important and worthwhile content. What we call the caring problem for audiences is not a determined fact, but also of building communities, language choices, design, and social media tactics.

In this talk Ivan Sigal -- photographer, Berkman Fellow, and Executive Director of Global Voices -- explores the effects of citizen media and social movements, within the lens of Global Voices coverage and activism, with an eye toward developing future editorial practices.

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Leah Plunkett, Alicia Solow-Niederman, & Urs Gasser on K-12 Cloud-Based Ed Tech & Student Privacy in Early 2014

Cloud-based ed tech facilitates educational innovation -- such as new connected learning frameworks -- but also poses privacy challenges as more and more potentially sensitive data about students goes into the cloud.

In this talk the Student Privacy Initiative team presents recommendations from their recent report, Framing the Law & Policy Picture: A Snapshot of K-12 Cloud-Based Ed Tech & Student Privacy in Early 2014, to guide policy and decision-makers at the school district, local, state, and federal government levels as they consider cloud-based ed tech.

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Book Talk: Judith Donath on The Social Machine

Online, interface designs fashion people's appearance, shape their communication and influence their behavior. Can we see another’s face or do we know each other only by name? Do our words disappear forever once they leave the screen or are they permanently archived, amassing a history of our views and reactions? Are we aware of how public or private our surroundings are?

In this talk Judith Donath — Berkman Faculty Fellow and former director of the MIT Media Lab's Sociable Media Group — discusses some of these questions and more from her new book “The Social Machine."

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Dalia Othman on Post Arab Revolutions: What Social Media is Telling Us

It is undeniable that social media played a role in recent revolutions across the Arab world. But it is harder to identify the relationships between different actors on and off social media, and the flow of information about the revolutions.

In this talk Dalia Othman -- Berkman Fellow and Visiting Scholar at MIT's Center for Civic Media -- discusses the initial findings of ongoing research being conducted on the Arab Blogosphere and Twitter maps from various countries in the region.

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Lauren McCarthy: You, Me, and My Computer

Can we use technology to help us be more human? To smile more, to touch and to listen to each other? What if a computer could understand and make decisions about our social relationships better than we could ourselves? Would our interactions be improved by computationally determining what to do and say? What happens if we crowdsource our dating lives and actually find love?

In this talk Lauren McCarthy -- artist, programmer, and adjunct faculty at RISD and NYU ITP -- attempts to understand these questions through an artistic practice involving hacking, design, and self-experimentation.

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Malavika Jayaram: Does Size Matter? A Tale of Performing Welfare, Producing Bodies, and Faking Identity

India’s identity project is the the world’s largest biometric database -- currently consisting of almost 600 million enrolled. By locating this techno-utopian vision within the larger surveillance state that a unique identifier facilitates, Malavika Jayaram -- lawyer, Berkman Fellow, and Fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore -- describes the ‘welfare industrial complex’ that imagines the poor as the next emerging market. She highlights the risks of the body as password, of implementing e-governance in a legal vacuum, and of digitization reinforcing existing inequalities. By offering a perspective that is somewhat different from the traditional western focus of privacy, she hopes to generate a more inclusive discourse about what it means to be autonomous and empowered in the face of paternalistic development projects.

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Hasit Shah on Cheap Smartphones, Digital News, & the World’s Biggest Election

More than a sixth of Indians have access to the Internet, leaving a billion people behind. But smartphones are getting cheaper and mobile internet connections are becoming more easily available. The new Internet users will demand content that won’t be in English, that doesn’t necessarily demand high levels of literacy and works well on basic devices with erratic connections.

In this talk Hasit Shah -- Nieman-Berkman Fellow at Harvard and Senior Producer for BBC News in London -- discusses India's first proper "digital" election, and how Internet-based campaigning is making this one to watch.

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RB213: The Public Spectrum

Most of the spectrum of frequency that exists in the US is occupied or owned by large wireless corporations, cable companies, by the government. But at least one small chunk of spectrum — “low-band spectrum” wireless, or TV white spaces (so-called because it is the space between the television dials) — has been somewhat open to the public. There are thousands of devices on the market that take advantage of this spectrum without paying a license fee, allowing consumers to transmit bits without interference from walls, trees, or radiation from devices like microwaves. But the Federal Communications Commission is now deciding whether to auction off this spectrum to the highest bidder, putting at risk not only billions of dollars in economic activity, but also very fundamental concepts of affordable public access to information spaces. And on May 15th, just a couple days away from this podcast, the FCC will be holding an open meeting to discuss whether auctioning off this spectrum would be a good idea. Harold Feld, senior vice president for Public Knowledge, recently sat down with David Weinberger to talk about why we should be concerned about auctioning off this spectrum.

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Sara Watson on Living with Data: Stories that Make Data More Personal

We are becoming data. Between our mobile phones, browser history, wearable sensors, and connected devices in our homes, there's more data about us than ever before. So how are we learning to live with all this data?

Inspired by her ethnographic interview work with members of the quantified self community, Berkman fellow Sara M. Watson discusses these larger systemic shifts through personal narratives that reveal how we find clues, investigate, and reverse engineer what's going on with our data.