Assembly brings together students, technology professionals, and experts drawn from across disciplines to explore disinformation in the digital public sphere from a cybersecurity perspective.
In Fall 2019, the Berkman Klein Center launched Assembly: Disinformation. Assembly 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.
Assembly brings together disinformation and cybersecurity expertise, innovative approaches to cross-sectoral collaborations focused on the public interest, 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 program is organized around three tracks: the Assembly Forum, the Assembly Student Fellowship, and the Assembly Fellowship. The three tracks are designed to bring together cohorts of experts, professionals, and students to better understand, and make progress on, complex issues of disinformation and foreign interference.
These tracks build on existing work, including three programs at the Center formerly known as the Berklett Cybersecurity project, Techtopia, and the Assembly program, a joint initiative previously run with the MIT Media Lab.
THE ASSEMBLY STUDENT FELLOWSHIP brings together 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 in the public interest. The Assembly Student Fellowship is an evolution of the Techtopia program, which ran during the 2018-2019 academic year.
Throughout the year, Student Fellows become part of a vibrant interdisciplinary community, work alongside faculty, staff, Assembly Forum members and Assembly Fellows, and bring their diverse skills and knowledge to bear on complex questions related to disinformation.
Members of the inaugural Assembly Student Fellowship
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.
As a successor to the Berklett project, which was conceived in 2015, the Forum aims to elicit candid perspectives, size up different points of view, identify and address uncertainties, and establish consensus where pertinent.
See more on the Forum.
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 a deep focus on the public interest; after the fellowship, fellows are encouraged to apply their learnings to their ongoing work.
The Assembly Fellowship was first piloted in 2017 and was co-developed with the MIT Media Lab. This year, it is hosted solely by the Berkman Klein Center. In 2017, the first Assembly Fellowship focused on the future of digital security. In 2018 and 2019, the cohorts came together to explore challenges related to AI ethics and governance.
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.
We've drawn inspiration from, and hope to work with, many colleagues, including Yochai Benkler, Rob Faris, and Hal Roberts’s essential work on Network Propaganda, which 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.
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. We’re launching Assembly: Disinformation 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.
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.
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.