Design for Democratic Discourse

Design for Democratic Discourse

Professor Jonathan Zittrain, Professor Deb Roy
Fall 2021 seminar
M 1:45pm - 3:45pm in WCC Room 3036
2 classroom credits

Prerequisites:

Admission to the seminar is by permission of the instructors. Students should complete the application at this link: https://brk.mn/ZittrainRoyApp. Students are also strongly encouraged to submit a CV to both wmarks@cyber.harvard.edu and a2jz@law.harvard.edu. Applications should be completed by June 3rd for June 10 admission decisions and thereafter rolling admission may be considered beginning June 11. This course is no longer accepting applications.

Exam Type: No Exam

The design of a technology can greatly influence how it is used and by whom -- and the behavior of those who use it, including behavior that impacts others. This seminar will bring together students of law, technology, and design, to explore how communication and media technologies have embedded particular values and what lessons might be drawn for future possibilities as more of our lives and identities are conducted and shaped online.

Questions include:

  • How much should design and content moderation choices for ubiquitous social media platforms be made by the private companies who offer them, versus through government regulation or influence?
  • To what extent is it important for public discourse to emphasize contrary views rather than to reaffirm the views of users? To what extent is it important for public discourse to limit or present “balance” to unsubstantiated claims or views labeled -- by whom is another question -- as dangerous?  How much should platforms for discourse take responsibility for the content within them, including content that may be false or misleading?
  • How does design elevate some voices while discouraging others, and what, if anything, should be done about it?
  • Is it better to have a handful of platforms, or many?
  • Should platform interoperability be required? What levels of interoperability are possible across current social platforms?
  • What forms of online discourse have yet to be invented? How might online and “real life” spaces for discourse (e.g., town halls) be better integrated?
  • What is the right balance between centralized and decentralized control of power in social platforms? For example, should verification of users be centralized or decentralized? Parameter settings of content/ad targeting systems? Setting and implementation of moderation policies?

Subject Areas: Intellectual Property, Cyberlaw and Technology, and Arts & Entertainment