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Yochai Benkler

  • Facebook, Google Spread Misinformation About Las Vegas Shooting. What Went Wrong?

    October 4, 2017

    In the hours just after the massacre in Las Vegas, some fake news started showing up on Google and Facebook. A man was falsely accused of being the shooter. His name bubbled up on Facebook emergency sites and when you searched his name on Google, links of sites connecting him with the shooting topped the first page. It appears to be another case of automation working so fast that humans can't keep pace...Yochai Benkler, a law professor at Harvard, says that with such massive scale even if there were humans helping out there would be mistakes. Benkler says that even if Facebook and Google blocked sites like 4chan, it wouldn't solve the problem. "Tomorrow in another situation like this someone will find some other workaround," Benkler says.

  • Panelists Share Perspectives on Social Media’s Impact

    October 3, 2017

    As social media becomes increasingly integral to everyday life, four Harvard professors discussed its impact on individuals’ identities and relationships at a panel event Monday. Panelists including Law School professor Yochai Benkler, Berkman Center fellow Judith S. Donath, Medical School professor Michael O. Rich, and Kennedy School professor Todd T. Rogers gave their perspectives on social media in a panel moderated by Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild and organized by Harvard’s Mind Brain Behavior initiative. Benkler discussed the phenomenon of “fake news,” delineating two contrasting psychological theories about how humans consume information.

  • Facebook Is Still In Denial About Its Biggest Problem

    October 2, 2017

    It's a good time to re-examine our relationship with Facebook Inc. In the past month, it has been revealed that Facebook hosted a Russian influence operation which may have reached between 3 million and 20 million people on the social network, and that Facebook could be used to micro-target users with hate speech. It took the company more than two weeks to agree to share what it knows with Congress...Will Facebook solve this problem on its own? The company has no immediate economic incentive to do so, says Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard Law School and co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. "Facebook has become so central to how people communicate, and it has so much market power, that it's essentially immune to market signals," Dr. Benkler says.

  • Could public pressure cause Facebook to regulate itself? (audio)

    September 25, 2017

    An interview with Yochai Benkler. Politicians, the public, and regulators are all starting to face up to the power of social media companies. Particularly ... Facebook. That company said last week it would give Congress thousands of political ads, linked to a possible Russian propaganda campaign. Facebook will also update its ad technology to try to keep political advertising in check. But it's looking more and more like Facebook's days of sell first, apologize later could be coming to an end.

  • Campaign ’16: how coverage rerouted

    September 11, 2017

    If you thought that media coverage during the 2016 presidential election seemed, more often than not, to boost Donald Trump and criticize Hillary Clinton, you didn’t imagine it, a new report says. According to the report from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, which applied data analysis techniques to 2 million election stories to understand better what people were reading and sharing, Trump not only got the most attention from media outlets across the political spectrum, but his preferred core issues — immigration, jobs and trade — received significant coverage and were widely shared online...From the data, “We know exactly what is the first time in which the Clinton Foundation is raised, in which particular week, linking to what story, based on what structure. We can then say who linked to that story, who amplified it?” said Yochai Benkler, the Berkman Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School and the study’s principal investigator.

  • Benkler report focuses on partisanship, propaganda and disinformation in the 2016 U.S. presidential election

    Benkler report focuses on partisanship, propaganda and disinformation in the 2016 U.S. presidential election

    August 31, 2017

    Many arguments have been made about the media’s influence in the last Presidential election, but Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler ’94 has undertaken what may be the most scientific study on the topic to date, “Partisanship, Propaganda and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election."

  • Facebook Can’t Fix Our Political Divide With an Algorithm

    August 22, 2017

    If you were concerned that American political discourse is very seriously broken, there's bad news: You're right, and the technological forces that shaped it can't be the ones substantively provide a fix. A new report on disinformation, partisanship, and online media released on Wednesday by Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society takes a grim view of the state of political discourse..."[T]he issue is even though people are forming false beliefs, they probably want to form those false beliefs because these stories are essential to constructing their political identities," Yochai Benkler, a professor of law at Harvard Law School and one of the authors of the report, told me in a phone interview.

  • The great divide: The media war over Trump (video)

    June 19, 2017

    ...If what you're hearing and reading and watching runs the gamut of what's referred to these days as the "mainstream media" -- center-right to partisan left -- then professor Yochai Benkler, at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, has concluded that all of you are consuming pretty much the same material. He recently completed a study of coverage of the Trump-Russia story throughout May 2017. "If you look and compare the words that are typical of places like the Wall Street Journal or Fortune or what we would normally think of as center-right; sites that are the three networks, the Times, the Post; all the way to Huffington Post and Daily Kos and things that are more partisan left -- they all used very similar words."

  • Researchers Examine Breitbart’s Influence On Election Information (audio)

    March 15, 2017

    A study of 1.25 million media stories says a Breitbart-centered media ecosystem fostered the sharing of stories that were, at their core, misleading. Steve Inskeep talks to researcher Yochai Benkler.

  • Facebook co-founder’s new $10 million initiative to test if cash handouts will help fix America

    December 12, 2016

    Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes, Harvard Law School and Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society Professor Yochai Benkler, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and Alaska State Senator Bill Wielechowski may not agree on everything, but they agree on this: Cash handouts have the potential to help Americans and the American economy. Given the challenges posed by automation and globalization, which are replacing workers and leading to stagnating wages, direct payments to workers may, in fact, be the only solution.

  • Another Trump legacy: How we may be seeing the last of pols’ tax returns

    November 4, 2016

    Donald Trump's refusal to release his tax returns is beginning to seem less an aberration than a prelude. And that has open-government advocates worried that a decades-long standard of transparency is at risk of extinction. ...  Beyond the information and revelation of the documents themselves, open-government advocates argue, this nonlegal standard of disclosure has represented a rare example of political compromise. "Democracy doesn't work if the attitude of people running for leadership is 'I will get away with whatever I can get away with and what the law doesn't specifically prohibit,'" said Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law professor and advisor to the Sunlight Foundation. "That is a barely acceptable way for people who work in the private sector."

  • Think Tank Scholar or Corporate Consultant? It Depends on the Day

    August 15, 2016

    ...An examination of 75 think tanks found an array of researchers who had simultaneously worked as registered lobbyists, members of corporate boards or outside consultants in litigation and regulatory disputes, with only intermittent disclosure of their dual roles. With their expertise and authority, think tank scholars offer themselves as independent arbiters, playing a vital role in Washington’s political economy. Their imprimatur helps shape government decisions that can be lucrative to corporations...“I think we have too much influence of funded research with clear interests at stake that is treated as though it is independent and academic research,” said Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard Law School and co-director of its Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. “There is no culture in the discipline to mark funded research clearly, or systematically treat it as less reliable.”

  • Encryption Technology Could Help Corporate Fraudsters. We Still Need to Fight for It.

    April 28, 2016

    Early this week, James Clapper, the head of U.S. intelligence, complained to journalists that Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing (my word, not Clapper’s) had sped up wider use of encryption by seven years. That’s great. Now let’s speed it up even more. ...Given these potential problems, it’s tempting to be sympathetic with the law enforcement position on encryption—but history is clear that we can’t trust the government in this arena. As Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler wrote recently, our law enforcement and national security institutions have routinely—and with the impunity so routinely assumed by the rich and powerful—lied, broken laws, and thwarted oversight. “Without commitment by the federal government to be transparent and accountable under institutions that function effectively, users will escape to technology,” he wrote, and as a result we are learning to depend on technology.

  • Debate over Airbnb and Uber reveals hypocrisy of ‘sharing’ economy

    April 11, 2016

    ...If the current debate over how to regulate services like Uber and Airbnb reveals anything, it's hypocrisy on all sides of this issue. Industries that have profited handsomely from a market monopoly for decades are suddenly pleading for support from the people they've fleeced. Homeowners with dollar signs in their eyes are appalled at the prospect of being taxed for turning their suites into hotel rooms...Harvard Law School author and researcher Yochai Benkler was one of the first to look at the potential for information technology to allow forms of networking that might transform the economy and society. He wrote 10 years ago in glowing terms about the revolutionary power of "loosely or tightly woven collaborations" to change fields ranging from software development to investigative reporting. But lately, Benkler has been warning against what he calls the "Uber-ification" of services; he argues that what's emerging is not "sharing" but an "on-demand" economy for everything ranging from dog walking to grocery buying. In the process, he says, regular folks are using their homes and cars to take the places of "the people formerly known as 'employees.'" And affordable rental housing becomes someone else's problem.

  • The data republic

    March 24, 2016

    “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral,” said the late Melvin Kranzberg, one of the most influential historians of machinery. The same is true for the internet and the use of data in politics: it is neither a blessing, nor is it evil, yet it has an effect. But which effect? And what, if anything, needs to be done about it?...All this suggests that data and analytics risk slowing down and perhaps even undoing the welcome redistribution of power to ordinary people that the internet seemed to be able to offer. They create “points of control” in what used to be largely an “open system”, as Yochai Benkler of Harvard University puts it in a recent article in Daedalus, an American journal. The design of the original internet, he writes, was biased towards decentralisation of power and the freedom to act. Along with other developments such as smartphones and cloud computing, he now sees data as a force for recentralisation that allows “the accumulation of power by a relatively small set of influential state and non-state actors”.

  • We cannot trust our government, so we must trust the technology

    February 25, 2016

    An op-ed by Yochai Benkler. The showdown between Apple and the FBI is not, as many now claim, a conflict between privacy and security. It is a conflict about legitimacy. America’s national security agencies insist on wielding unaccountable power coupled with “trust us, we’re the good guys”, but the majority of users have no such trust. Terrorism is real, and surveillance can sometimes help prevent it, but the only path to sustainable accommodation between technologies of secrecy and adequately informed policing is through a root-and-branch reform of the checks and balances in the national security system.

  • The Internet’s Founding Fathers Issue a Warning

    January 12, 2016

    ...[David] Clark, and Harvard professor Yochai Benkler, one of the legal experts that shaped the Internet’s development, have issued a warning in joint papers published in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ magazine, Daedalus. More than three decades after the worldwide communications network was born, Clark and Benkler say they’re deeply concerned that the Internet is headed in a dangerous direction that its founders never intended...Benkler realized the Internet was like a new Louisiana Purchase – a huge amount of new property suddenly open for adventurous homesteaders to stake a claim. So he switched tracks. Using the Homestead Act as a guide, Benkler helped create a legal framework that protected the Internet from being gobbled up and claimed by corporations. And then, smart phones came along. And Steve Jobs created the iPhone. “I think there’s very little doubt that Steve Jobs in particular was someone who had a vision of a more controlled experience that viewed consumers as people who needed a well controlled, well structured environment to thrive in,” Benkler said. “That was part of his genius, and that was part of his threat.”

  • Yochai Benkler outside courthouse in the fall

    Yochai Benkler on whistleblowers, the news ecosystem and self-organizing in the commons

    November 17, 2015

    Yochai Benkler, who has written extensively on the “networked public sphere,” including his influential book “The Wealth of Networks,” recently spoke about his proposal for a defense of whistleblowers, his testimony in a trial of a well-known leaker of military documents, and a problem he calls a growing crisis in the country.

  • Interview: Yochai Benkler on market solutions through shared resources and co-operation

    November 6, 2015

    The challenge for co-operatives, says Yochai Benkler, is to be more self-aware. He believes that co-ops need to be “more self-conscious (in the way that commons-based production online is) of the broader social, economic role of co-ops as an alternative model well beyond the business sustainability and the success of the individual organisation”. Prof Benkler has been studying commons and co-operation for over 20 years. He started researching Wikipedia when it was just six months old and has since written about the co-operative dynamics and social and political implications of large-scale online co-operation.

  • Net neutrality could become the biggest face-off on corporate speech since Citizens United

    September 28, 2015

    Do Washington's net neutrality rules run roughshod over the First Amendment? That's what some opponents have been arguing -- claiming that the government's regulations infringe on Internet providers' right to free expression. Now, in a flurry of responses to that charge, defenders of the rules appear eager for the biggest showdown over the meaning of corporate speech since the Citizens United case...Others are challenging the idea that Internet providers are even capable of speech. As pipes that carry consumers' Web traffic to and fro, Internet providers are just a "conduit" for people's speech, according to a group of academics including Harvard's Lawrence Lessig and Yochai Benkler, and Stanford's Barbara van Schewick. "It follows that when the Open Internet Rules require providers to carry others’ speech, they do not require the providers themselves to speak," they argue in their own brief.

  • Victorious Snowden stuck in exile

    June 8, 2015

    Edward Snowden is claiming victory this week, after President Obama signed legislation that significantly curbs federal surveillance powers for the first time in a generation. But the world’s most famous American leaker is still stuck in Russia, with the U.S. having revoked his passport and indicted him on espionage charges that would likely lead to a lengthy prison sentence, should he step back on American soil...“In the context of laws that are very broad, the power to selectively prosecute those that expose things that are critical of the administration’s behavior, while not prosecuting — or prosecuting for a very limited offense — those who leak in a way that supports the administration ... is an abuse of power itself,” said Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard Law School and co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The fact that Snowden remains a fugitive after spurring changes in the law “says more about us and our system than about him,” Benkler added. It’s “a profoundly distorted view of American democracy,” he said.