The Assembly Program brings together participants from academia, industry, government, and civil society from across disciplines to explore disinformation in the digital public sphere.
After five years of Assembly, we are wrapping the current iteration of the program and transitioning to a new initiative at the Berkman Klein Center: the Institute for Rebooting Social Media. The three year Institute will build on the ideas, models, and networks that came out of the Assembly program and continue to bring together participants from across sectors and disciplines to develop prototypes and provocations in the public interest. Some of the information on this site may be out of date, as it is not updated regularly.
The Berkman Klein Center launched Assembly: Disinformation in the fall of 2019 and will continue and expand this work in the 2020-2021 academic year. Assembly explores disinformation in the digital public sphere from a range of perspectives, addressing the challenges and opportunities of public and private sector responses to disinformation and related problems, including within cybersecurity, platforms and internet governance, public health, politics, elections, democracy, and public discourse.
Assembly brings together 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 actively address, complex issues of disinformation.
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 FORUM is a discussion forum for senior leadership from internet platforms, the government (including the U.S. national security community), the academic field, and civil society. The Forum serves as a means to make connections between experts working on different facets of disinformation, and as a discussion forum that periodically hosts high-level briefings with special guests and conversations conducted under the Chatham House Rule on specific challenges and solutions for disinformation. The Forum aims to elicit candid perspectives, surface points of agreement, make progress on hard problems, and offer recommendations where pertinent.
To share the insights gained from this exciting group, the Assembly Forum hosts live public events, produces interviews with its members (see the Berkman Klein Center’s Breakdown with Oumou Ly), and writes on topics of interest. Additionally, members of the Assembly Forum also serve as advisors to the Assembly Fellows and Student Fellows.
See more on the Forum.
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, practitioners, and experts, and engage in active discussion about disinformation problems in the public interest. Student fellow discussions will cover a range of topics including disinformation and election security, race and racism, public health, platform policies, and journalism. Throughout the year, Student Fellows become part of a vibrant interdisciplinary community, learning 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 FELLOWSHIP is a non-residential four-month fellowship for technologists, scholars, and policymakers to tackle difficult problems in technology and policy, currently in its fifth year. From 2019-2021, the Assembly Fellowship is focused on addressing disinformation on online platforms; in previous years, the program addressed digital privacy and security, as well as the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence. Assembly Fellows develop projects and prototypes aimed at addressing challenges related to the year’s theme. 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.
During the 2020-21 year, the Assembly Fellowship will invite ongoing projects developed during the previous four years of the program to support their continued work and success. These projects address the variety of topics that the Fellowship has tackled since its inception in 2017, including the future of digital security, the ethics and governance of AI, and most recently, disinformation. In addition to supporting their continued work, these returning Fellows will comprise a new cohort and community of practice.
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 many colleagues, including Joan Donovan at the Harvard Shorenstein Center, Renée DiResta at the Stanford Internet Observatory, danah boyd at Data & Society, Alicia Wanless and the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment, and Yochai Benkler, Rob Faris, and Hal Roberts’s essential work on Network Propaganda, among many others.
The range and urgency of activity is heartening. The Berkman Klein Center’s Assembly program’s focus on disinformation builds on the Center’s previous work on intermediary responsibility, cybersecurity, the media ecosystem, and their intersections. We see the digital realm’s inability to cope with disinformation as part of a long-deferred reckoning on these fundamental intersections. Tackling disinformation has the potential to serve as a forcing function for difficult, important conversations on fundamental issues of trust and responsibility in our information ecosystem.
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.
Our program staff team at the Berkman Klein Center includes:
Zenzele Best, a Program Coordinator at the Berkman Klein Center. Zenzele provides logistical, administrative, and communications support to the program, and supports design and facilitation of both Assembly fellowships.
Oumou Ly, a Staff Fellow for the Assembly: Disinformation program. Oumou provides research expertise and programmatic support to the program, particularly the Assembly Forum.
Will Marks, a Senior Research Coordinator for Professor Zittrain. Will provides research support to the program.
Sarah Newman is Director of Art & Education at metaLAB at Harvard and a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center. Newman serves as Program Design Co-Lead for both Assembly fellowships.
David O'Brien, an Assistant Research Director at the Berkman Klein Center. David leads the Assembly Forum and research for the program.
Hilary Ross, a Senior Program Manager at the Berkman Klein Center, including managing the Assembly: Disinformation program. Hilary leads both Assembly fellowships and contributes to the Assembly Forum.
In addition, the program is supported by administrative staff at the Berkman Klein Center and has benefited from contributions by a number of stellar student research assistants, including Madeline Salinas and Jason Greenfield.
This program is generously supported by the Ethics and Governance of AI Fund. Previously, this program was 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.