News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Harvard Kennedy School Launches the Democracy and Internet Governance Initiative

| Aug. 05, 2021

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy are launching the Democracy and Internet Governance Initiative (DIGI), a joint initiative to convene a range of stakeholders across government, business, and civil society to address the growing public concerns about digital platforms.

DIGI will be co-chaired by HKS Professor of Technology and Global Affairs Ash Carter, the Director of the Belfer Center and former U.S. Secretary of Defense, and Professor of the Practice of Press, Politics and Public Policy Nancy Gibbs, the Director of the Shorenstein Center and former Editor-in-Chief of TIME. Dr. Joan Donovan, the Research Director of the Shorenstein Center, will lead the Shorenstein Center initiative.

“Improving the integrity of our modern, internet-based information ecosystem is critical for securing our democracy and centering technological progress around public purpose,” said Carter. “By launching DIGI, we hope Belfer and Shorenstein will contribute meaningfully to one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

“Our information ecosystem has become an immense environmental challenge--and the health of our democracy depends on developing wise, sustainable solutions,” said Gibbs. “The combined expertise of Belfer and Shorenstein can help drive approaches that serve the public good, securing the benefits of technology while mitigating the harms.”

Digital platforms excel at connecting people around the world. They also serve as potential breeding grounds for hate speech, conspiracy theories, mis- and disinformation, and radicalization. Policymakers, advocacy organizations, academics, and technology companies themselves have introduced different ways to address targeted harms from digital platforms. These efforts, however, “fall short of a governance ecosystem--a set of complementary and robust policy and self-governance options--to address a wide range of risks,” says Laura Manley, the Director of the Belfer Center’s Technology and Public Purpose (TAPP) Project.

Over the next year, researchers for the Initiative will convene leading experts and stakeholders to evaluate policy and self-governance options for both short- and long-term action on high-priority issue areas. The team will then work to develop high-level recommendations for U.S. policymakers and private sector actors in three key areas:

  • The Right to Speak: Addressing Networked Harassment, Chilled Speech, and Diminished Press Freedom 

  • The Right to Safety: Countering Extremism and Incitement to Violence Online  

  • The Right to Truth: Mitigating Misinformation and Disinformation at Scale 

Through public reports and briefings with policymakers, business leaders, and civil society organizations, the Initiative will highlight digital platform reform options, as well as offer expertise on legislative reform proposals and platform self-governance options. The Initiative will be supported by a gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies. 

Sign up and follow us @ShorensteinCtr and Belfer’s @TAPP_Project to stay tuned to the latest events, research, and publications from the Initiative.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Harvard Kennedy School Launches the Democracy and Internet Governance Initiative.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, August 5, 2021.


Ash Carter

Nancy Gibbs