Written By: Royze Adolfo

While there are many amazing key takeaways from my internship at the Berkman Center, the one I value the most is the power of a tweet. Before joining Berkman, I was very much interested in the infrastructure of information access but not quite as knowledgeable about networks people used to share information. Over several weeks of interacting with and learning about the Twittersphere from my fellow Berkterns, I have come to realize how innovative and revolutionary Twitter is as a communication tool, with hundreds of millions of users tweeting as a means to collaborate, share, inform, empower, and mobilize.

While there are many examples of how tweets have positively impacted causes and communication efforts, I reference only a select few in this post.

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk given by Andres Monroy Hernandez, a Berkman Center fellow, and Takis Metaxas, a Computer Science professor at Wellesley College, regarding the tweeting practices of citizens amidst the narcotics war in Mexico. I learned that with the the increase of drug cartel violence and threats to the safety, governments and newspapers could no longer fulfill their promise to keep citizens safe and informed. In response to this change in power, citizens began utilizing Twitter as a new platform to report unfiltered news and danger zones. Through tweets, anonymous sources built communities of trust, credibility, and civic networks. From this presentation, I learned that tweeting goes a long way in keeping people informed; and, in many instances, also keeps people safe.

Tweets have also made it easier to organize and publicize relief efforts wherever and whenever disaster strikes. A couple of days ago, while I was curating a set of stories for our weekly Berkman newsletter, I read about the disastrous rains and floods in the Philippines, where my family resides. Reports have detailed that tens of thousands of Filipinos have been displaced. However, through tweets and hashtags, Filipinos were able to call upon rescuers and share updates about the devastating ongoings. This event has truly showed the positive impact of online efforts in coordinating disaster relief responses. I can’t help but think of the possibilities of more effective and efficient ways to respond to other global crises.

Moreover, in interacting with interns from the Herdict and Opennet Initiative projects, I have learned about the team’s goal to report and collect information about global censorship efforts involving a host of websites and social media sites, including Twitter. I’ve definitely appreciated their efforts, because they have helped me understand and value, with even greater fervor, my ability to opine, report, share, and access information without fearing censorship.

Overall, my time at Berkman has opened my eyes to so many projects and efforts. I have met great scholars, writers, technologists, and smart people… but most importantly, I met passionate people, with real and laudable efforts to promote the positive possibilities of the Internet.

I’ve never quite felt as sad leaving any other space, for I’ve always know that better things were to come. This time around, I truly do hope to cross paths with the great people with whom I’ve shared kitchen space, many meals, and good conversations. Berkman has taken my impression of collaborative work to an entirely new level. I have found that, in any given space and in any given topic, a good group of people can always find a way to rework, re-envision, redesign, and re-imagine a concept.

As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Berkman truly is a special place that breathes life into these words. Thanks, Berkman, for a truly amazing experience. I am leaving this place refreshed.

Capping it off!

By Hilda Barasa

Whoa! Time does fly when you are having fun! Today, August 10th officially marks the end of ten amazing weeks at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. It’s been an incredible summer working with a fantastic group of young, passionate and uncommonly driven scholars from around the world. The Berktern experience cannot, in my view, be summarised in a blog post. You have to live it.

From the very beginning, I knew deep down that this was going to be a transformative summer – and I was right. Starting with a simple introductory thread in April, Berkterns from countries as far away as Japan and towns as close by as Andover, chimed into an email thread and virtually introduced themselves to each other. I remember sitting in my room writing my final undergraduate papers and thinking “Wow! What an impressive group they are.” I use the word ‘they’ because for a couple of days, I found myself stumped on how best to introduce myself on the thread .

Being a Berktern is akin to jumping onto a rollercoaster – you ride very fast! When you get off it, you find yourself caught up in the adrenaline rush with your heart racing really fast. You look back at the rollercoaster and for a few mins, it doesn’t sink in that you actually did it. That, funny enough, is summer at Berkman – an unbelievable ride that you don’t want to walk away from. When we asked our fellow Berkterns to share with us a summary of their summer in one word of phrase, the word ‘privilege’ came up. I want to reflect briefly on this “privilege” as I wrap up.

The Berkman Center is quite simply the people. When Becca asked us to introduce ourselves to the Berktern 2012 group over an email thread, I believe that this was an introduction to this particular Berkman culture. We all arrived here on the 4th of June having a sense of who our colleagues were – what they were passionate about and what, in their own words, defined them academically and socially. As we sat in the conference room on a rainy Monday morning, we were able to put faces to the stories we had read over the course of the previous month. Having these connections made working and collaborating with each other over the last ten weeks almost seamless.

The culture of collaboration did not just end with the Berktern circles. It was and is evident in how the Center engages the community through its weekly Luncheon Series. For ten weeks, we got to sit down with leading scholars from different academic fields whose works are defining the cyberspace discourse over lunch and have open conversations with them. How awesome is that? Personally, I walk away this summer with an intellectual curiosity that has only began to be satisfied. I find myself challenged to learn more, to research more and to engage myself more with technology when approaching societal quandaries.

And lastly, there is a diversity and passion within the center that will be hard for me to match elsewhere. From the PhD students to the high school students, this Berktern team has passion coded in their DNA. We have spent hours working around the kitchen table talking about our interests and there is always something new to learn. This passion has been transferred to our individual and shared projects and, truthfully, permeates from the top. From the fellows and directors, everyone gives 110% every day, and that’s inspiring!

So yes, being a Berktern is a privilege! For ten weeks this summer, I have had the privilege of waking up in the morning knowing that my contributions to the big picture count in this office and with my team. I have been surrounded by passionate people, with whom I have talked to, laughed with and had intellectually stimulating conversations with around the kitchen table or while walking to and from work. For ten weeks, I have called myself a Berktern and I will undoubtedly refer to myself as such for a long time to come.

Thank you Berkman for the best summer yet!

Kwaheri to all our readers!

Narcotweets: How citizens are using social media to report the Mexican drug cartel wars

Narcotweets Presentation at Harvard Law School

By Royze Adolfo

On Wednesday, Andres Monroy Hernandez and Takis Metaxas shared their ongoing research to a widely-attended luncheon on the growing trend of anonymous and social media based reporting practices of Mexican civilians amidst the Mexican drug cartel war.

As the team cited, the Mexican drug war has resulted in roughly 60,000 killings and 230,000 displacements to date. With journalists and government officials fearing for their own safety, they have halted their efforts to provide accurate reportings of cartel-related atrocities, resulting in what the Metaxas and Hernandez claimed to be a “near-complete news blackout.”

Newsless civilians have, therefore, been motivated to adopt the act of anonymous tweeting as a civic duty. Some have even claimed the title of “war correspondent” to describe their altruistic role in developing a sort of alert network within their communities.

Quotation mark

Citizens form alert networks that spread geographically. A few users act as curators, aggregating & broadcasting information. #narcotweets
—StephenSuen (@s2tephen)

Hernandez and Metaxas particularly focused on the positive correlation they noticed between tweeting practices and the spread of cartel-related activities. With special attention to four cities — Monterrey, Reynosa, Veracruz, and Saltillo — and the use of a media cloud, the team identified that most common words that were tweeted about included: places, shootings, the word “report,” and people.

The team explains the distribution of tweets and Twitter account holders.

Because safety is still of immense concern, reporters and curators on Twitter still preserve their anonymity. While Hernandez and Metaxas claimed that they found anonymity to be problematic, especially in cases where people’s lives depend on what is reported, they noticed the phenomenon of trust-building. They found that credibility within the Twittersphere, or los tuiteros, was built through increased frequency and magnitude of individuals’ interaction with others within their networks and the larger Twitter community the triangulation of tweets and retweets.

Essentially, with convergence of increased violence, weakened institutions, adoption of social media, and engagement in civic reporting, Mexicans have formed credible safety alert networks that provide current and safety news in realtime. With social media-based movements like this one, as well as the Arab Spring, and many more around the globe, it is evident that social media gives way for communities to be built and for news to be shared faster and without traditional filters. Moreover, given the fact that Twitter is just one entity within the larger information ecosystem, there are even more ways for everyday citizens to fulfill their civic duty and share news within their local and social media networks.

Metaxas and Hernandez at their Narcotweets presentation (Credit to Mariel Garcia)

Quotation mark

Increased violence + weakened institutions + adoption of social media –> civic engagement #narcotweets
—Natalie Nicol (@natnicol)

To learn more about the talk, check here.


                                                                                                                        by Hilda Barasa

Almost at the halfway mark of what is proving to be an incredibly busy and fulfilling summer, we had the pleasure of sitting down with two dynamic Berkterns whose interests in cyber security not only seam together flawlessly, but it has also transformed them into a formidable team. In between coffee and pretzel breaks, Nick and Gili will be found hunkered down by their laptops in the kitchen or conference room building the cybersecurity wiki, creating cybersecurity modules to be included in the H2O online learning platform and drawing up strategies for winning that next trivia game with their fellow Berkterns. In a rather hilarious interview, Nick and Gili talk to us about their experience and work with the Cybersecurity team so far as Nick reveals to all his favorite software…..

Royze: What projects are you currently working on each of you?

Gili: We are both in the Cybersecurity Project which includes the cybersecurity wiki and developing cybersecurity modules for the H2O platform. I’m also working on a case study for the Information Quality Project.
I’m currently concentrating on the cyber security project. 

Royze: How do you feel about Excel?
Nick: Is that a loaded question? You know I love Excel. Why would you ask me that?
Royze: Because I always see you on it all the time!
Nick: I love Excel! It’s probably the best software Microsoft will ever produce.
Gili: Does Excel have any limitations?
Nick: It has no limitations! Only the user is limited. Excel is a robust piece of software. I think that all of the models in the financial industry were probably done in Excel.

Royze: In the last intern’s hour, we had a talk with Jonathan Zittrain. What’s your take on his general idea on cyber governance?
Nick: Just one? The man’s brilliant.
Gili: Yeah, I thought he was a very effective speaker and really enjoyed his concept of hardware remaining generic.
Nick: I think it was pretty amazing how he was there at the ground level for the development of many key aspects of the internet.  It was pretty surprising when he showed us the picture that he took of Jon Postel.
Gili: It made a lot of sense in light of what we try to do i.e. make technical information accessible to the wider public so that people can have an understanding of what internet protocol means and  still understand the politics behind it and the economic incentive that made ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) what it is. That’s something that the cyber security project can try and implement

Royze: You mentioned that you have been working with the H2O team trying to bring what you are working on onto the platform. How is that going?
Gili: So we just met with Kendra and Dustin to get introduced to the platform as we don’t have much experience working with it. We are now at the point where we want to convert the readings we have been dealing with these past few weeks into a format that would make sense as a course.
Nick: One of the things most interesting about cyber security is how, depending on the lens you use to look at it, there are numerous different topics that are of potential interest. H2O, with its ability to remix playlists, lends itself well to teaching this (cybersecurity) material. Whatever lens the teacher, student, or self-starter uses, they’ll be able to simplify it to their needs. It should work great.
Gili: One of our assignments is to develop a fundamentals model for people who are not very familiar with cybersecurity. Some of our mutual discussions have led us to see this model differently because what is very fundamental in terms of technological concepts to someone with a computer science background is very different from someone who will approach it with an international law perspective or perhaps governance or politics. Even just talking about ICANN would entail talking about packets and routers and ISPs with someone looking into the computer science elements of it, while a political scientist will look at the politics and financial incentives and impact of the organization. This shifting lens is really determining the material we look to include and H2O is a great platform to account for all these users by remixing playlists.

Royze: Were you both around for Anya Kamenetz’s talk where she addressed online learning and how thousands of people have access to Kyocera and all the other learning sites? Supposing that was a platform for introducing cyber security classes, who do you feel would be your audience when you talk about cyber security? Who should be more concerned? Is there a place for the youth to learn on it?
Nick: Absolutely the youth can learn from it. Again, I want to say that it depends on how you approach it. Almost anyone on the internet has reason to be interested in cyber security issues and could learn from the material in the course. That said, a lot of the aspects of it are very technical, especially regarding the legal and computer protocol sides of it.
Gili: We always talk about cybersecurity and to what extent issues such as cyber war are concerns for the general public or whether military strategists, policy makers and international law advisers can hash it out. But there is always an element of the individual and his/her computer, their own privacy and security and that’s definitely something that should concern everyone.

Royze: Nick, if you can talk about it, to what extent did your time at the military influence how you look at cyber security or information management?
Nick:  My interest in cyber security is mostly personal. In my opinion, it is the one of the largest future challenges for the military, and they’re currently addressing their future role in the cyber-domain through the formation of USCYBERCOM, which handles many cyberspace issues for the DoD. So from a personal perspective, it is an interesting up and coming topic, but as for working with it directly in the military, I really did not.

Royze: Where does your background or interests come in, Gili?
Gili: I’m interested in the critical studies of technology, science and policy making and what qualifies experts to carve out domains to advise on when it comes to incredibly complex issues in these fields. I got wrapped into the cybersecurity discourse because I felt it became a very dominant issue in international relations. Coming from Israel, which is often a participating actor in a lot of discussions around Stuxnet where nobody can say for sure what their role is, there are a lot of unanswered questions that I find intriguing . I’d be very interested in how international relations and the conduct of war will shift as we move towards using more sophisticated and often invisible technologies.

Royze: Moving forward, where do you see yourself including issues of cyber security in your careers? Is it something you want to delve into more or teach others in your own ways?
Gili: So I am currently working on my senior thesis on _______________________ and at least a chapter of it will be dedicated to cybersecurity. I am looking at sovereignty in cyberspaces and a lot of it does come back to how you conduct war or protect cyber borders. Hopefully my work this summer will facilitate this project.
Nick: I’m going to law school and am interested in national security law.  This is a growing topic in the field, and I see myself in the future taking Jack’s class.  Hopefully down the line when I make my way to DC, I will be able to help formulate and implement some informed thoughts on the topic.

Royze: What do you like about working with each other? Do you play off of your strengths and common interests or not?
Nick: We only email. This is actually the second time we are seeing each other.
Gili: Yeah, we never see each other. We just had lunch where we sat down and IM’d each other.
Nick: On a more serious note…
Gili: Nick is very organized and on top of things. He writes very well and sends very formal emails that are very clear
Nick: Yes, formality is key to a good e-mail.
Gili: Formality is key with him. We can never be friends because he keeps this professional, stern distance.
Nick:…except during trivia……
……Gili is very knowledgeable on the topic and actually took a class with Jack which is very impressive. She therefore has a much broader understanding of cyber security and is a much better writer than me. I read her synopsis and immediately used it as a format for mine. I also appreciate the fact that she can really focus on cyber security even with her other projects. Sometimes it seems like she is doing twice the work that I do, and faster!

Royze: Tying in your experience here at Berkman, is there any other group you want to work more with or get to know more?
Gili: The lounge people are awesome.
Nick: Yeah! I wish we had more time interacting with the professors. I honestly feel we could have done 3-4 hrs with JZ. Perhaps intern’s hour should start at 2 and stretch till 6.

Royze: What are your favourite blogs?
Gili: Do we have to say Jack’s blog? [Jack Goldsmith leads the cybersecurity wiki project and blogs about national security and legal issues here]
Nick: Honestly, the Lawfare blog is pretty good
Gili: Other than Jack’s blog, I read XKCD which is more of a comic strip than a blog

Royze: If anyone wanted to learn more about cyber security, where should they go?
Gili: shameless plug – cyber.law.harvard.edu/cybersecurity

Any last words?

Gili & Nick: Free coffee! We love that – please communicate our sincere appreciation to the powers that be for that!

Rosemarie Garland-Thompson speaks about accessible technologies at the Berkman Center

Rosemarie begins her talk at the Berkman Center. (Credit to Dino Sossi)

By Royze Adolfo 

This week, crowds filled the Berkman conference room to hear Prof. Rosemarie Garland-Thompson from Emory University share her expertise on critical disability theory and insights on accessible technologies that increase opportunities for inclusion for people with disabilities.

Crowds gather for Rosemarie’s talk (Credit to Dino Sossi)

Many of the Berkterns who attended today’s luncheon claimed to be fascinated by Rosemarie’s ideas, the transformation of disability discourse over the centuries, and countless modern day examples because they required us to look at life, people, history, art, and the notion of possibility through a different lens.

Rosemarie began her talk by sharing the history of stigmatized disabilities discourse. She drew from classical artistic examples including Pieter Brueghel’s painting The Cripples and pop culture examples including: Glee’s inclusion of characters with disabilities; Lady Gaga’s incorporation of disability drag in her Paparazzi music video; and actual examples of authors, athletes, photographers, dancers, models, and celebrities with disabilities making great strides. But art and media aren’t the only areas where the disability landscape has been transformed.

Buildings and alternative spaces are constantly transforming, too. Many architects, today, are solution-oriented designers who provide equitable, flexible, simple, and intuitive technologies and structures that increase quality of living for all. During her talk, Rosemarie illustrated the increasing thoughtfulness of architects in developing elegant “human-centered” and “barrier-free” designs of buildings, drinking fountains, ramps, door knobs, wheelchairs, sanitation stations, and transportation systems. Furthermore, more engineers are exploring and developing more innovative solutions and functional technologies (e.g. wheelchairs, crutches, touch screens, prosthetics, etc.) to build a more inclusive world.

Today, various technologies from crutches to ramps to “hipster hearing-aides” [hyperlink to example] make it more possible for people with disabilities to be included in  public spaces, to openly disclose their disabilities, and gives those without disabilities an opportunity to explore alternative forms of beauty as opposed to eliminating them. As we all pursue our own technology-related research Rosemarie’s talk injects some highly valuable insight on the importance of designing for all.


Mindsport Conference with the Grandmasters

By Royze Adolfo 

Last week, Professor Charles Nesson organized a conference with members of the International Mind Sports Association, members of Cambridge schools and parents, and representatives from the Cambridge Public Libraries in order to brainstorm ideas on to how to create an engaging interactive after-school curriculum for grade school children. In countries like the UK and Brazil, mind sports have been integrated into curriculum and now the movement seems to be making its way into the United States, or at least Professor Nesson hopes it can take firm root in Cambridge.

Along with his daughter Rebecca Nesson (Pubic Radio Exchange), Prof. Nesson invited a handful of grandmasters, including James McManus (Poker), Andy Okun (Go!), Maurice Ashley (Chess), Howard Weinstein (Bridge), and Alex Mogilyansky (10×10 Checkers) to share the value of learning about their specific mind sports. The grandmasters explained, in many interesting ways, how their mind sport helped  and transformed their lives and elaborated on the skills that kids might take away from learning how to play games. These skills include strategic thinking, discipline, etiquette, grace in defeat, collaboration, just to name a few.

Cambridge public school officials and parents weighed in on the particular student needs and shared possible ideas and approaches to integrating games into the school curriculum to help students foster good life skills. They also addressed important concerns including the possibility of developing addictions and other associated irresponsible playing practices. But the general consensus seems to be that the benefits of learning the game may outweigh the consequences which can be prevented by engineering healthy and productive playing environments.

In joining in on the conversation, Cambridge public library representatives agreed to collaborate with schools and parents in providing a venue for children to gather for after-school mind sports activities and competitions and to house literary resources that explain the games and their strategies.

Throughout the day-long conference, mind sport grandmasters expressed great enthusiasm about collaborating with schools, parents, and librarians. Many conversations regarding deployable strategies and creative teaching styles and tools during panel discussions and round table talks. Overall, it was a lively conference filled with passionate people, food for thought, and actionable goals and plans for developing a workable mind sports curriculum.

We’re looking forward to next steps!

First Impressions

By Royze Adolfo 

Hello, folks!

As we close off the second week of the Berkman Center’s summer internship program with a sunny Friday in Cambridge, it is great to announce that 47 interns (affectionally acknowledged as Berkterns) are now settled with their research groups! Handfuls of Berkterns are involved in various projects with the Cyberlaw Clinic, the Citizen Media Law Project, the Digital Public Library of America, the Freedom of Expression team, H20, Geek Cave, Professors Jonathan Zittrain, Urs Gasser, and Charles Nesson, the MetaLab, the Youth and Media Lab, and more.

This summer’s group is an amazing blend of passionate individuals. Whether interns are high schoolers, undergraduates, JD and/or PhD candidates, we all come to Berkman as students with electric interests and a yearning to explore more. Many of us come from various institutions and disciplines across the US, while others have traveled from different countries, including Belgium, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Kenya, Brazil, Mexico, China, just to name a few.

Upon meeting and chatting with everyone in the past few days, the general consensus seems to be that all the interns are happy and humbled to be here, and are even more excited to learn from and about each other. Everyone has a new thought and skill to bring the table. And I have yet to leave the office unsurprised by an idea or a conversation with an intern, fellow, or staff person at Berkman. So far, first impressions have been great!

For the next couple of months, Berkterns will be questioning, exploring, synergizing, analyzing, analogizing, quantifying, reporting, blogging, tweeting, developing practical solutions and finding even more creative ways to share their findings and big ideas as they delve deeper into their projects.

As the summer moves forward, Hilda and I (Royze) will be like flies on the wall at the Berkman Center. With an intern’s perspective, we hope to capture (in many different ways) the activities, events, breakthroughs, esoteric ideas, conversations, and other exciting ongoings related to Berkman, whether they take place in the kitchen, the lounge, the hallways, the law school, or other in-between spaces where one would be likely to find a Berktern hunched over their laptop.

We’ll be your story-tellers. We hope you’ll join us in the fun!

A few Berkterns grabbing lunch at Clover (Harvard Square)