With the U.S. midterm elections approaching and political disinformation posing a continued threat to democracy, UC Berkeley’s ambitious new Our Better Web initiative is advancing efforts to study and combat online harms.
The initiative, launched on a small scale in April, is releasing its first set of projects, including a look at the prevalence of content that promotes deception, discrimination and child exploitation. Other new projects are assessing laws that pertain to harmful online content and the content moderation strategies used by online platforms.
“Our Better Web explores the online accountability challenges that our nation — and the world — face today,” said Janet Napolitano, the former U.S. secretary for Homeland Security who now heads Berkeley’s Center for Security in Politics. “UC Berkeley recognizes that the Internet has evolved to pose profound threats to the health of our communities — and to U.S. democracy. This initiative will focus its energy to address real-world challenges with real-world solutions.”
To support the development of effective technology and policy solutions for reducing online harms, Our Better Web brings together some of the nation’s top experts — many with close ties to Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. — in a range of internet-related disciplines.
Napolitano is the former president of the UC system. The initiative leadership also includes Geeta Anand, dean of Berkeley Journalism; Jennifer Chayes, associate provost of the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society; Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law; Hany Farid, a globally influential expert on digital forensics; and Brandie Nonnecke, director of the CITRIS Policy Lab.
“We’re witnessing a sharp rise in disinformation, extremism and harmful content online,” Nonnecke, director of Our Better Web, said. “In order to effectively address these challenges, we must support rigorous training and research that can lead to effective technology and policy strategies to support a trustworthy Internet.”
Illustration by Neil Freese/UC Berkeley