fbpx Steve Johnson--Speech and the Internet | Harvard Kennedy School

Speech and the Internet 
April 11, 4:00-5:30  M-RCBG Conference Room (Belfer 503)

What is special about the Internet? How is it different from other media, including other transformative media, such as print, radio and television?
-    It is interactive – it produces data
-    It is intelligent 
-    It is immediate
-    And more than any other medium, it permits anonymity – identity is fluid

These “superpowers” produce much of the wonder of the Internet, but they also have a darker side:
-    Interactive = data…powering both SERVICE and SURVEILLANCE
-    Intelligent = delivering both PERSONALIZATION and TARGETING
-    Immediate = it is AVAILABLE but also INVASIVE
-    Identity-Free = FREEDOM, but with reduced ACCOUNTABILITY

I examine these through the lens of what I call CHOICE, TRANSPARENCY, and REACH (CTR).  In brief, CTR is a model of how speakers decide what to say, who to be, and whom to reach, and how listeners decide what speech to surround themselves with, what to listen to, and how the context of speech informs their understanding.  

The analysis aims to identify where breakdowns might occur in the collaboration between speakers and listeners called communication, and how policy, enlightenment, and smart software might combine to help remedy these breakdowns – to help users of the Internet gain more of the good, while protecting against potential harm, of this new medium.

Steve Johnson photoSteve Johnson has been a technologist, entrepreneur, private investor, and philanthropist for thirty years, professionally specializing in building innovative technologies into successful enterprises, with a personal and philanthropic focus on education, climate change awareness, the arts, and gay rights equality.  Steve was born and raised in Los Angeles, earning a Bachelor of Arts in economics from University of Southern California in 1980 and an MPP from Harvard Kennedy School in 1985.  He left a PhD. program at Harvard in 1990 to start a technology company based upon his invention of a digital means of transmitting sound and images over telephone lines (now known as ‘streaming media’), which was integrated into America Online in 1993 and enabled the first availability of images, sound and video in an online service, a precursor to the Web in 1995.  He has been a technology investor and entrepreneur (and avid marathoner and mountaineer) in the Boston area since 1999, founding companies in ad technology, Web personalization, and medical IT.  Steve served as chairman of the board of trustees of Harvard’s American Repertory Theater from 2013-17, a theater committed to broadening the impact of theater on community, ideas, and understanding.  Since 2005, Steve has been spearheading efforts in New South Wales, Australia to honor and seek justice for hundreds of victims of gay hate crimes that ravaged the Australian gay community in the 1980s and 1990s, and took the lives of dozens of men, including Steve’s younger brother, Scott, in Sydney in 1988.  This effort helped presage a national plebiscite for gay marriage legalization, which was finally passed in December 2017.  Long committed to education and the arts, the Johnson family helped found the first (and still only) non-denominational independent high school in Orange County, California, Sage Hill High School, which opened in 2000 in Newport Beach, CA.  As a Senior Fellow, his research is entitled The First Amendment and the Internet: Choice, Transparency, and Reach, How A.I. Can Advance and Protect Free Speech.  His faculty sponsor is Nicco Mele, Director, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy. Email: steve_johnson@hks.harvard.edu