The Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government (M-RCBG) at Harvard Kennedy School hosted the first town hall organized by the Future of Tech Commission, an independent and bipartisan group of civic leaders whose goal is to inform the Biden administration about challenges related to technology and to create a comprehensive blueprint for forward-looking, inclusive tech policy. The event, titled “A Public Discussion on Creating Safe, Healthy Online Spaces for All Americans,” sought input from governors, policymakers, community leaders, and citizens across the country on the perils and possibilities that tech platforms pose for American families. A total of five town halls will take place across the country, covering a range of concerns: digital equity, innovation, market competition, privacy, and platform safety. 

For Tuesday’s town hall, HKS Lecturer in Public Policy John Haigh, the M-RCBG co-director, served as moderator. Deval Patrick, a co-chair of the commission, participated in the discussion along with Joan Donovan, research director at the Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy; Deb Roy, executive director of the MIT Media Lab; and Jonathan Zittrain, the George Bemis Professor of International Law at HLS and at HKS. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Sen. Ed Markey gave opening remarks.

“Our task is to gather data and views from a wide range of perspectives, screening out as much of the political background noise as possible, and to recommend tech policy for the Biden administration.”

Deval Patrick, Future of Tech Commission Co-chair

After an introduction to the commission by Patrick, Baker noted the positives of an interconnected society, such as the immediate access to critical health information during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as dangers that include fake websites, internet scams, and ransomware attacks. “The connectivity piece is way ahead of the security piece,” he said, highlighting information security as his number one concern.  Markey noted that the pandemic brought access inequity to the forefront: “We cannot let the lack of internet connection create a homework gap that turns into yet another opportunity gap for our children.” 

The panelists offered priorities for the administration to consider, such as standardizing definitions of misinformation, identifying where regulations apply, defining a category of harms, creating subsidized, local listening operations, and developing online environments that shape positive behavior, much like PBS did with network television.

The commission will host a second town hall on May 26 with a panel of academics and experts in Texas. 

Future of Tech Commission Town Hall: A Public Discussion on Creating Safe, Online Spaces for All

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