Jonathan L. Zittrain wears many hats. An expert in the Internet, digital technologies, law and public policy, he regularly participates in public discussions about what digital technologies are doing to us and what we should do about it. social media platforms.

He holds several positions, all at Harvard, reflecting his many converging interests. He is Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School, Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School, and Professor of Computer Science at the University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science. He is also co-founder and faculty chair of the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

Over the past 25 years, in various roles, he has tackled many sensitive issues in cyberpolitics.

Jonathan L. Zittrain




Professor of International Law, Professor of Public Policy, Professor of Computer Science


Yale, Harvard


The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (Yale University Press, 2009)

“Recently, I have been working on how to regulate and manage generative technologies, that is, technologies such as the Internet, the Internet and generative AI that allow you to contribute and develop from almost anyone, anywhere,” says Zittrain .

He is also curious about the role that public interest plays in the development of technology, which today is largely a product of market forces.

“I am very interested in whether fast growing and rapidly deploying technologies such as large AI language models and new networks of distributed activity such as Web3 should be managed or regulated, and if so, how.”

CompuServe started his career

Zittrain first became interested in computers in 1983 when he was in high school, and his parents gave him his first Texas Instruments TI-99/4A 16-bit home computer for $99. Using a used TV as a monitor and a dial-up modem, he connected the computer to CompuServe, one of the first commercial online service providers. “It was a pre-Internet online community of communities,” he recalls. “Then there were no graphics on the screen, only text.”

CompuServe charged a flat fee per minute and the user paid for any additional telephone charges. According to him, Zittrain billed $300 on his parents’ credit card the first month, and the parents threatened to turn it off.

But when he posted a farewell message on CompuServe, one of the company’s top system operators offered him a free connection time in exchange for becoming an assistant system operator, the person who manages the computer server. “I gave an enthusiastic Yes! before he had a chance to change his mind,” says Zittrain.

In this role, he helped resolve disputes between users. He later became the general administrator of CompuServe’s private sysop forum, where members discussed how to manage their own forums.

“Surprisingly little is decided around the wise use of technology.”

Zittrain also learned to code by writing a host program for a bulletin board system in TI Extended Basic.

This early experience led him to earn a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science and artificial intelligence from Yale University. He continued to write code, mostly in Lisp.

His interest in how online communities can govern themselves led him to study law and public policy. In 1995, he received a law degree from Harvard Law School and a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School.

“Helping people resolve disputes that arise in endless conversations, when the intensity of emotions is not necessarily related to the seriousness of the problem, continues to be my main task,” says Zittrain.

Place to study online

For Zittrain, the Berkman Klein Center remains the center of much of its activity.

It has spawned programs such as the Social Media Reboot Institute, a research initiative aimed at eliminating disinformation, privacy violations, harassment and content management on social media platforms.

“Creating the Berkman Klein Center a quarter of a century ago with Charles Nesson has given me – and hopefully many others – a starting point for new challenges and inspiration,” says Zittrain. He adds that over the years the center has hosted hundreds of faculty, staff, researchers and affiliates from more than 40 countries. “We helped build a lot of institutions and initiatives and then we got out of the way. Whether it was creating code for GitHub, publishing, podcasting and video for the whole world, or bringing together people who would otherwise never meet – and who might even be skeptical of each other – we tried to bring a new perspective and energy. towards cultivating the digital world in the public interest.”

This year, he is teaching courses on the ethical implications of artificial intelligence systems, as well as how to manage digital platforms.

“Students learn different concepts to understand the evolution and use of technology in society, such as what this technology is doing to us and how we can together influence how it works,” says Zittrain.

Zittrain conducts research on what is happening in the digital space and writes about its findings in blogs, magazines and books. In his 2009 book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (Yale University Press), he explored many of the issues that still affect us today, such as massive security breaches, pervasive surveillance, and social media that fuel harassment and spread lies. He correctly predicted that these problems would only get worse.

Providing free access to books and judgments

Much of Zittrain’s work is about making information more accessible.

In this vein, he helped create several organizations that provide free access to information. These include the non-profit organization Creative Commons, a global non-profit organization that allows content and knowledge to be shared and reused. Another example is the Open Casebook series, a joint project between MIT Press and the Harvard Law School Library that offers free and open source digital law textbooks.

Zittrain oversees the Harvard Law School Library, whose open source tools created by its Library Innovation Lab have helped preserve the groundbreaking URL naming convention commonly known as the permalink. Permalinks, operated by, archives and creates permanent links to web pages, ensuring that information remains accessible to courts, researchers, libraries, and others.

“We need more lawyers and public policy experts who have computer science backgrounds so they understand the intricacies and challenges of monitoring and moderating large social media forums.”

The CaseLaw Access Project has digitized over 6.5 million US state and federal court decisions and made them free. It also gives free access to case study textbooks that typically cost students hundreds of dollars each semester, Zittrain adds. “We’re looking to democratize this information, which also allows educators to use multiple textbooks more creatively at the same time.”

His legal work includes work on Eldred vs Ashcroft, a Supreme Court case challenging the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which sought to create a retroactive 20-year U.S. copyright extension. The case was discussed in October 2002 and the decision was made in January of the following year.

“This case was one of the first attempts to see how easily people can build on the work of others on the Internet,” says Zittrain. Unfortunately, his team lost the case 7–2.

How to get involved in technical policy and legal work

What career opportunities are there for people who want to get into tech politics and law?

Surprisingly little is decided around the wise use of technology,” says Zittrain. “For example, for products that can be controlled by their manufacturer, such as smart home devices and new cars, it is not clear what the manufacturer’s responsibilities are. Is it the responsibility of providers, insurance companies or the regulator to ensure confidentiality? And whose responsibility is it when something goes wrong? Each of these companies will need their own thoughtful experts to help with research and writing, discussion, decision making and policy implementation.”

These gaps between new technologies and their fair and safe use create employment and career opportunities, just as CompuServe’s online forums created the need for sysops and sysop forums.

“We need more lawyers and public policy experts who have computer science backgrounds,” says Zittrain, “so that they understand the intricacies and challenges of monitoring and moderating large social media forums like Facebook and Twitter. Or don’t do it.”

Given the complex and profound challenges these new technologies pose, he says, those who design and build technologies need to consider more than just the engineering aspects of their work. They must also learn the philosophy and ethics of what they create, as well as their responsibility to the consumer.

Zittrain adds that programming experience is useful for those interested in getting involved in technology politics.

“Knowing how software works and doesn’t work, both in the abstract and in reality, is extremely useful for thinking about what kinds of digital futures are possible—and what means of technical, political and social intervention are available to achieve it.”

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