Skip to content


Yochai Benkler

  • Julian Assange in a police van

    Benkler, faculty experts discuss the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

    April 12, 2019

    Nearly a decade after Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning shared classified materials with WikiLeaks, the site’s founder, Julian Assange, was arrested in London for his role in the disclosures. The Harvard Gazette recently spoke with three faculty members, including Yochai Benkler, the Harvard Law professor who has publicly defended the disclosure as whistleblowing.

  • Journalist, whistleblower, or dangerous security leak?

    April 12, 2019

    Nearly a decade after Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning shared classified materials illegally downloaded from Defense Department computers with WikiLeaks, the site’s founder, Julian Assange, was arrested in London for his role in the 2010-11 disclosures. ... To better understand the legal, national security, and journalistic tensions at issue, the Gazette spoke with Harvard faculty members Yochai Benkler, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, and Nicco Mele.

  • Julian Assange’s charges are a direct assault on press freedom, experts warn

    April 12, 2019

    The charge sheet accusing Julian Assange of engaging in criminal theft of US state secrets contains a direct assault on fundamental press freedoms and could have a devastating effect on the basic acts of journalism, leading first amendment scholars and advocacy groups have warned. ... Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor who wrote the first major legal study of the legal implications of prosecuting WikiLeaks, said the charge sheet contained some “very dangerous elements that pose significant risk to national security reporting. Sections of the indictment are vastly overbroad and could have a significant chilling effect – they ought to be rejected.”

  • The Making of the Fox News White House

    March 4, 2019

    In January, during the longest government shutdown in America’s history, President Donald Trump rode in a motorcade through Hidalgo County, Texas, eventually stopping on a grassy bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. The White House wanted to dramatize what Trump was portraying as a national emergency: the need to build a wall along the Mexican border. The presence of armored vehicles, bales of confiscated marijuana, and federal agents in flak jackets underscored the message. ...As Murdoch’s relations with the White House have warmed, so has Fox’s coverage of Trump. During the Obama years, Fox’s attacks on the President could be seen as reflecting the adversarial role traditionally played by the press. With Trump’s election, the network’s hosts went from questioning power to defending it. Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor who co-directs the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, says, “Fox’s most important role since the election has been to keep Trump supporters in line.”

  • On Twitter, limited number of characters spreading fake info

    January 24, 2019

    A tiny fraction of Twitter users spread the vast majority of fake news in 2016, with conservatives and older people sharing misinformation more, a new study finds. Scientists examined more than 16,000 U.S. Twitter accounts and found that 16 of them — less than one-tenth of 1 percent — tweeted out nearly 80 percent of the misinformation masquerading as news, according to a study Thursday in the journal Science. ...Their conclusions are similar to a study earlier this month that looked at the spread of false information on Facebook. It also found that few people shared fakery, but those who did were more likely to be over 65 and conservatives. That makes this study more believable because two groups of researchers using different social media platforms, measuring political affiliation differently and with different panels of users came to the same conclusion, said Yochai Benkler, co-director of Harvard Law School's center on the internet and society. He wasn't part of either study but praised them, saying they should reduce misguided postelection panic about how "out-of-control technological processes had rendered us as a society incapable of telling truth from fiction."

  • The Digital Destruction of Democracy

    January 22, 2019

    Disinformation and propaganda spread by media have long been a staple of politics. But the 2016 elections raised new questions about the role of new media. What role did the interplay of new and old media play in getting authoritarian demagogues elected? How do new media platforms supercharge the spread of conspiracy theories and false ideas? Is there something different about the way Facebook and Twitter spread hate and lies? How can we stop them from doing so? Yochai Benkler and his co-authors Robert Faris and Hal Roberts have amassed reams of data tracing how extreme propaganda and disinformation seeped from the edges to the center of U.S. discourse in 2016. Much of this was done via social media platforms, of course, but the authors of Network Propaganda explain how Breitbart and Fox News also played a pivotal role in disseminating extreme ideas to a broad swath of the U.S. population.

  • Prosecuting Wikileaks, Protecting Press Freedoms: Drawing the Line at Knowing Collaboration with a Foreign Intelligence Agency

    November 19, 2018

    An article by Yochai Benkler. The inadvertent disclosure of the likely existence of a sealed indictment against Julian Assange raises the question of what the constitutional implications of such an indictment might be. Only an indictment narrowly focused on knowing collaboration with a foreign intelligence agency, if in fact the evidence supports such a finding, would avoid the broad threat that such a prosecution would otherwise pose to First Amendment rights and press freedoms.

  • Julian Assange Charge Raises Fears About Press Freedom

    November 19, 2018

    The disclosure that federal prosecutors have brought an unidentified criminal charge against Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks leader, follows years of government deliberations over the dilemma raised by competing desires to put him out of business and fears that doing so could create a precedent that would undermine press freedoms....Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor who testified at Ms. Manning’s court-martial in 2013 that WikiLeaks played a watchdog journalism role, denounced any charging of Mr. Assange for his work with Ms. Manning and Mr. Snowden. Mr. Benkler described Ms. Manning and Mr. Snowden as “patriots” and “whistle-blowers” and who, even if one did not agree with their actions, “are clearly trying to do something to keep the government accountable.” But, he said, if there turns out to be evidence that Mr. Assange knowingly coordinated with a Russian intelligence agency trying to undermine democracy, “I don’t think you have the same kind of protections from prosecution.”

  • How the ‘propaganda feedback loop’ of right-wing media keeps more than a quarter of Americans siloed

    November 7, 2018

    Why is there so often no overlap, no resemblance whatsoever between the news events reported in mainstream print and broadcast coverage, and even on liberal outlets like MSNBC, and the topics that get broadcast as news on the Fox network and its fellows on the right? What process lets even the most outlandish conspiracy notions survive and flourish in the right’s echo-chamber ecosystem, in a way they don’t come close to doing elsewhere? Yochai Benkler is a Harvard law professor, the co-director of the university’s center for studying the internet and society, and co-author of a new book with the unmistakably alarming title “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation and Radicalization in American Politics.” The book is a work of anatomy, dissecting how this deep disequilibrium is imperiling the nation’s civic and public life. Benkler has also rethought the part that social media play in all of this, beginning with our perceptions of what free speech has come to mean in the age of Facebook and Twitter.

  • Blame Fox, not Facebook, for fake news

    November 6, 2018

    Yochai Benkler, Rob Faris and Hal Robert, three scholars affiliated with Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, have a new book, “Network Propaganda:Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics,” presenting major new research about the political consequences of American media. I asked Benkler, who is the Berkman professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, and faculty co-director of the Berkman Klein Center, about what they found..."On the right, audiences concentrate attention on purely right wing outlets. On the left and center audiences spread their attention broadly and focus on mainstream organizations. This asymmetric pattern holds for the linking practices of media producers. Both supply and demand on the right are insular and self-focused. On the left and center they are spread broadly and anchored by professional press."

  • The Russians didn’t swing the 2016 election to Trump. But Fox News might have.

    October 24, 2018

    An op-ed by Yochai Benkler...But research I helped conduct has found that the fundamental driver of disinformation in American politics of the past three years has not been Russia, but Fox News and the insular right-wing media ecosystem it anchors. All the Russians did was jump on the right-wing propaganda bandwagon: Their efforts were small in scope, relative to homegrown media efforts. And what propaganda victories the Russians achieved occurred only when the right-wing media machine picked up stories and, often, embellished them.

  • A New Book Details the Damage Done by the Right-Wing Media in 2016

    August 29, 2018

    The Washington conventional wisdom presupposes a kind of symmetry between our polarized political parties. Liberals and conservatives, it is said, live in separate bubbles, where they watch different television networks, frequent different Web sites, and absorb different realities. The implication of this view is that both sides resemble each other in their twisted views of reality. Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity, in other words, represent two sides of the same coin. This view is precisely wrong, according to a provocative new book by Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts that will be published next month by Oxford University Press. The book’s title, “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics,” is a mouthful, but the book’s message is almost simple. The two sides are not, in fact, equal when it comes to evaluating “news” stories, or even in how they view reality.

  • Revealed: 2018 midterms under attack (video)

    August 6, 2018

    Facebook reveals new attacks on the 2018 U.S. Midterm elections that they describe as “consistent” with the Russian election meddling in 2016. Terrorism analyst Malcolm Nance tells Ari Melber that “the nation is under attack” and Congress must take it “seriously”. Harvard Law School’s Yochai Benkler says foreigners trying to influence U.S. Elections are “trolling us” and trying to make Americans think “our democracy is not safe”, but “largely they’re not driving the effect”.

  • Morality in the Machines 6

    Morality in the Machines

    June 26, 2018

    Researchers at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society are collaborating with MIT scholars to study driverless cars, social media feeds, and criminal justice algorithms, to make sure openness and ethics inform artificial intelligence.

  • The ruse of ‘fake news’

    April 6, 2018

    As Americans increasingly turn to social media as their primary source for news and information, the dangers posed by the phenomenon of “fake news” are growing...In a recent study described in the journal Science, lead authors Matthew Baum, the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications, David Lazer, a professor at Northeastern University and an associate of the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and more than a dozen co-authors argue that a multidisciplinary effort is needed to understand better how the internet spreads content and how readers process the news and information they consume. Such broad-based efforts are necessary, the authors said, “to reduce the spread of fake news and to address the underlying pathologies it has revealed.”...In addition to Baum and Lazer, the paper was co-authored by Yochai Benkler, Adam J. Berinsky, Kelly M. Greenhill, Filippo Menczer, Miriam J. Metzger, Brendan Nyhan, Gordon Pennycook, David Rothschild, Michael Schudson, Steven A. Sloman, Cass R. Sunstein, Emily A. Thorson, Duncan J. Watts, and Jonathan L. Zittrain.

  • The science of fake news

    March 12, 2018

    An article by David M. J. Lazer, Matthew A. Baum, Yochai Benkler, Adam J. Berinsky, Kelly M. Greenhill, Filippo Menczer, Miriam J. Metzger, Brendan Nyhan, Gordon Pennycook, David Rothschild, Michael Schudson, Steven A. Sloman, Cass R. Sunstein, Emily A. Thorson, Duncan J. Watts, and Jonathan L. Zittrain. The rise of fake news highlights the erosion of long-standing institutional bulwarks against misinformation in the internet age. Concern over the problem is global. However, much remains unknown regarding the vulnerabilities of individuals, institutions, and society to manipulations by malicious actors. A new system of safeguards is needed.

  • Fox News website beefs up and ‘goes a little Breitbart’

    January 2, 2018

    A sleeping media giant may be about to wake up: Fox News’ website — known for its high traffic, but not strong identity —is staffing up and sharpening its voice in hopes of equaling the impact of its increasingly pro-Trump television partner. A website that had been more closely identified with Shepard Smith’s brand of reporting has now moved closer to the mold of Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, according to former staff members who spoke on the condition of anonymity...Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor, was part of the group with MIT that studied how readers consumed news online during the 2016 election, and said that Fox News has an incentive to move to the right. Analyzing linking and sharing patterns of 1.25 million stories, his group found that Fox News and Breitbart formed the heart of “a relatively insular and self-referential” online news ecosystem...“Fox News became less prominent, fewer Twitter shares, fewer Facebook shares,” he said. But that changed during the general election. “It’s only when they line up, after Trump essentially wins out, that they return to their position of prominence,” he said. “In many senses, it was a capitulation of Fox News to the Breitbart line.”

  • The Fake News Debate is a Distraction, Says Information Era Intellectual Yochai Benkler

    December 11, 2017

    In a 2006 book called “The Wealth of Networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom” (Yale University Press), Yochai Benkler theorized that the internet would bring about a revolution that will democratize access to power...In the following eleven years Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, have become global behemoths, collecting in their way an unfathomable wealth of users’ data. At the same time, there were those who learned how to manipulate the data available and use the internet to spread misinformation. These are the issues that occupy Mr. Benkler, now a Law professor at Harvard and the co-director of the university’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. "The attitude in Silicon Valley is that if we want it hard enough, technology can solve every problem. In reality, these companies and entrepreneurs are creating very centralized systems without being aware of the risks because they consider themselves to be ‘the good guys,’” says Benkler in an interview with Calcalist.

  • Anatomy of a Fake News Scandal

    November 17, 2017

    The revelations overcame Edgar Maddison Welch like a hallucinatory fever. On December 1st, 2016, the father of two from Salisbury, North Carolina, a man whose pastimes included playing Pictionary with his family, tried to persuade two friends to join a rescue mission. Alex Jones, the Info-Wars host, was reporting that Hillary Clinton was sexually abusing children in satanic rituals a few hundred miles north, in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant...Welch did not find any captive children – Comet Ping Pong does not even have a basement – but he did prove, if there were any lingering doubts after the election, that fake news has real consequences. Welch's arrest was the culmination of an election cycle dominated by fake news – and by attacks on the legitimate press...That was exactly how the right-wing-media ecosystem worked during the 2016 campaign, explains Yochai Benkler, who directs the Berkman-Klein Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard. After the election, he and his colleagues mapped about 2 million campaign-news stories. He found that far-right-media outlets were organized extremely tightly around Breitbart and, to a lesser degree, "The right paid attention to right-wing sites, and the more right-wing they were, the more attention they got," Benkler says.

  • Here’s How Facebook Could Be Regulated

    November 1, 2017

    Mark Zuckerberg’s original motto for Facebook was “Move fast and break things.” It now appears that he’s going to have to answer for moving too fast and breaking too many things. After years of trying to avoid oversight from Washington, the 2-billion-person social network platform is set for a reckoning. Facebook is approaching its first major congressional oversight hearings in November after it revealed that a Russian “troll factory,” called the Internet Research Agency, purchased advertisements in order to influence the 2016 election...Yochai Benkler, the Berkman professor of entrepreneurial legal studies at Harvard Law School, suggested another change: Lawmakers could pass a bill to require social networks to identify bots (automated accounts) and “sockpuppets” (fake accounts run by real people) to detail their role in spreading political advocacy advertising. No legislation has been discussed to tackle the problem of social media bots spreading paid propaganda...“Facebook is too immunized from competition to be left to adopt self-regulation,” Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler said.

  • Who Will Rein In Facebook? Challengers Are Lining Up

    October 30, 2017

    We’re treated to fresh reports nearly every day about how Facebook Inc.’s efforts to keep bad actors from abusing its platform fall short...While the current Congress is loath to mint new regulations, that hasn’t stopped Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Mark Warner (D., Va.) from proposing the Honest Ads Act, which would force internet companies to tell users who funded political ads...The new bill is an obvious way to bring the tech giants in line with other media, with whom they clearly now compete, says Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor and co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.