Controlling Cyberspace: Shaping Online Content | Samantha Bates | August 05, 2015


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Controlling Cyberspace: Shaping Online Content

by Samantha Bates Show/Hide

Law and the Internet are commonly thought to not go well together. Many recognize how difficult it can be to regulate anonymous and faraway people clacking at terminals. But trends over time may be easing the application of law to the digital world: a handful of companies, reachable by subpoena, channel a great deal of communication, and the advertising economy inspires the creation of technologies and practices that make anonymity more rare.

This reading group will look at some contemporary digital issues that cause people to ask for the law’s help in preventing or accounting for an online harm — and we’ll discuss when and how it might work.  We’ll particularly focus on new efforts to shape online content, after a period of both norms and law standing back from regulation, especially through intermediaries like search engines and social media.

A successful group will be one in which, through discussion, your initial views on some of these issues — whatever they may be — changes or is substantially refined.


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    1. 1.1 Show/Hide More Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age 169-195 (Princeton University Press 2009).
      Read pages 171 through 182. Begin at the section titled, “An Expiration Date for Information.” And pages 189 through 195. Begin at the section titled, “Expiration Dates Compared”
    1. 2.3 Show/Hide More 'Stromfront': An example of Localized Search Result Exclusions
      Original Creator: Samantha Bates
      The following three links are related to a study conducted by the Berkman Center that investigated Internet filtering worldwide.  The following readings focus on a comparison of Google search results for,, and and examine the discrepancy of results between the three domains for a search for ‘Stormfront,' a white supremacist group. 
      1. 2.3.1 Show/Hide More Jonathan Zittrain and Benjamin Edelman, "Localized Google search result exclusions: statement of issues and call for data" (October 26, 2002).
        Overview of discrepancies found between search results on,, and  Read in conjunction with “Comparison of and Results for ‘Stormfront' – Screenshot” and the list of “Specific Sites excluded from and/or”
    1. 4.3 Show/Hide More Michael Adler, Cyberspace, General Searches, and Digital Contraband: The Fourth Amendment and the Net-Wide Search, 105 Yale L.J. 1093, (1996).
      Michael Adler, Cyberspace, General Searches, and Digital Contraband: The Fourth Amendment and the Net-Wide Search, 105 Yale L.J. 1093, (1996).

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August 05, 2015

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Samantha Bates

Research Associate

Harvard Law School, Berkman Center

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