Just before the new millennium was set to begin, Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig declared “code is law” in his 1999 book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. In the seminal text, Lessig argued that even in the absence of government laws, the code of the internet served as its own regulator: “In cyberspace we must understand how a different 'code' regulates — how the software and hardware (i.e., the 'code' of cyberspace) that make cyberspace what it is also regulate cyberspace as it is."
Twenty years later, code has indeed become the de-facto law, with powerful tech companies increasingly governing us and our future — shaping not only the values and outcomes of the internet, but also the very world in which we live.
From the rampant spread of disinformation that sows distrust in elections and undermines public health during a pandemic, to the pervasive collection of our personal data and information to facilitate exploitative and manipulative advertising, this code all too often results in real-world harms. In response, Recoding Tech is working to curate and synthesize knowledge, research, and ideas to help better understand the harms resulting from Big Tech’s code and business models, as well as what types of oversight, regulations, and laws can create better outcomes for our democracies and societies.
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Recoding Tech is a supported initiative of Reset. Reset is engaged in programmatic work on technology and democracy. Reset seeks to change the way the internet enables the spread of news and information so that it serves the public good over corporate and political interests — ensuring tech companies once again work for democracy rather than against it.