Universities combine to steer German internet policy

New institute will receive €10 million a year for interdisciplinary research

May 30, 2017
Woman typing on smartphone
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A consortium of largely Berlin-based universities will host a major new institute for the study of the internet, part of the German government’s plan to shape digitalisation in a “positive” way.

The winning bid, which beat rivals from Munich, Hanover, Bochum and Karlsruhe, will receive €10 million (£8.7 million) a year to research the internet and to help steer German government online policy.

Christina Brüning, a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Education and Research, told Deutsche Welle that one of its “main mandates” will be to inform public policy.

“There will be lots of great research,” she said. “But to use the cliché, that research won’t rest in an ivory tower. It’s important that there’s a transfer back into society, into the economy and into politics. Politicians should be able to use research from the institute to make better, target-oriented decisions on digitalisation.”

The German Internet Institute is one of a number of ways the German government is hoping to shape the digitalisation of society “positively”, she explained.

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Germany has taken a relatively interventionist approach towards online content that it fears could be harmful. It is pressing ahead with legislation that could see social networks fined up to €50 million if they fail to remove illegal content or do not give users an option to raise concerns about “fake news” or hate speech.

The institute is designed to be interdisciplinary, bringing together both research on the technical development of the internet and its social impact, for example. It will host doctoral students and professors.

The winning host institutions are: the Free University Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, the Technical University of Berlin, the Berlin University of the Arts, the University of Potsdam, the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems, and the Berlin Social Science Centre.


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