Using digital tools and content to engage Americans in democracy

Above: Super PAC App. (Mandatory photo credit: Justin Adelson, MIT Sloan School of Management.)

Even as the presidential race dominates the news, and we’re asked to vote on everything from mayor to mosquito control board, keeping up with the issues can be difficult.  Even those keeping track are left to sort through the noise, sift fact from fiction (or determine who has “Pants on Fire” as Politifact says) and identify the new influencers in the post-Citizens United world.

Last fall, Knight Foundation gathered a group of media thought leaders for a discussion and brainstorm on ways for people to engage in the democratic process through digital tools and content.

So far this year, Knight has invested over $1.2 million in a series of projects that help Americans become more informed and engaged.

Today, we’re announcing the latest project, the SuperPAC App, where users can simply hold up their iPhone to any presidential ad, and using sound fingerprint technology the app determines who funded it. Also, today in the iTunes store is Politifact’s Settle It! app. And later this month, MTV will launch a new game that aims to get younger Americans hooked on the electoral process.

Here’s a look at all the projects:

SuperPAC App, an easy way to find out what people and groups are behind presidential election TV ads, is now available for free through the App Store. Users simply run the iPhone app whenever an ad is playing. Audio fingerprinting  technology identifies the ad and the exploration begins.  Users can share, comment on and interact with news about the ad.

TurboVote makes registering to vote, finding election information and voting by mail easy (or, as its tagline says, “as easy as renting a Netflix DVD”). Knight is helping TurboVote expand its platform, aggregate and release new public datasets, and expand in eight cities. TurboVote has 40-plus college and university partners and was recently profiled in Mashable.

The Wesleyan Media Project is monitoring the large amount of money expected to be spent on political advertising in the 2012 election. Knight’s investment will allow the project to purchase the required data and produce regular analyses throughout 2012. Read more about how the real-time analysis of campaign ads will help inform voters before they head to the polls this fall.

Internet Archive – TV Research Database

The Internet Archive Project is building a platform to make TV news content available and searchable in real time, from a database stretching back several years. Users can search the database, stream content clips, and access aggregated data. Knight helped Internet Archive convene a group of experts to plan next steps for the project.

MTV is designing a fantasy election game to create more incentives for young people to engage in the election. Players will select teams of candidates for national office, and will earn points based on their candidates’ campaign tactics, place in the polls, and the player’s own activity via reading news,  attending events and voting. MTV is partnering with organizations like Politifact, Foursquare and the Center for Responsive Politics to incorporate data and civic tools. The San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote about how the game is comparable to fantasy sports.

Politifact – On-Demand Fact Checking

Politifact is exploring and developing tools to make its fact-checking information available on-demand. For example, users will be able to ask specific questions or search general topics, via desktop or mobile, and the system will return a summary answer based on its content database, with links to more information.

Additionally, this year’s News21 program, a national student-led investigative reporting project, recently launched with an in depth look at voting rights across the country. Among its major findings: in-person voter impersonation on Election Day – which in part drove state legislatures to enact tougher, controversial voter I.D. laws – is virtually non-existent.

By Knight’s Elizabeth R. Miller, communications associate and Chris Sopher, journalism program associate