How can our democracy remain informed when the analog mechanisms that protected society’s information flows are showing evident signs of strain in the digital age?
There is more information – and access to information – than any time in history, but the trusted institutions and information gatekeepers of the past are no longer able to contain harmful or deceptive information as effectively. Journalists and editors are no longer the principal arbiters of facts because the production and dissemination of information now lies in the hands of anyone with an internet connection.
Many of the information challenges we currently face — such as misinformation and the proliferation of hate speech — are not new, but in this age of many-to-many communication, there is a clear need for fresh thinking and research to inform a new generation of democratic institutions and norms that will promote an informed society and support democratic outcomes.
In 2019, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced it would invest $50 million in new research to better understand how technology is transforming our democracy and to help ensure society is equipped to make evidence-based decisions on how to govern and manage the now-digital public square.
The selected research centers and projects were chosen through two nationwide calls for proposals. The institutions are both public and private, located across the country, and represent a range of academic disciplines and perspectives. All share a common goal: identifying how society can respond to the ways in which digital technology has revolutionized the production, dissemination and consumption of information.
Funding for these research centers and projects are part of an unprecedented $300 million commitment made by Knight Foundation in February 2019 to strengthen journalism and democracy. Knight continues to invite individual and institutional funders to join this opportunity and support scalable organizations committed to serving communities at the local level.
New Research Centers
- Carnegie Mellon University: The Center for Informed Democracy and Social Cyber-Security (IDeaS): Expanding the study of information manipulation through online platforms; develop approaches to counter disinformation; and build and educate a community of scholars, practitioners and policymakers to foster an informed democratic society. Led by Kathleen Carley, David Danks and Douglas Sicker. Learn more here.
- The George Washington University: The Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics: Helping the public, journalists, and policymakers understand digital media’s influence on national dialogue and opinion, and to develop sound solutions to disinformation. Led by Steven Livingston and Frank Sesno. Learn more here.
- New York University: The Center for Social Media and Politics: Directly studying the impact of social media on politics and to develop new methods and technology tools to analyze the impact of social media on democracy. Led by Joshua Tucker, Richard Bonneau, and Jonathan Nagler. Learn more here.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: The Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life: Examining the impact of the digital information environment — especially the influence of social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube — on democracy and other sociopolitical systems. Led by Gary Marchionini, Deen Freelon, Zeynep Tufekçi, Alice Marwick and Daniel Kreiss. Learn more here.
- University of Washington: Center for an Informed Public: Studying how misinformation and disinformation flow through information systems; how information translates into values, beliefs and actions; and how researchers, educators, librarians and policymakers can intervene in these processes to foster a more informed society. Led by Jevin West, Kate Starbird, Ryan Calo, Emma Spiro and Chris Coward. Learn more here.
Existing academic research initiatives and projects
- Data & Society Research Institute: Providing general support to Data & Society’s research program on digital information systems and knowledge communities, exploring both fragmentation of knowledge and ways of building resilience to socio-technical threats, and aiming to inform new approaches to the governance and design of data-centric and automated technologies with empirical findings. Led by danah boyd. Learn more here.
- Indiana University: The Observatory on Social Media: Improving the study of the impact of the internet on democracy by increasing the scale, quality and availability of social media data and analytical tools to study that data. Led by Filippo Menczer, Betsi Grabe, Alessandro Flammini, Elaine Monaghan, John Paolillo and James Shanahan. Learn more here.
- Stanford University: The Project on Democracy and the Internet: Supporting the growth of Stanford’s Project on Democracy and the Internet, which houses field-leading study of the challenges that democracy faces in the digital age and what reforms are needed — in companies and through regulation — to ensure that democracy can survive the internet. Led by Nathaniel Persily, Francis Fukuyama and Rob Reich. Learn more here.
- University of Texas at Austin: The Center for Media Engagement: Supporting the expansion of the Center for Media Engagement as it develops the study of how newsrooms, scholars, platforms, and public policy entities can address issues of polarization in society. Led by Talia Stroud, Gina Masullo Chen, Anthony Dudo, Matt Lease, Scott Stroud and Sam Woolley. Learn more here.
- University of Wisconsin – Madison: The Center for Communication and Civic Renewal: Supporting the completion of a 10-year study on the Wisconsin information landscape and to support the development of tools to study state and regional communication systems — and their impact on democracy — in the digital age. Led by Lewis Friedland, Dhavan Shah and Michael Wagner. Learn more here.
- Yale University: The Project on Governing the Digital Public Sphere: Support the Yale Information Society Project’s work on how law should regulate and social media companies should govern the digital public sphere. Led by Jack Balkin. Learn more here.
Economic, legal, and policy research
- American Antitrust Institute: Supporting new research that enables better understanding of the reach, capability and effectiveness of antitrust enforcement to promote competition in digital markets and to develop approaches to encourage more vigorous application of antitrust laws. Led by: Diana Moss. Learn more here.
- American Enterprise Institute: Supporting a new digital governance project at AEI aimed at helping policymakers understand the key questions and issues at the intersection of technology and public policy. Led by: Jim Harper, Yuval Levin, Shane Tews, Adam White. Learn more here.
- Berkeley Center for Law and Technology: Supporting a symposium at the UC Berkeley School of Law on the roles of technology in internet law and policy that will culminate in a published volume of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, as well as an accompanying seminar and workshop. Led by: Deirdre Mulligan. Learn more here.
- Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University: To support the launch of a refined and expanded version of the Assembly initiative focused on online disinformation. Led by: Jonathan Zittrain. Learn more here.
- Center for Democracy and Technology: Supporting research on the future of digital discourse, with a focus on how online platforms moderate content and how technology impacts our democracy. Learn more here.
- Duke University Center on Law & Tech: Supporting research that explores the applicability of the principles and priorities of traditional media and public utility regulation to the regulatory framework applied to social media platforms and associated data. Led by: Philip M. Napoli and Jeff Ward. Learn more here.
- Economic Security Project: Supporting new research on the impacts of economic concentration among technology companies. Led by: Natalie Foster, Chris Hughes, Taylor Jo Isenberg and Dorian Warren. Learn more here.
- German Marshall Fund: Supporting original legal and policy research by a collaborative network of senior policy thought-leaders, researchers and stakeholders to develop practical policy responses to major challenges that have emerged in the digital economy. Led by: Karen Kornbluh. Learn more here.
- Kate Klonick, St. John’s University Law School: Supporting research on emergent legal implications of digital platforms. Led by: Kate Klonick. Learn more here.
- Lincoln Network: Supporting the Lincoln Network’s annual “Reboot American Innovation” conference in San Francisco and aligned convenings in Washington, DC, and the Bay Area on innovation policy and governance, as well as the launch of the innovators fellowship. Led by: Zach Graves and Dan Lips. Learn more here.
- New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights: Supporting the development of an empirical study of content moderation on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and its role in their business models, along with a set of practical recommendations for its improvement, particularly focusing on the current system of outsourcing content moderators. Led by: Paul Barrett and Michael Posner. Learn more here.
- Open Markets Institute: Researching the impact of corporate concentration by internet companies on journalism and media, and how the negative effects of concentration might be addressed. Learn more here.
- Public Knowledge: To develop a proposal for a market-based mechanism to improve online information that would be funded by dominant digital platforms. Led by: Gene Kimmelman. Learn more here.
- R Street Institute: To study and explore a multi-stakeholder approach to the management of online content that balances concerns of consumers with those of corporations, and to improve the government’s technology policymaking. Learn more here.
- The Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law at Rutgers Law School: Supporting the development of research and policy proposals regarding speech on digital platforms, with a focus on transparency and the First Amendment and global speech implications of platform governance around content moderation, amplification and monetization. Led by: Ellen P. Goodman. Learn more here.
- Santa Clara University School of Law: Supporting the continued development of a body of research and policy proposals with regard to intermediary liability for content on digital platforms. Led by: Eric Goldman. Learn more here.
- Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School: Support independent research and policy proposals around privacy, competition among technology companies and government oversight of the internet. Led by: Nancy Gibbs, Gene Kimmelman, Phil Verveer and Tom Wheeler. Learn more here.
- Stanford University: Supporting applied research and pedagogy on questions of technology, democracy and governance, specifically engaging with the critical questions surrounding content moderation, antitrust and competition policy. Led by: David Freeman Engstrom, Francis Fukuyama and Daphne Keller. Learn more here.
- UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry: Supporting research on content moderation, discrimination and governance of the commercial internet from the perspective of marginalized and underrepresented populations. Led by: Safiya Umoja Noble and Sarah T. Roberts. Learn more here.
- University of California, Irvine Law School: Supporting two research projects on the destabilizing effects of digital speech on American democracy and models of self-regulation and multi-stakeholder governance of content moderation on digital platforms. Led by: Richard Hasen and David Kaye. Learn more here.
- University of Iowa Law School: Supporting legal research that applies principles from constitutional law and institutional political science to the challenges of platform governance. Led by: Paul Gowder. Learn more here.
- University of Kentucky College of Law/Gatton College of Business and Economics: Supporting novel research that applies distributive justice theory to questions of internet governance. Led by: Ramsi Woodcock. Learn more here.
- University of Pennsylvania Law School Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition: Providing general support for the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition for research and policy development on digital vertical integration and the competitive advantages of scale in the digital economy. Led by: Rakesh Vohra and Christopher Yoo. Learn more here.
- Utah State University Center for Growth and Opportunity: Supporting the application of experimental economics as a tool for policy analysis to understand how content moderation policies are affecting user behavior and what responsibilities platforms have moderating misinformation. Led by: Christopher Koopman, Lucas Rentschler and Vernon Smith. Learn more here.
- Yale University: Supporting theoretical research on economically coherent regulatory solutions for digital platforms that protect consumers and local content markets. Led by: Dirk Bergemann. Learn more here.
- American Action Forum: To support research and analysis on content liability policy proposals. Led by Jennifer Huddleston.
- American University, Tech, Law & Security Program: To support policy research that addresses the roles of internet technology companies with respect to the regulation of speech online. Led by Jennifer Daskal, in partnership with German Marshall Fund
- Boston University School of Law: To support a study on the effects of laws, regulatory measures and digital platform policies on free speech of victims of online abuse. Led by Danielle Citron and Jonathon Penney
- Copia Institute: To support research and convenings on internet governance challenges, with a focus on competition, privacy, and content liability. Led by Mike Masnick.
- Fordham University Law School: To support Fordham University’s McGannon Center for Communication Research. Led by Olivier Sylvain.
- Global Disinformation Index: To support research on how extremist groups use digital platforms to spread disinformation and violent rhetoric to finance their activities. Led by Clare Melford and Dr. Danny Rogers, with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
- Heritage Foundation: To support new research on addressing content moderation concerns on digital platforms at Heritage’s Center for Technology Policy. Led by Klon Kitchen.
- Howard University: To support a new research initiative on the impact of digital manipulation on Black communities. Led by Ravi K. Perry, Keneshia Grant and Bahiyyah Muhammad.
- Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies: To support the expansion of technology policy research efforts at the Joint Center. Led by Spencer Overton.
- Mercatus Center at George Mason University: To support the Mercatus Center for research on content moderation policy and intermediary liability, with a focus on soft law. Led by Adam Thierer, Anne Hobson and Tyler Cowen.
- California State University, Northridge: To support research on the ways internet technology companies influence behaviors through interface design and language choices, and to analyze the policy and legal implications. Led by Farshad Ghodoosi.
- Nebraska Governance and Technology Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: To support research and programming at the interdisciplinary Nebraska Governance and Technology Center within the College of Law. Led by Gus Hurwitz.
- Northeastern University School of Law: To support research on the First Amendment, with a focus on power, speech and free expression on digital platforms. Led by Ari Ezra Waldman.
- Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business: To support research on competition policy in regard to internet technology companies. Led by Luigi Zingales.
- Technology Policy Institute: To support research on competition in zero-price markets, such as social media. Led by Scott Wallsten.
- University of Florida: To support research on a new governance framework for data collected by digital platforms, smart devices, and smart city technologies. Led by Jasmine McNealy.
- University of Georgia School of Law, led by Sonja West (School of Law), Jonathan Peters (Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication), and Jason Anastasopoulos (School of Public and International Affairs): To support research on the application of First Amendment and due process principles to nongovernmental digital platforms and services.
- University of Miami Law School: To support research on free speech doctrine in the age of digital platforms. Led by Mary Anne Franks.
- University of Michigan: To support research on the expansion of Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act to include a responsibility for digital platforms to reduce harms such as hate speech, harassment and discrimination, especially for marginalized populations. Led by Sarita Schoenebeck and Lisa Nakamura.
- University of Oklahoma College of Law: To support comparative research between the First Amendment and international human rights law’s protections for speech online. Led by Evelyn Aswad.