Learning and Impact

Knight announces new investments in tech and democracy research, including an open call for research into disinformation’s impact on communities of color

The call for research proposals is part of a $5.5 million bundle of investments to study mis- and disinformation and inform internet governance.

MIAMI – July 21, 2021 — Recognizing the impact of technology on our democracy, Knight Foundation is announcing a $5.5 million set of new investments today that will help advance research of issues such as online content moderation, mis- and disinformation online, freedom of expression across digital platforms and liability for content posted online.

The investments include a $1.5-million open call for proposals for new research that can lead to effective interventions to mitigate the effects of racialized disinformation or targeted manipulation of communities of color. These communities have been disproportionately impacted by this type of content.

Knight’s is also committing new funding to the Berkman Klein Center For Internet and Society at Harvard University, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and Lincoln Network to generate policy recommendations that address today’s most pressing challenges posed by online tech platforms.

“Demand is only growing for fresh thinking about our democracy’s digital information challenges,” said John Sands, Knight’s director of Learning and Impact. “As more of our lives are lived online, independent research is increasingly needed to drive actionable insights and equitable solutions.”

Since 2019, Knight has invested $50 million in research and scholarship 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.

For the open call, Knight is inviting researchers and scholars from across the U.S. to submit ideas for projects up to $175,000 by Sept. 15. The opportunity is open to scholars and experts from a wide range of organizations, including research institutions, think tanks, community nonprofits and news organizations. Knight especially welcomes submissions from Historically Black Colleges and Universities; educational institutions that serve Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders; ethnic media organizations; and early career scholars. Those selected for funding will be announced in early 2022. To apply, please visit kf.org/disinfo21.

The $5.5 million in investments announced today will fund the open call and provide new support to three existing grantees:


  • Combatting Disinformation in Communities of Color: $1.5 million to inform effective interventions that can mitigate the effects of intentionally misleading information targeting communities of color, by helping journalists and civil society to expose and combat these activities.


  • Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University: $2 million to support a three-year institute, “Rebooting Social Media,” that will bring together diverse experts to develop tractable solutions to false information, radicalization and harassment online.
  • Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies: $1 million to support a Technology Policy Program, which conducts research and develops policy solutions to ensure that Black communities are not harmed by—and have an opportunity to benefit from—emerging technologies. The Joint Center, known as “America’s Black think tank,” is a trusted forum for leading experts to participate in public policy debates to advance Black communities.
  • Lincoln Network: $1 million to support and augment technology policy research, convening, communications, and the Policy Hacker Fellowship at the Lincoln Network, an organization that brings together policy thinkers from Washington and Silicon Valley to collaborate on solutions to modern tech challenges.

“Solutions to the information challenges we face online will only come with an informed and inclusive public debate,” Sands said. “Knight’s investments in this space are helping to elevate that debate with a range of independent voices and approaches that can support the public interest.”

In addition to Knight’s latest grants in mis- and disinformation, the Foundation will continue to conduct ongoing polling with Gallup to gauge Americans’ views on technology and democracy, and to assess how tools such as social media affect public attitudes toward free expression and other bedrock American values.

For interviews with John Sands, Knight’s director of Learning and Impact, please contact Nick DeSantis at [email protected] or 202-288-9534.


About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports democracy in America by fostering informed and engaged communities. The foundation invests in journalism, arts and culture in community, research in areas of media and democracy, and in the success of cities and towns where John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. For more, visit kf.org.

About the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is dedicated to exploring, understanding, and shaping the development of the digitally-networked environment. A diverse, interdisciplinary community of scholars, practitioners, technologists, policy experts, and advocates, we seek to tackle the most important challenges of the digital age while keeping a focus on tangible real-world impact in the public interest. Our faculty, fellows, staff, and affiliates conduct research, build tools and platforms, educate others, form bridges, and facilitate dialogue across and among diverse communities. Visit us at www.cyber.harvard.edu

About the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies:
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, America’s Black think tank, provides compelling and actionable policy solutions to eradicate persistent and evolving barriers to the full freedom of Black people in America. We are the trusted forum for leading experts and scholars to participate in major public policy debates and promote ideas that advance Black communities. We use evidence-based research, analysis, convenings, and strategic communications to support Black communities and a network of allies.

About the Lincoln Network
Lincoln Network is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 2014 with a mission to help bridge the gap between Silicon Valley and DC, and advance a more perfect union between technology and republican democracy. We believe in a world of competitive markets and free people, and that fostering a robust but responsible innovation ecosystem is crucial to creating a better, freer, and more abundant future. For more, visit lincolnpolicy.org.