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In recent years, democracies appear to have been caught off guard by pitfalls associated with the rise of digital media. Issues such as mass surveillance, disinformation, declining trust in journalism, electoral interference, partisan polarization, and increasing toxicity online threaten democratic norms, institutions, and governance. These phenomena have been the subject of vast bodies of US-centric research, but despite popular narratives about “American exceptionalism,” the United States is not alone confronting digitally-borne threats to democracy. Moreover, in other countries these issues have often occurred—and demanded political responses—well before they became politically heated topics in the United States. There is, therefore, there is much to be learned from addressing these issues in a comparative perspective—by studying digital media and politics both inside and outside the US and highlighting generalizable implications.

To encourage comparative research on the impact of digital media on democratic processes and institutions, the Media & Democracy program at the Social Science Research Council convened a research development workshop in Brooklyn, NY on June 13–14, 2019. The workshop invited scholars from the social sciences and humanities to explore the impact of the rise of digital media on politics by comparing liberal democracies—both to each other and to polities where liberal and democratic norms cannot be taken for granted. In either case, scholars were asked to reflect on how existing political and media institutions shape the political impact of, and responses to, threats derived from innovations in media technology.

Media & Democracy research development workshops give participants the opportunity to receive in-depth feedback from their peers on in-progress research, to give feedback to other workshop participants, and to meet fellow scholars working on similar topics from across disciplines. Learn more about past workshops and current opportunities on our Research Workshops page.

This workshop resulted in a call for papers from and special issue of the International Journal of Press/Politics, including the following articles and introduction by the issue co-editors (*workshop participants):
Digital Threats to Democracy: Comparative Lessons and Possible Remedies
Michael L. Miller*, Cristian Vaccari*

Cross-Platform State Propaganda: Russian Trolls on Twitter and YouTube during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Yevgeniy Golovchenko, Cody Buntain*, Gregory Eady, Megan A. Brown, Joshua A. Tucker 

Resilience to Online Disinformation: A Framework for Cross-National Comparative Research
Edda Humprecht*, Frank Esser, Peter Van Aelst

Public Beliefs About Falsehoods in News
Karolina Koc-Michalska, Bruce Bimber, Daniel Gomez, Matthew Jenkins, Shelley Boulianne* 

Populist Attitudes and Selective Exposure to Online News: A Cross-Country Analysis Combining Web Tracking and Surveys
Sebastian Stier, Nora Kirkizh*, Caterina Froio, Ralph Schroeder 

Relatively Democratic: How Perceived Internet Interference Shapes Attitudes about Democracy
Elizabeth Stoycheff

Protecting Democracy from Disinformation: Normative Threats and Policy Responses
Chris Tenove* 

Poison If You Don't Know How to Use It: Facebook, Democracy, and Human Rights in Myanmar
Jenifer Whitten-Woodring*, Mona Kleinberg, Ardeth Thawnghmung, Myat The Thisar 


Cristian Vaccari
Editor-in-Chief, the International Journal of Press/Politics
Reader in Political Communication
Loughborough University


Andreu Casas
Postdoctoral Fellow, Social Media and Political Participation Lab
New York University
Paper: “Detecting Long-Term Media Effects on Affective Polarization: Evidence from Web-Tracking and Longitudinal Surveys in Three Countries”

Chris Tenove
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
University of British Columbia
Paper: “Foreign Disinformation as a Democratic Threat: Conceptual Models and Policy Approaches”

Cody Buntain
Postdoctoral Fellow, Social Media and Political Participation Lab
New York University
Paper: “Cross-Platform State Propaganda-:Russian Trolls on Twitter and YouTube During the 2016 US Presidential Election”

Edda Humprecht
Senior Research and Teaching Associate, Communication and Media Research
University of Zurich IKMZ
Paper: “Resilience to Online Disinformation: A Framework for Cross-National Comparative Research”

Eleonora Kirkizh
PhD Candidate, Computational Social Science
GESIS Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences
Paper: “Populist Attitudes and Selective Exposure to News”

Erik Bucy
Marshall and Sharleen Fromby Regents Professor of Strategic Communication
Texas Tech University
Paper: “Building Societal Resilience to Digital Disinformation”

Gordon Ramsay
Senior Research Fellow, Media and Communication
University of Westminster
Paper:  “Russian Needles in Western Media Haystacks: Using Text-Matching to Detect Disinformation and Propaganda in British and US Media”

Jenifer Whitten-Woodring
Associate Professor of Political Science
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
Paper: “Lessons from Myanmar’s Facebook-Driven Communal Violence: The Divisive Potential of Social Media in an Intolerant Society”

Jessica Collier
PhD Candidate, Rhetoric and Language Studies
University of Texas at Austin
Paper: “The Effectiveness of Fact Check Headlines on Social Media: Field Experiments across Four Continents”

Magdalena Wojcieszak
Associate Professor, Communication
University of California, Davis
Paper: “Detecting Long-Term Media Effects on Affective Polarization: Evidence from Web-Tracking and Longitudinal Surveys in Three Countries”

Ozan Kuru
Postdoctoral Fellow, Annenberg Public Policy Center
University of Pennsylvania
Paper: “Understanding Political Informational Processing in WhatsApp Groups: A Comparative Study of User Perceptions and Practices in Turkey, Singapore, and the USA”

Shawn Walker
Assistant Professor, Social and Behavioral Science
Arizona State University
Paper: “The IMPED Model of Misinformation”

Shelley Boulianne
Associate Professor of Sociology
MacEwan University
Paper:  “Problems of Democracy or Problems of Disposition? The Role of Personality and Ideology in Political Talk and Like-Minded Discussion”