Internet screen with keywords that generates insecurity and fear worldwide

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 

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