The SSRC's Media & Democracy program focuses on the media’s relationship to democratic life. The initiative is a collaboration between the Council’s Anxieties of Democracy and Digital Culture programs.

Media & Democracy encourages academic research, practitioner reflection, and public debate on all aspects of the close relationship between media and democracy. Media & Democracy asks, for example, how recent transformations in journalism have affected democratic discourse and participation. Conversely, the program also examines how changes in the political landscape, such as increasing polarization, have affected the media. The program takes a wide definition of media (including but not limited to news and journalism) and looks at various aspects of democracy. 

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Media & Democracy’s ambitions are both diagnostic and prescriptive. It seeks to diagnose how recent changes in the media are related to successful democratic governance and to prescribe potential solutions for trends that may undermine democratic functioning. To this end, the program brings together social scientists, journalists, and technologists to examine, among other topics:

  • Increasing polarization and media echo chambers, and their relationship to electoral and legislative outcomes.
  • The impact of coordinated hate speech, doxxing, and fake news on public discourse.
  • Virality and online engagement as measures of impact and drivers of revenue, and the resulting changes to the political economy of the media.
  • Challenges to privacy and anonymity, as generated by technological, economic, and/or regulatory changes.
  • The centralization of media platforms and advertising, and the shift from traditional to digital news media.
  • The changing legitimacy of traditional sources of authority such as the media, political parties, and civic associations.
  • Challenges to sovereignty and regulation, including between nations and multinational/transnational corporations.

Media & Democracy launched in 2017, and has begun to convene experts, promote new studies, and publish and disseminate findings with the goal of fostering deeper engagement between social scientists and media practitioners. Ultimately, the program will bring the results of this engagement to both democratic institutions and the broader public.

The Media & Democracy program is generously supported by the Knight Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Democracy Fund, and is honored to host an ACLS Public Fellow.

Program Components



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