The longstanding study of media effects on democracy and elections has taken on new resonance with the rise of social media platforms, the dramatic change in the business model of traditional news media, changes in advertising infrastructure, and increasingly globalized and interconnected communications. Recent revelations about the unintended disclosure of industry data and spread of disinformation across national borders make clear the need to better understand the impact of social media on society.

So many of the complex social, cultural, economic, and political processes that govern our lives and our decisions now occur online, but access to these data is largely restricted to private companies. The SSRC’s Social Data Initiative (SDI) will examine social media’s impact on society, explore questions about the responsible use of social network data, and generate insights to inform solutions.

The SDI has issued its first request for proposals on the effects of social media on democracy and elections. In collaboration with Social Science One (SS1), an entity developed by Professors Gary King and Nate Persily, Facebook will make data available to social science researchers for the first time. Through the Social Media and Democracy Research Grants competition, SSRC will independently administer research funding, lead the peer review and data ethics review process, and work with SS1 to manage the research.

The research is funded by a group of charitable foundations including Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, Omidyar Network, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Program Components


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