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 the data needed to understand these processes is largely restricted to private companies. The Social Data Initiative will foster examination of social media’s impact on society, explore questions about the responsible use of social network data, and generate insights to inform solutions.

The Social Data Initiative’s first project, the Social Media and Democracy Research Grants competition, supports examination of 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, and Facebook. Through the Social Media and Democracy Research Grants program, SSRC independently administers research funding, leads the peer review and Social Data Research Review processes, and works 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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