This collection on American democracy challenges and complements blog posts and opinion pieces that are typical staples of the 24/7 news cycle in the lead up to US elections. You'll find reports about election and campaign administration, voting access and participation, government performance and perceptions, the role of the media in civil society, and more.

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"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Featured

Fueling the Fire: How Social Media Intensifies U.S. Political Polarization — And What Can Be Done About It

September 9, 2021

This report analyzes the evidence bearing on social media's role in polarization, assesses the effects of severe divisiveness, and recommends steps the government and the social media industry can take to ameliorate the problem. We conclude that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are not the original or main cause of rising U.S. political polarization, a phenomenon that long predates the social media industry. But use of those platforms intensifies divisiveness and thus contributes to its corrosive consequences. This conclusion is bolstered by a close reading of the social science literature, interviews with sociologists and political scientists who have published studies in this area, and Facebook's own pattern of internally researching the polarization problem and periodically adjusting its algorithms to reduce the flow of content likely to stoke political extremism and hatred.

Media

Charting Congress on Social Media in the 2016 and 2020 Elections

September 30, 2021

This report examines how lawmakers used social media in the months surrounding the 2016 and 2020 elections. To conduct this analysis, Pew Research Center collected every Facebook post and tweet created by every voting member of Congress between Sept. 8-Dec. 8, 2016, and Sept. 3-Dec. 3, 2020. The analysis includes official, campaign and personal accounts. The resulting dataset contains nearly 166,000 Facebook posts from 1,408 congressional Facebook accounts and more than 357,000 tweets from 1,438 congressional Twitter accounts. These steps are described in greater detail in the methodology.

Campaigns and Elections; Media

NewsLens 2020: How Americans Process the News

May 26, 2021

A shift toward online news consumption, combined with greater political polarization, has altered the media landscape. As part of its Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation partnered with Gallup to create NewsLens — an experimental platform and news aggregator first developed in 2017 to facilitate novel research on how people interact with the news online in a manner that offers insights to academics, technology policymakers and journalists.In theis report, Gallup examines data gathered through NewsLens during the 2020 presidential campaign to assess how much partisanship influences the way people engage with news content and whether common ground still exists over which stories are considered good journalism.

Campaigns and Elections; Media

Digital Democracy: Accelerating a New Field of Knowledge

January 21, 2021

Knight Foundation's historic $50 million investments in 2019, aimed at accelerating a new field of research at the intersection of technology and democracy, have shown encouraging early signs. This report examines progress among the major research institutions that were funded, considers how the grantees responded under challenging conditions through mid-2020, and details concerns and emerging issues that might be addressed in the coming years. It also details the activities of the Knight Research Network grantees in their initial stages, with primary emphasis on the 11 institutions that were funded in July 2019, although it also makes reference to others that have subsequently been added to the KRN.

Media

Freedom and Accountability: A Transatlantic Framework for Moderating Speech Online

June 16, 2020

The Transatlantic High Level Working Group on Content Moderation Online and Freedom of Expression was formed to identify and encourage adoption of scalable solutions to reduce hate speech, violent extremism, and viral deception online, while protecting freedom of expression and a vibrant global internet. The TWG comprises 28 political leaders, lawyers, academics, representatives of civil society organizations and tech companies, journalists and think tanks from Europe and North America. We reviewed current legislative initiatives to extract best practices, and make concrete and actionable recommendations. The final report reflects views expressed during our discussions and charts a path forward. We did not seek unanimity on every conclusion or recommendation, recognizing that diverse perspectives could not always be reconciled.

Media

Free Expression, Harmful Speech, and Censorship in a Digital World

June 1, 2020

The internet has brought with it seemingly unbridled opportunities for personal expression to mass audiences, thanks to social media apps like Facebook and Twitter and blog sites like Medium. However, with freedom of expression come opportunities for people to share false, offensive, harmful and even injurious content on digital platforms. As more aspects of our lives increasingly move online, we must contend with operating in a digital public square owned by private entities — one where freedom of expression falls not under the purview of the First Amendment, but under emergent standards being shaped by technology companies. Such challenges have taken on an increased urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Americans turning to social media for interaction and information and finding the platforms awash in false claims and conspiracy theories that threaten health.

How States Are Expanding Broadband Access

February 1, 2020

This report from the Pew Charitable Trusts highlights practices for state programs aimed at expanding broadband access to un- and underserved areas.Based on interviews with more than three hundred representatives of state broadband programs, Internet service providers, local governments, and broadband coalitions, the report identified five promising and mutually reinforcing practices: stakeholder outreach and engagement at both the state and local levels; a policy framework with well-defined goals that connects broadband to other policy priorities; planning and capacity building in support of broadband infrastructure projects; funding and operations through grant programs, with an emphasis on accountability and data collection; and program evaluation and evolution to ensure that lessons learned inform the next iteration of goals and activities. The study explores how nine states — California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin — have adapted and implemented different combinations of those practices to close gaps in broadband access.

Media

Sharing the News in a Polarized Congress

December 18, 2017

This report describes findings from an analysis of all Facebook posts issued by members of the 114th and 115th Congresses between Jan. 2, 2015, and July 20, 2017. Researchers collected Facebook posts from members' officialFacebookaccounts using the social media platform's application programming interface (API) for public pages.

Government

The Economics of Crypto-Democracy

August 14, 2017

Democracy is an economic problem of choice constrained by transaction costs and information costs. Society must choose between competing institutional frameworks for the conduct of voting and elections. These decisions are constrained by the technologies and institutions available. Blockchains are a governance technology that reduces the costs of consensus, coordinating information, and monitoring and enforcing contracts. Blockchain could be applied to the voting and electoral process to form a crypto-democracy. Analysed through the Institutional Possibility Frontier framework, we propose that blockchain lowers disorder and dictatorship costs of the voting and electoral process. In addition to efficiency gains, this technological progress has implications for decentralised institutions of voting. One application of crypto-democracy, quadratic voting, is discussed.

Campaigns and Elections

Chat the Vote: How Snapchat, Amazon and Facebook Messenger Reimagined Civic Engagement in the 2016 Election

January 18, 2017

This report examines the ways in which chat platforms -- including Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Kik, LINE, Viber, Amazon Echo and others -- delivered voter information and election news, and helped people register to vote. It also explores the use of chat apps by election candidates, revealing how Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump used these platforms to attract support and encourage turnout. The report provides important lessons for journalists, media companies, technologists, civic leaders and politicians exploring new methods of leveraging technology to inform and reach voters. It also provides an early look at emerging experiments in voter engagement with a view to the future.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation

Journalism in the Service of Democracy: A Summit of Deans, Faculty, Students and Journalists

April 30, 2008

Distills discussions at a January 2008 conference to assess the future of journalism, including topics such as reinventing journalism education, reinvigorating the news environment, and opportunities in new media. Includes highlights of breakout sessions.

Media