Launched with a $5 million investment from Knight — part of a $50 million commitment by the foundation to support research on technology's impact on American society — and a $5 million matching grant from the Koch Foundation, the center will work to advance understanding of the impact of information and misinformation disseminated through digital channels on American politics. To that end, researchers will examine the production, flow, and influence of social media content in the political sphere and support the use of social media data in the study of politics.
With additional funding from the Siegel Family Endowment, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the center's efforts will complement those of NYU's Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) lab, which was established in 2012 to support research on the impact of social media on politics, the use of social media data to study politics, and the development of open source tools for working with such data. CSMaP will provide the lab with both financial and staff support, including the addition of about a dozen positions. The lab currently is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates, Rita Allen, National Science, Knight, and Hewlett foundations; Intel Corporation, the Democracy Fund, and the Social Science Research Council.
In addition to SMaPP's ongoing support for the study of social media's impact on politics, the center will provide support for inquiries into how social media influences an individual's likelihood of engaging in politics — whether by voting for a candidate they wouldn't have known about in the absence of social media, joining a political organization, or participating in a protest — and how it potentially makes it easier to take part in politics by reducing the cost of acquiring information and eliminating geographic barriers to coordinated political action.
"Our primary research goals are to understand how information spreads both within and across digital platforms in this new information environment, the effect this has on individual political beliefs and behaviors, and how leaders respond to this complex terrain," said Jonathan Nagler, one of the center's three co-directors.
"The future of our democracy depends on a deeper understanding of our transformed information landscape," said Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact Sam Gill. "NYU's new center will help us navigate this uncharted territory, offering insights and solutions for society's most pressing questions in the digital age."