The Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has announced a commitment of nearly $50 million in support of research aimed at better understanding how technology is transforming U.S. democracy.
The funding will support research at eleven U.S. universities and research institutions, including five new centers of study focused on different approaches to understanding the future of democracy in the digital age. Investments of $5 million each will establish the Center for Informed Democracy and Social Cyber-Security at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh; the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; the Center for Social Media and Politics at New York University in New York City; the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington in Seattle.
In addition, the foundation will invest nearly $14 million in six existing centers — the Data & Society Research Institute ($3 million) in New York City; Indiana University's Observatory on Social Media ($3 million); Stanford University's Project on Democracy and the Internet ($2 million); the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin ($2.5 million); the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal at the University of Wisconsin – Madison ($1 million); and the Project on Governing the Digital Public Sphere ($2 million) and the Thurman Arnold Project ($200,000), both at Yale University.
The foundation also will dedicate $11 million to supporting policy and legal research on related issues, including Internet governance and the implications of technology for democracy. To that end, the foundation has launched a funding opportunity for policy and legal research focused on the norms, rights, and responsibilities that should govern social media and technology companies.
"We're living the most profound change in how we communicate with each other since Gutenberg invented the printing press," said Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen. "The Internet has changed our lives and is changing our democracy. We have to take a step back and a step forward. To understand what is actually happening, we need independent research and insights based on data, not emotion and invective. To go forward, citizens must be engaged, and including university communities in the debate is a step in that direction."