Giving Compass' Take:

• Sam Gill explains that the Knight Foundation is dedicating nearly $50 million to learn how to best support democracy in the digital age. 

• How can other funders support this field of study? 

• Learn about strengthing democracy through trust

Important questions are being discussed on Capitol Hill and in coffee shops: How do people access information online and assess its veracity? Are we trapped in a series of online “echo chambers,” losing our capacity to communicate across differences? What is the prevalence and influence of misinformation? How do digital marketplaces operate, where services are free at the cost of personal data? Do the algorithms that govern social media drive us toward more ever sensational content to maximize engagement?

Despite the frenetic intensity of these conversations, we’re drowning in conventional wisdom when what we need is basic knowledge about the ways in which digital communication is altering the mechanisms of our democracy and the underlying fabric of our society.

The absence of good ideas, backed by sound knowledge, is palpable. The major social media companies have offered potential reforms in fits and starts, sometimes changing course from one day to the next. Elected officials have publicly demonstrated, most significantly through last year’s hearings featuring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, that they are at the very beginning of a steep learning curve to understand this technology and the businesses that sustain it.

Outrage married with ignorance cannot bolster our democracy. Elected officials and executives are rushing into the breach without the sound knowledge needed to inform their proposals. The questions are new, and therefore our old doctrines are not up to the task. It’s as if we’re off the map and flying by instrument.

“The absence of good ideas, backed by sound knowledge, is palpable.”
Solutions are needed, but they must be driven and supported by new ideas, new evidence and new knowledge. This is why Knight is announcing nearly $50 million to help support an emerging field of research around how society is informed in the digital age.

This investment is intended to support the development of knowledge about how digital technology has transformed the conditions of an informed society, and to provide recommendations for improving our ability to produce, distribute and consume reliable, trustworthy information. It includes two distinct approaches.

Read the full article about democracy in the digital age by Sam Gill at Medium.