Technology and Democracy

Enhancement of Democratic Digital Spaces and Technologies

Partnership

This Program is partly supported by the partnership with the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.

Learn more.

Why Technology and Democracy?

While the tech industry thrives, we are also living through a crisis of liberal democracy and trust. Researchers have shown that “trust crisis” is connected to the loss of a “shared reality”, including the ability to agree on basic facts or to argue disagreements civilly. Historian Yuval Harari suggests the crisis of liberal democracy, despite being multifaceted, “appears to be intertwined with current technological developments” and that it will likely worsen. Recently, revelations from the “Facebook whistleblower” Frances Haugen, seem to confirm what many scholars and some technologists have argued for a while: monetization imperatives shape functions and forms of mainstream social networks, which in turn are leading to antidemocratic processes, such as the amplification of hate and disinformation, hyperpolarization, and even anti-scientific theories that have regained followers. Our Technology and Democracy Program aims to nurture a civic-tech movement to bolster democracy in the digital age, respond to anti-democratic processes fueled online such as disinformation and produce actionable knowledge about the impacts of technology for societies.

Program Director Julie Ricard outlines the vision behind the Program in the blog post linked below. 

Data suggests that “distrust has become society’s ‘default emotion’, with 59% of people inclined to ‘distrust until they see evidence something is trustworthy’, which could hamper progress on tackling global challenges, including climate change.”
(WEF, based on Edelman Trust Barometer)

Methods

The work of this Program is carried out in conjunction with the media literacy organization Eureka (non-profit fostering social awareness) and by utilizing mixed-methods research and machine learning-based tools.

Products

Product 1

Infocracy Studies in Global Majority Countries

Product 2

Book and Movie Clubs for Social Change

Product 3

AI-Based Diversity Assessments

Product 4

Transversal
Projects

Infocracy Studies in Global Majority Countries

Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Identifying Intervention Points to Tackle Disinformation in Senegal and Burkina Faso

DPA developed a comprehensive ecosystem approach to address the multifaceted nature of disinformation. Recognizing the need to examine disinformation beyond social media, our methodology considers the interconnected networks of online influencers, traditional media, and groups weaponizing (dis)information for socio-political purposes. We also investigated. the underlying economic, political, and social motivations driving the weaponization of disinformation by powerful groups or individuals, and allowing a narrative to be anchored in society. This approach enabled us to pinpoint the most effective interventions points within the (dis)information cycle in Senegal and Burkina Faso, providing valuable insights and recommendations, particularly concerning the role of bilateral aid agencies such as AFD.

Disarming Disinformation: How Migrants Fall Victim to Disinformation

To fill the information gap brought on by complex migratory processes, poor institutional communication, and lack of trust in authorities, Latin American migrant communities transiting through Mexico on their way to the USA often resort to the use of social media and instant messaging apps. While sometimes a source of helpful information, these are also polluted with disinformation and scams, ranging from alleged “opening” days/hours of Mexico’s northern border, to fallacious legal advice, to false job and visa offerings. In collaboration with Conexión Migrante, VerificadoMX, PolitiFact and The Associated Press, the DPA team investigated the business models that leverage and finance the disinformation that can put migrants’ lives at risk. The investigation was published by multiple media outlets, including our partner Proceso.

Data Collection and Analysis for the “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development Global Report 2021-2022”

DPA worked alongside UNESCO to develop an analytical methodology and data partnerships to monitor and understand the status of press freedom and media development worldwide. DPA collected and analyzed over 150 data sources to produce comprehensive, data-driven evidence on global and regional trends in media freedom, media pluralism, media independence, and safety of journalists, all examined through a gender-sensitive perspective. The results were incorporated into UNESCO’s flagship publication “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development Global Report 2021-2022”.

Using Misinformation as a Political Weapon: COVID-19 and Bolsonaro in Brazil

With over 30,000 confirmed cases, Brazil is currently the country most affected by COVID-19 in Latin America, and ranked 12th worldwide. Despite all evidence, a strong rhetoric undermining risks associated to COVID-19 has been endorsed at the highest levels of the Brazilian government, making President Jair Bolsonaro the leader of the “coronavirus-denial movement”. To support this strategy, different forms of misinformation and disinformation have been leveraged to lead a dangerous crusade against scientific and evidence-based recommendations. The article was published by the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review.

Book and Movie Clubs for Social Change

Book Club: “Counting Femicide by Catherine D’Ignazio”

This Book Club, featured the book “Counting Femicide: Data Feminism in Action” by Catherine D’Ignazio, which documents the creative, intellectual, and emotional labor of data activists across the Americas as they seek to fill the institutional gap in counting femicides and gender-related killings. The Book Club facilitated a safe space for discussion with the author herself during 8 live discussion sessions. Both the events and the by-weekly summaries were available for participants in English, but also in Spanish and Portuguese, thus expanding the reach of the book. This initiative gathered over 500 participants from across the globe, including academics, activists, journalists, policymakers, planners, and citizens interested in Data Feminism, feminicides, gender equality and activism.

If you are interest in joining this project, you can do so by clicking here.

Book and Movie Club: “Technology Through Feminist Lenses”

With the generous support of the Patrick J McGovern Foundation, Data-Pop Alliance and Eureka proudly launched the free Book and Movie Club titled “Technology Through Feminist Lenses.” The club conducted sessions in three languages: English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Throughout its three months, we utilized curated content to explore technology as a lens to discuss intersectional feminist perspectives, race, class, and technology, and visions of our future based on technological advancements. The club gathered over 700 participants and also served as a platform to foster community and establish cross-cultural connections between like-minded individuals passionate about technology, gender equity, and social justice. If you are interested in reading more about the Book and Movie Club’s progress, access the highlights of each month on the Data-Pop Alliance website.

Eureka: A Social Media Platform for Social Change

Eureka is the first book-film club for social change. We are a non-for-profit and non-data extractive social media platform designed for users to find books and films on a particular topic, discuss it with a community and ultimately, inspire engagement and action towards social change. Our goal is to use culture content as an excuse to promote deep dialogue. Our strategy is to prompt “Eureka moments”, which we define as individual revelations that can impact or transform the collective. Eureka’s one-of-a-kind feature is the “thematic cycles”, designed to leverage the vast potential of books and films to trigger deep and transformational thinking, and to build community. Eureka was developed as part of a fellowship supported by the Mozilla Foundation.

Book and Movie Club: “Networks’ Capitalism: Addiction, Disinformation and Violence”

This Book and Movie Club, a joint effort between Eureka and DPA, focused on addiction, disinformation, and violence stemming from social media in the context of Latin America. The Club featured two documentaries, a fiction movie, and a book related to the topic that addressed questions such as, Does monetization imply addition? How is social media used to spread hatred and violence? What is surveillance capitalism, and how does it relate to the business model of Internet platforms? The Club concluded with a panel discussion led by Paula Villarreal (Data Scientist & Full Stack Engineer), Matías González (Observatorio Legislativo del CELE), and Julie Ricard (Eureka Founder), and moderated by Ivette Yáñez (DPA).

AI-Based Diversity Assessments

Assessing Representation and Diversity in Movies and Books at Scale (Upcoming in Eureka Platform)

An intrinsic aspect of Eureka’s motivation is to promote and give visibility to local, national and regional content, in particular that of women, people of color and Indigenous people. This effort has a double objective: a) to promote representation and give visibility to voices that are unfortunately still marginalized, and b) to challenge dominant narratives based on content closer to local realities. Given the structural inequalities in both the publishing and cinema industry, we know that by default, people predominantly consume content produced by white men (and do so without realizing it). The first step is to make this systematically visible, so it can be taken into account in people’s choice. To do so, we are designing a “diverse representation notation” to be assigned to every book and movie listed in the platform, specifically in terms of authorship (i.e. female, male, non-binary, trans, other) and content (i.e. percentage of female vs. male dialogues). These notations will be based on how authors self-identify, and will be designed with the ability to become more complex in order to include new categories as needed.

 

 

Transversal Projects

The Patrick J. McGovern Grant

The Patrick J. McGovern Foundation granted $400,000 to DPA to support key projects. For the Technology and Democracy Program, this grant funded our “Infocracy Studies,” which aimed to address the implications of Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) on the democratic process. Additionally, the grant enabled us to organize a Book and Movie Club that attracted over 700 participants worldwide. This club fostered essential discussions on the future amidst the AI revolution, viewed through an intersectional and feminist lens.