Technology and Democracy
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.
(WEF, based on Edelman Trust Barometer)
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.
Cycles on Eureka
AI-Based Diversity Assessments
Infocracy Studies in Global Majority Countries
The mains goals of this project were to 1) improve the understanding of the anatomy of disinformation campaigns in two West African countries, in order to: 2) identify the most relevant intervention points within the life cycle of disinformation per country and provide actionable recommendations.
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”.
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.
Awareness-Raising Cycles on Eureka
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.
This Thematic Cycle, a joint effort between Eureka and DPA, focused on addiction, disinformation, and violence stemming from social media in the context of Latin America. The Cycle 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 Cycle 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
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.
The Patrick J McGovern Foundation granted DPA, which for the Technology and Democracy Program will support our “Infocracy studies”, aiming to tackle the implications of Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) for the democratic process. In particular, it will allow us to conduct studies in major Latin-American countries holding elections in 2024, i.e. Mexico and Brazil. Additionally, it will help us engage the public in much needed discussions about what the future holds in the midst of the infodemics and data revolution, from an intersectional and feminist perspective.