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The goal of this book is to synthesize the existing research on social media and democracy. We present reviews of the literature on disinformation, polarization, echo chambers, hate speech, bots, political advertising, and new media. In addition, we
canvass the literature on reform proposals to address the widely perceived threats to
democracy. We seek to examine the current state of knowledge on social media and
democracy, to identify the many knowledge gaps and obstacles to research in this area,
and to chart a course for future research. We hope to advocate for this new field of
study and to suggest that universities, foundations, private firms, and governments
should commit to funding and supporting this research.
Responding to an environment of panic surrounding social media’s effect on democracy, regulators and other political actors are rushing to fill the policy void with proposals based on anecdote and folk wisdom emerging from whatever is the most recent scandal. The need for real-time production of rigorous, policy-relevant scientific research on the effects of new technology on political communication has never been more urgent. This book represents a clarion call for making social media data available for research, with results concomitantly released in the public domain, even while recognizing the importance of privacy and the business interests of the firms. We hope this concluding chapter, as well as the entire volume, can be helpful in providing a path to do so.
Over the last five years, widespread concern about the effects of social media on democracy has led to an explosion in research from different disciplines and corners of academia. This book is the first of its kind to take stock of this emerging multi-disciplinary field by synthesizing what we know, identifying what we do not know and obstacles to future research, and charting a course for the future inquiry. Chapters by leading scholars cover major topics – from disinformation to hate speech to political advertising – and situate recent developments in the context of key policy questions. In addition, the book canvasses existing reform proposals in order to address widely perceived threats that social media poses to democracy. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
The mission of the social sciences is to understand and ameliorate society’s greatest challenges. The data held by private companies, collected for different purposes, hold vast potential to further this mission. Yet, because of consumer privacy, trade secrets, proprietary content, and political sensitivities, these datasets are often inaccessible to scholars. We propose a novel organizational model to address these problems. We also report on the first partnership under this model, to study the incendiary issues surrounding the impact of social media on elections and democracy: Facebook provides (privacy-preserving) data access; eight ideologically and substantively diverse charitable foundations provide initial funding; an organization of academics we created, Social Science One, leads the project; and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard and the Social Science Research Council provide logistical help.
The topic of political polarization dominates discussions of contemporary American politics. Commentators may mean different things by the term, but widespread agreement exists that much of the dysfunction in the U.S. political system can be blamed on or explained by polarization. The coarseness of our political discourse, the ideological distance between opposing partisans, and most of all, an inability to pass much-needed and widely supported policies all stem from the polarization in our politics.
This volume assembles several of the nation's top analysts of polarization in American politics. However, unlike the many other volumes written on this subject, this book focuses on solutions to polarization. As such, it necessarily takes these authors, who more often analyze causes and consequences than propose remedies, out of their comfort zone. Debunking conventional wisdom and warning of unintended consequences tend to be more valuable coins in the realm of political science. The professional risks usually exceed the rewards of sticking out one's neck to suggest, with admittedly incomplete information, reforms that might address the most serious policy challenges of the day. We are, therefore, very thankful for the Hewlett Foundation, which helped alter the cost-benefit calculus and supported a conference that produced the chapters for this volume.
The proposals are intentionally brief, readable, and at times, tentative. But each suggests a direction for the country to address the widely maligned claim of polarization in our politics. They range from the mundane (e.g., tweaks to campaign finance laws) to the overly ambitious (e.g., compulsory voting, proportional representation, elimination of primary elections). Recognizing that the U.S. separation-of-powers system is uniquely threatened by polarization, several authors suggest (sometimes fancifully) constitutional change. However, most of the proposals take the basics of our constitutional structure as a given. Still, much can be done short of a constitutional amendment or convention to address the many facets of America's polarization problem.
Political polarization dominates discussions of contemporary American politics. Despite widespread agreement that the dysfunction in the political system can be attributed to political polarization, commentators cannot come to a consensus on what that means. The coarseness of our political discourse, the ideological distance between opposing partisans, and, most of all, an inability to pass much-needed and widely supported policies all stem from the polarization in our politics. This volume assembles several top analysts of American politics to focus on solutions to polarization. The proposals range from constitutional change to good-government reforms to measures to strengthen political parties. Each tackles one or more aspects of America's polarization problem. This book begins a serious dialogue about reform proposals to address the obstacles that polarization poses for contemporary governance.