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Re-engaging Civic Organizations for Democracy in the Age of Disruptive Social Media (REENGAGE)

October, 2022 - October, 2023
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Lead researchers
Research areas

This interdisciplinary research initiative explores how civic organizations can be re-engaged for strengthening democracy in the age of disruptive social media. Social media is crucial for civic publics, and over the past ten years this environment had become increasingly hostile and divisive, with social bots and automated accounts initiating more than half of all communications. This research will contribute to a broader understanding of how civic organizations and activists can regain their voice, how they can secure the trust of key constituents – now largely disillusioned by polarization, misinformation and hate-speech on social media –, and how civic groups can activate and re-energize a fragmented audience. We will collect large datasets describing the dynamics of interactions among activists when they are confronted by social bots, we will chart sentiment and topics in communications at varying intensity of divisive content in the social media environment, and we will explore possible strategies of resistance that activists can deploy against automated divisive content. This research will help academics, activists, and policymakers to understand risks in AI solutions to suppress freedom of speech and how the far-right in particular has leveraged this technology for political gain, as well as to determine frameworks of action to mitigate such threats to the democratic potential of civic activism.