Digital Democracies Institute works to understand and prevent the spreading of fake news

Social media platforms have moved from being lauded as inherently democratic technologies to being condemned as irresponsible media publishers, being targeted as the main source of fake news.

In an attempt to study how this happened and how it can be changed, The Digital Democracies Institute at Simon Fraser University wants to create global partnerships and integrated research in humanities, social, network and data sciences to address questions of equality, justice and democracy dialogue on social media platforms. Their work consist of five intersecting research streams:

-Beyond Verification: Authenticity and the Spread of Mis/Disinformation
Fact-checking is important, but it is not enough. It is also important to understand who creates mis/disinformation and how and why it spreads. The goal is to address the relationship between factuality, trust, authenticity and authority, how and under what circumstances information is deemed “truthful” and deserves to be shared with others and develop methods to counter its spread.

-From Hate to Agonism: Fostering Democratic Exchange Online
Toxic and abusive language, usually mistaken with “freedom of speech”, threatens public dialogue and democracy, which entails conflict, not hate. Even after social media companies have adopted more rigorous regulations in their terms of use, abusive online behavior has risen over the years, leaving governments, social media, and individuals struggling to deal with the consequences. The idea here is to know how can AI be better deployed to foster democracy by integrating freedom of expression, commitments to human rights and multicultural participation.

-Desegregating Network Neighborhoods
Social media is about connecting people who have similar interests. Through time, they became real “echo chambers”, an environment where people only encounter information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own, facilitating fake news circulation and excluding communities from partaking in political dialogues with different groups of people. To prevent this, this project studies different kinds of connection, from opposites to ambivalence, to produce networks that enable us to live in/difference.

-Discriminating Data: Neighbourhoods, Individuals and Proxies
This project investigates the centrality of race, gender, class and sexuality to big data and network analytics unpacking key technical concepts, from correlation to proxies, factor analysis to deep learning. It reveals how these principles often foster acrimony and segregation through their default assumptions and conditions, defaults that amplify the societal and human prejudices that they were developed to combat.

The institute aims to support SFU as a global leader in the field of humanities and data sciences, create new opportunities for faculties, build connections with not-for-profit organizations and expand global collaborations.


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