Digital Democracies Group at Simon Fraser University

The Digital Democracies Group (DDG), established through Dr. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s Canada 150 Research Chair, integrates research in the humanities, social sciences, and data sciences to address questions of equality and democratic dialog. The long-term goal is to combat the proliferation of online “echo chambers,” abusive language, and discriminatory algorithms by creating alternative data literacies and paradigms for connection—from analyses of fake news and its historical evolution to applications that will transform hostile social media exchanges into productive dialogues.

When the Internet first emerged as a mass medium in the mid-1990s, it was touted as the technological solution to the world’s most pressing political problems: from racism to capitalist exploitation; from citizen apathy to media monopolies. Two decades later, the picture could not be more different. Today, the Internet is blamed for the: (1) rise of cyberbullying, extremist groups, hate speech, and global disinformation networks that undermine the results of local elections; (2) fragmentation of the national public sphere into a series of echo chambers that foster conspiracy theories and general mistrust of public institutions; (3) world-wide surveillance systems that compromise user privacy and rights and that regularly experiment on them via personalized social media platforms; and (4) establishment of mega-corporations, such as Amazon, that have decimated small businesses. It has fueled machine learning algorithms, which have been shown to amplify inequalities in hiring policies, policing, and education1. The question now debated is not “how can the Internet save democracy?” but “can democracy survive the Internet?2”.

Working with the many centres of excellence at SFU and engaging the community, the group will develop the coalitions across disciplines, schools, industry and the public necessary to produce innovative approaches to digital democracy.

 

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1. O’Neil C. 2016. Weapons of Math Destruction, Crown, New York, USA.

2. Persily N. 2017. The 2016 US Election: Can Democracy Survive…? J Democr 28.2:63-76.