While disinformation, affective polarization, and anti-democratic behavior have always existed, the growing scale of these problems, aided in part by the evolving Internet landscape, poses novel threats to democracy. It is our belief that as our reliance on digital technologies grows, we become increasingly susceptible to the first two issues, which in the most extreme cases can lead to the third. While we may never be able to fully combat the existence and spread of malign information, we do believe that understanding factors that make humans increasingly susceptible will empower us to devise policies and technical solutions to foster a more resilient democratic society.
The Digital Cognition and Democracy Initiative (DCDI) seeks to answer this key question: How are digital technologies affecting our cognitive capabilities in a way that makes us more susceptible to these threats? We are exploring the underpinnings of this susceptibility by examining the different interactions between digital technologies and human cognition, identifying the source of that vulnerability, and conceiving of potential mitigation strategies.
This initiative grew out of our 2019-2020 Future Digital Threats to Democracy (FDTD) project, a collaboration with the Center for a New American Security. A key underlying principle we identified was digital technology’s effects on human cognition as a growing threat to democracy. This foundational body of work led us to launch DCDI, to dig deeper into this key issue.
DCDI is a multifaceted initiative that brings together a global coalition of neuroscientists, doctors, technologists and academics to clearly diagnose the core drivers of these threats. Our goal is to help governments, private companies, and civil society understand this threat so we can devise plans, policies and technologies to bolster our resilience.
For additional information about how DCDI is investigating these issues, please see Yaël Eisenstat and Leah Walker’s blog on the topic.