The Internet and Engaged Citizenship. American Academy of Arts & Sciences. David Karpf. October 2019.
The Internet is everywhere. Years ago, it was limited to desktop computers, synonymous with the static and whir of a connecting modem. Today it is in our pockets, on our wrists, in our household appliances, and on the multitude of screens that we interact with daily. The old dividing line between online and offline has dissolved, taking with it simplistic comparisons between online and offline civic and political behavior. Questions regarding the state of engaged citizenship in the United States in 2019 inevitably become tied up with digital media, because digital media are now baked into how we learn about public affairs, voice our opinions, argue with our neighbors, and build political power. Civic participation, political polarization, public misinformation, and public accountability all have a digital element to them.
Is the Internet hurting or helping civic engagement and political participation? Who does it empower, and who does it disenfranchise? Is it leaving the public better or worse informed? Is it damaging media and political institutions, or promoting innovation and renewal? Despite decades of scholarship on the Internet and civic engagement, we have arrived at surprisingly few stable findings. Two limiting factors—the pace of Internet time and the proprietary data gap—have repeatedly gotten in the way.
This paper discusses these two limitations, and then details five thematic areas that touch on major trends in the state of knowledge within the field. The purpose of the paper is to make clear how the medium has changed over the decades, to highlight how today’s Internet in civic life differs from the civic Internet of decades’ past, and to capture the key puzzles that will drive research in the near future. [Note: contains copyrighted material].
[PDF format, 40 pages].
Fighting Disinformation Online: A Database of Web Tools. RAND Corporation. Jennifer Kavanagh, Hilary Reininger, Norah Griffin. November 12, 2019
The rise of the internet and the advent of social media have fundamentally changed the information ecosystem, giving the public direct access to more information than ever before. But it’s often nearly impossible to distinguish between accurate information and low-quality or false content. This means that disinformation — false or intentionally misleading information that aims to achieve an economic or political goal — can become rampant, spreading further and faster online than it ever could in another format.
As part of its Truth Decay initiative, RAND is responding to this urgent problem. Researchers identified and characterized the universe of online tools developed by nonprofits and civil society organizations to target online disinformation. The tools in this database are aimed at helping information consumers, researchers, and journalists navigate today’s challenging information environment. Researchers identified and characterized each tool on a number of dimensions, including the type of tool, the underlying technology, and the delivery format.
The Emerging Risk of Virtual Societal Warfare: Social Manipulation in a Changing Information Environment. RAND Corporation. Michael J. Mazarr et al. October 9, 2019.
The evolution of advanced information environments is rapidly creating a new category of possible cyberaggression that involves efforts to manipulate or disrupt the information foundations of the effective functioning of economic and social systems. RAND researchers are calling this growing threat virtual societal warfare in an analysis of its characteristics and implications for the future.
To understand the risk of virtual societal warfare, the authors surveyed evidence in a range of categories to sketch out some initial contours of how these techniques might evolve in the future. They grounded the assessment in (1) detailed research on trends in the changing character of the information environment in the United States and other advanced democracies; (2) the insights of social science research on attitudes and beliefs; and (3) developments in relevant emerging technologies that bear on the practices of hostile social manipulation and its more elaborate and dangerous cousin, virtual societal warfare. The authors then provide three scenarios for how social manipulation could affect advanced societies over the next decade. [Note: contains copyrighted material].
[PDF format, 215 pages].
Will America Embrace National Service? Brookings Institution. John Bridgeland and John J. DiIulio. October 10, 2019
America’s civic health is in significant decline. The
percentage of Americans who say others can be trusted fell from 46 percent in
1972 to just 31 percent in 2016, with 36 percent of Whites and 17 percent of
Blacks expressing such trust; and, in recent years, trust in the media,
government, and the courts has fallen to historic lows.1 It is no surprise that
communities are fraying in places like Charlottesville, Ferguson and Baltimore,
and that America is not fulfilling its potential, as political institutions
suffer from partisan gridlock, and the institutions that serve as checks on
power and as guarantors of individual rights are increasingly under
One powerful idea to rebuild our civic bridges is universal
national service—an expectation and opportunity that young people as they come
of age perform a year or more of military or civilian national service. Such
service would bring young people from different backgrounds, income levels,
races, ethnicities, and areas of the country together in shared experiences to
solve public challenges as they form their attitudes and habits early in life.
Many would discover that they are leaders—the kind of leaders who could work
across differences to get things done. There would be other positive effects.
This paper examines the case for national service,
highlights the various ways in which that service could unfold, and concludes
that large-scale national service is needed in America now. [Note: contains copyrighted
[PDF format, 36 pages].
European Public Opinion Three Decades After the Fall of Communism. Pew Research Center. Richard Wike et al. October 15, 2019.
Most embrace democracy and the EU,
but many worry about the political and economic future
Thirty years ago, a wave of optimism
swept across Europe as walls and regimes fell, and long-oppressed publics
embraced open societies, open markets and a more united Europe. Three decades
later, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that few people in the former
Eastern Bloc regret the monumental changes of 1989-1991. Yet, neither are they
entirely content with their current political or economic circumstances.
Indeed, like their Western European counterparts, substantial shares of Central
and Eastern European citizens worry about the future on issues like inequality
and the functioning of their political systems. [Note: contains copyrighted material].
[PDF format, 189 pages].
Hostile Social Manipulation: Present Realities and Emerging Trends. RAND Corporation. Michael J. Mazarr et al. September 4, 2019.
The role of information warfare in global strategic
competition has become much more apparent in recent years. Today’s
practitioners of what this report’s authors term hostile social manipulation
employ targeted social media campaigns, sophisticated forgeries, cyberbullying
and harassment of individuals, distribution of rumors and conspiracy theories,
and other tools and approaches to cause damage to the target state. These
emerging tools and techniques represent a potentially significant threat to
U.S. and allied national interests. This report represents an effort to better
define and understand the challenge by focusing on the activities of the two
leading authors of such techniques — Russia and China. The authors conduct a
detailed assessment of available evidence of Russian and Chinese social
manipulation efforts, the doctrines and strategies behind such efforts, and
evidence of their potential effectiveness. RAND analysts reviewed English-,
Russian-, and Chinese-language sources; examined national security strategies
and policies and military doctrines; surveyed existing public-source evidence
of Russian and Chinese activities; and assessed multiple categories of evidence
of effectiveness of Russian activities in Europe, including public opinion
data, evidence on the trends in support of political parties and movements
sympathetic to Russia, and data from national defense policies. The authors
find a growing commitment to tools of social manipulation by leading U.S.
competitors. The findings in this report are sufficient to suggest that the
U.S. government should take several immediate steps, including developing a
more formal and concrete framework for understanding the issue and funding
additional research to understand the scope of the challenge. [Note: contains copyrighted material].
[PDF format, 302 pages].
Inequality as a Multidimensional Process. Daedalus: Journal. Summer 2019.
Rising inequality is one of our most pressing social
concerns. And it is not simply that some are advantaged while others are not,
but that structures of inequality are self-reinforcing and cumulative; they
become durable. The societal arrangements that in the past have produced more
equal economic outcomes and social opportunities – such as expanded mass
education, access to social citizenship and its benefits, and wealth
redistribution – have often been attenuated and supplanted by processes that
are instead inequality-inducing. This issue of Dædalus draws on a wide
range of expertise to better understand and examine how economic conditions are
linked, across time and levels of analysis, to other social, psychological,
political, and cultural processes that can either counteract or reinforce
durable inequalities. [Note: contains copyrighted
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