We are pleased to announce that our project has been awarded a 2017 Democracy Award by the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
Every year the NDI recognizes organizations that have demonstrated a deep and abiding commitment to democracy and human rights. This year, NDI will honor the Oxford Internet Institute and the Project on Computational Propaganda for its research on the front lines of fighting the global challenge of disinformation and false news.
Project PI Phil Howard travelled to DC to accept the award last week. This is the first time that a University has won the award.
Last night the National Democratic Institute (NDI) awarded its 2017 Democracy Award to three organizations at the forefront of the battle to combat disinformation at its annual Democracy Award Dinner in Washington, D.C. Entitled Disinformation vs. Democracy: Fighting for Facts, the evening’s discussion explored the threat of disinformation to democracy around the world.
While press coverage on disinformation has focused on Russian interference in the U.S. elections, the problem of disinformation is global in scale. Disinformation poisons democratic discourse, often making it difficult for citizens to distinguish between truth and fiction, or between genuine and manufactured social media conversations.
“In recent years, democracy’s enemies have become adept at polluting [social media] platforms with rumors, disinformation and anti-democratic propaganda. This has led some of the same people who once heralded the birth of the social media age to wonder whether democracy can survive it,” said NDI Chairman Madeleine Albright during her remarks. “Online discourse is becoming central to how people form their political identities, but the way information is transmitted is not often understood, nor is it entirely transparent – and that means it can be manipulated.”
The sense that democracy has a real adversary in propagators of disinformation was prominent in each speaker’s remarks throughout the evening. In his keynote address, Senator Chris Murphy stressed this global threat and warned that a military response alone would no longer keep the enemies of democracy in check. “It’s the nonmilitary challenges to the world order that mount by the day… attackers still want to hit us,” said the senator from Connecticut. “The major offensive actions that have been mounted against [democracies] in the past decade have largely come through the militarization of information and the ability to do damage to us and our allies through technology.”
In early 2017, the Oxford Internet Institute’s (OII) Project on Computational Propaganda issued a groundbreaking study on the use of social media and computational propaganda to manipulate public opinion. Dr. Philip N. Howard, who accepted the award on behalf of OII, is the Principal Investigator for the Computational Propaganda Project. He warned, above all, that the threat of disinformation is largely in front of us, not behind us, but that overregulation of political speech is not the answer. “There is a foreign interest in creating confusion through campaigns of manipulation,” said Howard. However, “instead of censorship, we must find more ways to produce good, free political speech.”
Read the full announcement on the NDI website.