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University of Washington to Create UW Center for an Informed Public

SEATTLE, WA – The University of Washington (UW) has announced a $5-million investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to create the UW Center for an Informed Public, led by an interdisciplinary group whose mission is to resist strategic misinformation, promote an informed society, and strengthen democratic discourse. The Center is also funded by a $600,000 award from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The Center brings together existing areas of excellence at the UW and builds upon the university’s ability to better understand how and why fake news, misinformation, and disinformation are created. The Center will combat what researchers call the “misinformation epidemic.”

“We really see the Center as a university-wide effort,” says Jevin West, principal investigator and inaugural director for the Center. “Misinformation touches everything.”

The UW Center is one of five institutions receiving major investments from the Knight Foundation nationally and is the only recipient in the Western U.S.

“A functioning democracy is an informed democracy,” says Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact. “UW is bringing together leading scholars in computer science, sociology, and law to equip our democracy with the right tools to navigate the digital age.”

The Hewlett Foundation’s support to the UW is part of a $10-million effort announced in 2018 to examine and combat digital disinformation’s impact on U.S. democracy and elections.
Recent decades have seen a profound shift in the ways people, groups, and organizations produce and consume information and participate in public discourse. While many positive advancements have emerged from new technologies and platforms, the new information environments also have opened the door to misinformation, disinformation, and fake news.

“It’s one of the most important problems of our time that we as a society need to solve,” West said. “This is not a left or right issue. This is an issue that transcends political boundaries. Everyone wants to get this right.”
The principal investigators at the Center are a who’s who in this field of research, widely recognized for their respective expertise. In addition to West, co-director of DataLab, who is known for his Information School class “Calling B.S.: Data Reasoning in a Digital World,” there are four researchers who will lead various initiatives for the Center:

  • Emma Spiro, co-director the Social Media Lab, Information School;
  • Chris Coward, director of the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA), Information School;
  • Ryan Calo, co-director of the Tech Policy Lab, School of Law; and,
  • Kate Starbird, director of the Emerging Capacities of Mass Participation Lab (emCOMP), Human Centered Design & Engineering.

The Center will be devoted to educational efforts, research, policy, and community outreach around misinformation and disinformation campaigns. Additionally, researchers will establish a network of Community Labs in public libraries and other institutions to co-create and assess research-based interventions.

Housed within the Information School, the Center for an Informed Public is scheduled to officially open in fall 2019.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.

About the University of Washington
The University of Washington was founded in 1861 and is one of the pre-eminent public higher education and research institutions in the world. The UW has more than 100 members of the National Academies, elite programs in many fields, and annual standing since 1974 among the top five universities in receipt of federal research funding. Learn more at uw.edu.

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