Inside the Meter

PolitiFact, Poynter to partner with George Washington University on data integrity and democracy

A new research institute at the George Washington University will partner with the Poynter Institute and PolitiFact to fight the rise of distorted and misleading information online, working to educate policymakers and journalists on strategies to grapple with the threat to democracy posed by digital propaganda and deception.

The Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics (IDDP) will be a research hub for tracking the spread of distorted information online, sharing research and hosting events on combating disinformation. IDDP is supported by a $5 million investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

The new institute aims to better understand the misinformation landscape of the 2020 elections and how to effectively correct false information with fact-checking journalism. Researchers at the IDDP will span the fields of political communication, journalism, physics, international affairs, computer science and engineering.

"Our nation’s political discourse, our media, and most importantly our democracy, depend on facts," GW President Thomas LeBlanc said. "With generous support from Knight Foundation, this new institute leverages GW’s strengths convening interdisciplinary teams and using data and research to solve complex challenges facing our nation and world."

The Poynter Institute has longstanding training programs for journalists, while PolitiFact, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is the largest political fact-checking news organization in the United States.

"Disinformation campaigns are a direct threat to democracy ,and so by helping train journalists and through our fact-checking expertise, the Poynter Institute stands ready to support GW's vital new initiative," Poynter President Neil Brown said.

"PolitiFact is excited to collaborate with the institute to strengthen our fact-checking journalism during a time of heightened political partisanship, increasingly complex digital disinformation and a shrinking number of local journalists," said Angie Drobnic Holan, PolitiFact Editor. "At the heart of our fact-checking journalism is a belief in the importance of providing citizens access to the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy. This collaboration will strengthen our work by providing analytical insights and groundbreaking research on effective fact-checking interventions."

Steven Livingston, professor of media and public affairs and of international affairs at the university, will be the inaugural director of the institute. 

"It will allow us to consolidate the efforts of GW’s world-class scholars who share a passion for data-driven research that benefits the well-being of the nation and world," Livingston said.

Livingston spearheaded the grant process with Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs.

Sesno said the institute "reflects the belief that cross-disciplinary research can help us better understand these trends. That knowledge can catalyze action to support fact-based information and democracy itself."

Funding for GW’s new institute is part of the Knight Foundation’s investment of nearly $50 million to institutions across the country to develop a new field of research around technology’s impact on democracy. Five new centers will be funded by the investment, each reflecting different approaches to studying the future of democracy in a digital age.

"The digital spread of misinformation is an unprecedented threat to American democracy," Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact, said. "GW’s new center will enable us to better understand – and tackle – misinformation and other threats to democracy in the digital age."