Past Event

Collaboratory: Is Social Media Undermining Democracy?

December 9, 2020
9:30 AM - 11:00 AM


  • Lee C. Bollinger - President of Columbia University
  • Jameel Jaffer - Executive Director of the Knight Institute
  • Alondra Nelson - President, Social Science Research Council
  • Emily Bell - Founding Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School


The scandal of political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica’s dubious manipulation of Facebook accounts and data to influence several elections worldwide is well reported and widely known. More recently, documentaries have chronicled how social media feeds tend to reinforce a user’s own views, often distorting ideas about the world, ourselves, and each other – at the expense of objective truth. And most recently, the US presidential elections have provided a stark account of a very divided and polarized society, with many entrenched voters and politicians refusing to compromise in their views.

In this webinar, we will discuss the following:

  • Powerful social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have been more proactive in blocking posts that they deem to be lacking in truth or purposely spreading disinformation, but is this enough?
  • Where does their civic duty lie, and does it infringe on the people’s right to freedom of speech?
  • Social networking’s most dangerous human impact is that it can create more polarization, generating increasingly less room for debate and constructive discussions, which threatens our social fabric and democracy itself. How can society ensure that social media is kept moored to democratic values, is used to promote and defend truth, and helps us respect differences to reach compromise?