Democracy can only thrive with the participation of well-informed citizens. The 2020 U.S. presidential election will be historic for many reasons and all parties are leveraging the power of technology to both influence and mobilize voters. More than ever, digital tools and platforms are shaping the opinions and behaviors of voters who will determine the future of governance of the United States.
A new, free, online course from Stanford Online and Stanford Continuing Studies — How Technology is Shaping Democracy and the 2020 Election — examines the unprecedented influence of technology and technology policy on America’s elections and democratic process and takes a close look at how digital technologies affect the information ecosystem for all citizens, including voting-booth and reporting technologies, online filter bubbles, so-called echo chambers, and content moderation by social media platforms. The course takes stock of the health of U.S. democracy and explores the influence of technology on the United States’ electoral process through the lens of the current election season. It also looks beyond the U.S. election to tech companies and the effect they have on democracies across the globe.
The online course is taught by Stanford Professor Rob Reich, professor of political science in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Marietje Schaake, international policy director at the Cyber Policy Center in Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and international policy fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence.
“We face an unprecedented challenge in administering an election in the midst of a pandemic,” said Reich. “That coupled with our polarized society and entangled relationship with technology place new challenges on the 244-year-old experiment of democracy in the United States, in ways we could not have imagined even a few decades ago.”
Reich is also professor of philosophy at Stanford (by courtesy), the director of the Stanford McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, the Marc and Laura Andreessen Faculty Co-Director for the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and the associate director of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. He is author of the recent book Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better and co-editor of the forthcoming book Digital Technology and Democratic Theory (December 2020). He is the recipient of the Walter J. Gores award, Stanford’s highest honor for teaching, as well as a Stanford Alumni University Fellow in Undergraduate Education.
Schaake, the course’s co-instructor, is one of the leading voices on tech policy in the world. Along with her scholarship at Stanford, she brings international perspective and policy expertise, having served as an elected Dutch representative to the European Parliament between 2009 and 2019, where she focused on trade, foreign affairs and technology policies. Schaake is a contributor to the Financial Times on the intersection of tech and governance, as well as to other publications. Two recent articles shed light on the unchecked influence of technology and the impact of cyber security threats on democracies: "How democracies can claim power back in the digital world "(MIT Technology Review) and "The Lawless Realm: Countering the Real Cyberthreat" (Foreign Affairs).
“Having an informed citizenry and healthy elections are essential for a functioning democracy,” she observed. “This course provides learners the opportunity to consider how technology platforms and their policies are shaping and eroding our ability to maintain a healthy public discourse in the digital age.”
Reich and Schaake, along with a variety of distinguished guest speakers from industry, civil society, and academia, will lead learners on a compelling and relevant educational journey. The course is made possible by a collaboration between Stanford Online (operated by the Stanford Center for Professional Development) and Stanford Continuing Studies, which has an expanded 8-week, fee-based version of the course open for registration through Nov 11. Stanford Online is hosting the short course on Coursera, as part of its community awareness series.