Professor Graham Smith, Professor of Politics in the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster, is part of a $2 million collaborative research programme investigating how to improve the quality of debates on online news comments platforms.

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The University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute, together with the John Templeton Foundation, is sponsoring the research with a $2m fellowship grant to support innovative projects that will explore the broken landscape of public discourse and aim to create enduring strategies to promote open-minded debates. The Westminster project has been allocated $225K.

This program includes ten interdisciplinary research projects, from across the world, focusing on two key features of democracy: intellectual humility and conviction of belief. Each project will investigate how networks and institutions, meant to connect us, may be pushing people apart.

Over two years, ten individual projects will explore different questions aimed at improving and revitalising public discourse as well as promoting humility at individual and institutional levels.

Westminster’s Professor Graham Smith, Principal Investigator of the Scholio research project, will examine the question: “Can online news comments sections be designed to promote intellectually humble discourse?” 

Professor Smith will be working with Professor Michael Morrell from the University of Connecticut, and Dr Paolo Spada from the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

Professor Graham Smith explains: ‘We are delighted to have been funded by the University of Connecticut to investigate how dysfunctional behaviour on digital comments platforms can be ameliorated. The Scholio project will be undertaking large scale experiments with novel online platforms that visualise arguments and differences of opinion in innovative ways. The expectation is that they will support more reasonable and considerate interactions between participants. But that’s to be tested! Our research has obvious potential impact on the way that media organisations engage their readers, as well as broader lessons for digital democracy.”

Find out more about this project on the University of Connecticut’s Humanities institute official website

Find out more about the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster

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