For years, David Lazer has been studying the ways technology shapes Democracy in the United States. It’s not looking good—political polarization is on the rise, trust in the media is down, and the inequalities in income and wealth are more drastic than they’ve been in at least the last 40 years, he’s found.
But Lazer, University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Computer and Information Sciences, sees the challenges as opportunities for change.
To engage a constituency that is increasingly entrenched in one political camp or another, and that is being served up information based on algorithms rather than by traditional, trustworthy news sources, Lazer suggests politicians meet with citizens in online town hall-style meetings. His recommendation is based on a series of experiments he and two other researchers describe in a new book called Politics with the People: Building a Directly Representative Democracy.
To stop the spread of fake news, social media companies may need to limit how frequently its users are allowed to post, he says. In a study that was published earlier this year, Lazer found that 0.1 percent of users shared 80 percent of the fake news that circulated on Twitter.
For this work, Lazer was recently named a 2019 Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, an organization created by Congress to provide nonpartisan expert advice for building more effective, efficient, accountable, and transparent organizations within government.
“It’s very exciting,” Lazer said. “It’s an affirmation both of the work I’m doing and the contemporary application of that work.”
Lazer, who is also the founding co-director of the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks at Northeastern, says he expects he’ll be asked to join “various projects” related to technology and Democracy for the academy.
“I am very pleased to welcome David Lazer to the 2019 class of Fellows,” said Terry Gerton, who is president and chief executive officer of the National Academy of Public Administration. “Our Fellows are nationally recognized for their expertise and contributions to the field of public administration, and David is no exception.”
Lazer is one of 51 people inducted into the academy this year. A formal ceremony will take place in Arlington, Virginia, in November.