University of Washington lands $5 million to study fake news and misinformation

University of Washington Center for an Informed Public Director Jevin West. (UW Photo / Quinn Russell Brown)

Americans were shocked to learn how misinformation was weaponized during the 2016 presidential race and experts believe it was just the beginning. As foreign adversaries become more sophisticated in this tact, U.S. universities are banding together to study fake news.

The University of Washington announced a $5 million investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Monday that will fund the new Center for an Informed Public. The research initiative is one of five the Knight Foundation is funding across academic institutions.

The Center will study “how and why fake news, misinformation and disinformation are created” according to UW. That includes research, educational efforts, and policy advocacy. The Center will live at the UW Information School. It’s scheduled to open in the fall of 2019

Jevin West will be the Center’s first director. The assistant professor teaches a class called “Calling BS” and co-directs the UW DataLab.

“It’s one of the most important problems of our time that we as a society need to solve,” West said in a statement. “This is not a left or right issue. This is an issue that transcends political boundaries.”

The initiative’s principal investigators include the UW’s Emma Spiro, co-director of the Social Media Lab; Chris Coward, director of the Technology Social Change Group, Ryan Calo, co-director of the Tech Policy Lab; and, Kate Starbird, director of the Emerging Capacities of Mass Participation Lab.

The Hewlett Foundation contributed $600,000 to the Center, in addition to the Knight Foundation Award. Hewlett is spending a total of $10 million to study the impact of disinformation on U.S. democracy and elections.

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