More than $3.5 million from the Knight Foundation will go towards funding research into the public debate surrounding Internet policy and governance, the organization announced this week

The grants, which are part of a larger $50 million funding effort aimed at researching the ways technology is transforming democracy, will be dispersed amongst nearly two dozen nonprofits, universities and think tanks. They were chosen through an ongoing open funding opportunity provided by the media giant.  

The research efforts were spurred in part by the myriad investigations into tech companies by congressional committees and federal agencies, and are aimed at a host of different topics, including anti-trust issues with tech companies and content moderation by social media platforms.

While the research is aimed at creating potential federal regulatory frameworks, it may well end up having implications for state policy as well. Federal policy — as has been seen with issues like net neutrality — can create a jumping-off point from which states seek to articulate their own policies. In others areas, it can have a trickle-down effect. At the same time, it can also create standards that states seek to distance themselves from.

“These issues are moving faster than we can evaluate and analyze them,” said Sam Gill, the Knight Foundation’s vice president, in a statement. “We need to close the knowledge gap, if our society is going to make smart decisions about how to ensure technology strengthens democracy rather than weakening it. Knight is investing in and supporting this research to ensure that a diverse range of views and a body of real evidence informs urgent policy debates. How we answer the questions of today will shape the American democracy of tomorrow.” 

The investments will go to a variety of organizations and policy areas.

The American Enterprise Institute, for instance, will use the $400,000 to create an Internet governance project focused on policy development; meanwhile, the Utah State University Center for Growth and Opportunity will deploy $250,000 toward modeling experimental economics as a lens to understand how content moderation is affecting consumer behavior. The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University will use $250,000 to study online disinformation. 

The research is aimed at “near term application,” meaning we could see policies with the potential for realization sooner rather than later. 

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