Cybersecurity for Democracy is a research-based, nonpartisan, and independent effort to expose online threats to our social fabric – and recommend how to counter them. We are part of the Center for Cybersecurity at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.
We use traditional cybersecurity methods to evaluate vulnerabilities of online platforms that are used to spread misinformation. Our focus is on systems, revealing the ways that online sites leave themselves open to misinformation attacks. We then develop mitigation strategies to improve online security, working with advocates, policy makers, and platforms.
We focus on democracy because online platforms–such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube–have proven vulnerable to misinformation aimed at weakening democratic norms. There is nothing new about misinformation, dirty tricks, and voter suppression in the history of democracy. But as political campaigns – like much of the rest of public life – have moved online, so have tactics to mislead the public. Solutions must be tuned to the ways platforms work in the real world, with algorithmic amplification and micro-targeted content.
We champion data transparency and standardization so we can effectively audit online platforms. We provide data we collect to researchers and journalists investigating online misinformation. Our default is open source whenever possible: we make data and code available for others to use and replicate.
This project was formerly known as the Online Political Transparency Project.
Damon McCoy is an associate professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering. He received his Ph.D., MS, and BS in Computer Science from the University of Colorado, Boulder. McCoy is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award, former CRA/CCC Computer Innovation Fellow, IEEE Security and Privacy best practical paper award, and ACM MobiSys best paper award.
Laura Edelson is a postdoctoral researcher in Computer Science at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. Laura studies online political communication and develops methods to identify inauthentic content and activity. Her research has powered reporting on social media ad spending in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic. Prior to her current time in academia, Laura was a software engineer for Palantir and Factset. During her time in industry, she focused on applied machine learning and big data.
Austin Botelho is a research engineer with the Cybersecurity for Democracy team at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. He developed a specialty in online harm detection using machine learning through previous work at Anti-Defamation League and research at the Oxford Internet Institute and The Alan Turing Institute.
Bruno Coelho is a Computer Science Ph.D. Candidate at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. He is interested in developing theory and practice around using artificial intelligence (AI) for social good. This means working on research projects ranging from creating a smart insect trap designed to detect dengue-carrying Aedes mosquitos to analyzing illegal timber transport on the Amazon rainforest. His current research focus is multilingual Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques applied to Spanish-language political ads. Bruno also enjoys teaching and entering data science competitions.
Diego Groisman is a research scientist. He previously worked as a Spanish-language contract attorney. Before law school he advocated on behalf of non-profit organizations including the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund and the National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials in Washington, D.C. He received his BA in Political Science and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis and his JD from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Groisman will be leading the project's strategy to expand Spanish-language analysis and engagement with Spanish-speaking communities.
C4D engineer Daniel Hosterman is a self-taught data engineer and documentary photographer based in North Carolina. Though he cut his teeth working for commercial real estate startups, his primary focus is combatting extremism and hate, in pursuit of which he has worked for such organizations as the Southern Povery Law Center, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the ADL. In his spare time, he writes software for community defense and mutual aid projects.
Mya Peterson, an intern for C4D, is an undergraduate student at New York University majoring in politics with a minor in data science. She has previously worked as a research assistant for NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics on projects focused on gendered media attacks and the spread of disinformation on social networks.
William Pietri, director of engineering, who is based in San Francisco, has a long track record as a software developer and engineering manager. Over the years he has worked at or consulted for a variety of mission-oriented organizations (including Code for America, Kiva, and Mozilla) and for-profit companies (including Capital One and Twitter). Most recently he lead the tech side of the Anti-Defamation League's Online Hate Index, which used ML models to classify hate speech on a large scale.
Dylan Tingley, based in Brooklyn, is a writer and researcher serving as the program administrator for Cybersecurity for Democracy at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. He studies the impact of platform capitalism on political discourse and alternatives to neoliberal development in the United States. He has previously worked for the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the London School of Economics. He holds a BA in Political Economy from Tulane University and an MSc in Human Geography & Urban Studies from the London School of Economics.
Nancy Watzman is director of Lynx LLC, based in Denver, Colorado. She is a strategist specializing in developing and managing collaborations and partnerships to support journalists, technologists, and researchers in countering online dis- and mis-information, conducting investigations, and increasing newsroom sustainability. She is former director of and remains an advisor to the Colorado Media Project. She has written for numerous publications, including The Washington Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, and The Nation.
Democracy Fund works toward an open and just democracy that is resilient in the face of change and worthy of the American people’s trust. We support partners and ideas from across the political spectrum in pursuit of a vibrant and diverse public square, free and fair elections, effective and accountable government, and a just and inclusive society.
Media Democracy Fund is a catalyst for an open, secure and equitable internet. We bring together diverse voices to design inclusive and responsible solutions, and empower public interest advocates to create an environment where digital technologies and the internet have a long-term, positive impact on society.
Privacy and Ethics
Independence. We don't take funding from platforms like Facebook or Google.
Privacy. We do not collect or use personally-identifying information in our projects, including Ad Observatory and Ad Observer, or track cookies on our websites. (We do allow website visitors to share their name and email address with us for communications, such as our mailing list.)
Openness. We aim to publish most of our data and code publicly on Github, so others can use it — and check our work. (There are some exceptions, particularly around code that could be exploited by adversaries.)
Collaboration. We work with journalists, civil society groups and researchers because different disciplines have different strengths.