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 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 assistant 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 PhD Candidate 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.
Jeremy B. Merrill is data journalism lead for the Facebook Ad Observatory. He is a reporter and a coder with a special interest in how ad-tech and algorithmic infrastructure is exploited for scams, shady political tactics and corporate sleight-of-hand about who’s doing what. He is fascinated by the possibilities of using machine learning techniques to enable investigative journalism using large datasets. The subject of one such investigation, where ML tools helped journalists search a large, multilingual corpus of leaked documents by (an approximation of) their meaning, was so incredulous of the combined power of reporters and computers that she tweeted: “715 thousand documents read? Who believes that?” Jeremy has previously written for Quartz, ProPublica and The New York Times.
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. Her current projects include the Local News Fellowship with First Draft News. She is also apprenticing with her children, who give her insight into the workings of TikTok, Instagram, various subReddits, and other sources of online information used by teens.
Paul Duke is a software engineer. They received their Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Georgia. Paul previously worked as a Software Engineer at Google, and was fired after organizing for workers’ right to know what they are working on and how their work is being used, as well as advocating for improved working conditions for temps, vendors, and contractors.
Rebecca Rivers is a research engineer. She received her Bachelor's and Master's of Computer Science at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Rebecca's Master's thesis focused on Hyper-Heuristics and Genetic programming. Rebecca previously worked as a Software Engineer at Google, and was fired after organizing for workers’ right to know what they are working on and how their work is being used, as well as advocating for improved working conditions for temps, vendors, and contractors.
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.