Resetting the internet for democracy

When we established Luminate, it provided us with a rare opportunity to reflect not only on our mission and strategy but also on the new and different ways we could operate, support our partners, and maximise the impact of our resources.

This year, as we approach the midpoint in our first four-year strategic plan, I am pleased that we have used our creativity to act on these reflections in very practical ways. We remain committed to taking a flexible approach to funding, ensuring it is unrestricted wherever possible. We are also taking a more comprehensive and consistent approach to the non-financial support that we provide to our partners. 

Alongside the strengthening of these important approaches, we are exploring new levers for impact such as storytelling and strategic litigation. We are taking stronger positions; advocating more directly for the issues and policies that underpin our work and that of our partners; and we are playing a more operational role in seeding, incubating, and launching new initiatives and organisations, which complement the work of our partners, fill gaps, and help advance nascent areas of work.

Where we take a more operational approach, we do so in partnership both with the organisations directly working on the issues, and with new and existing funders in order to expand and accelerate the work. Our work with Open Government Partnership, Open Data Charter, Digital Action, Velocidad, and Baraza Media Lab are just a few examples of the different ways in which we have collaborated and ideated with others to set up important new initiatives and organisations.

To that end, I am pleased to announce that we are launching a new operational initiative in partnership with the Sandler Foundation to grow and accelerate the policy and advocacy work we have been undertaking to tackle digital threats to democracy. Reset is born out of our Data & Digital Rights impact area and is a natural extension of our work on addressing how technologies – once heralded as liberators – are being abused by power and impacting our rights. Significant progress in this area - including direct advocacy with the Canadian government; operational experiments to reduce the influence of disinformation during election campaigns; and digital literacy programmes in Colombia and Canada - led to a new partnership with the Sander Foundation which will bring greater funding, expertise and advocacy to this critical area of work. Reset will be run by Luminate and led by Ben Scott.

Reset will focus on addressing the urgent crisis of how Big Tech companies – data aggregators, social platforms and online media – expose the internet to unprecedented levels of hate speech, disinformation and polarisation. It will both make grants and work alongside partners - governments, funders, civil society organisations, and technologists - on policy development and advocacy, research, technology projects and civic engagement to ensure these companies work for democracy rather than against it.

Luminate’s Data and Digital Rights work remains focused on ensuring the rights of people and communities in the design and use of data and technology. The team will continue to be engaged in the important social issues around technological change, with a focus on open data, privacy and automated decision-making in a variety of thematic areas such as social and economic justice, government surveillance and public sector use of AI, using levers such as litigation, advocacy, storytelling and new frameworks for rights-based governance.

Reset is focused on the public sphere and the intersection between the Internet and democracy.

Reset will also be closely linked to Luminate’s Independent Media impact area because it will support policies that promote and support public service journalism, fact-checking, and broader public literacy about the role of media in democracy.

Reset will also collaborate closely with our colleagues within The Omidyar Group, including programmes at Omidyar Network and Democracy Fund that share areas of focus. 

The mandate for Reset couldn’t come at a better time. Our democracies are under threat from the mis-use of the internet. But if we act now, we believe we can reset the rules and standards that shape how we experience the internet so it can once again be celebrated for enabling democratic movements, sparking collaboration, empowering the disadvantaged, and giving access to all human knowledge to anyone with a smartphone. We’re excited to see this work grow over the coming months.

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