Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy: Announcing Summit From the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and The Atlantic

President Barack Obama and Nobel Prize–winning journalist Maria Ressa among featured interviews for event, happening April 6–8 in Chicago.

Images of Barack Obama and Maria Ressa with Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy event art between them
Ian Forsyth / Getty; Joel Saget / AFP / Getty; The Atlantic

With democracies across the globe under assault, and as the world turns its attention to Russia’s war on Ukraine, the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and The Atlantic announced today that they will jointly host Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy, a three-day conference exploring the organized spread of disinformation and strategies to respond to it.

President Barack Obama; Nobel Prize–winning journalist Maria Ressa; Christopher Krebs, a former Department of Homeland Security director focused on cybersecurity; and journalists, including Atlantic staff writer Anne Applebaum, Ben Smith, and Kara Swisher of The New York Times, will join global experts and policy makers April 6–8 in Chicago to discuss the growing threat disinformation poses to democracies in a highly polarized digital age.

The conference is free to attend, and in-person and virtual registration is now open. Sessions will be streamed live for virtual audiences. To request a press credential, please contact the press leads below.

Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy will explore the roots and scope of the problem, the threats posed by new technological advances, and the tools and policies required to neutralize them. Panels will also discuss the challenge presented when the term disinformation itself becomes fractious, and the tension between free expression and the need to combat wanton and willful disinformation.

“Disinformation and conspiracy theories, turbocharged and micro-targeted by the new tools social media and big data provide, are a clear and present danger to democracies,” said David Axelrod, director of the Institute of Politics. “They have become weapons with which to foment mistrust in our institutions, sow division and even political violence. But combatting them is a complex challenge. We hope over these three days to not only shine a light on the problem but also potential solutions.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic, says the magazine’s partnership in this conference is part of a major commitment he and his journalists are making at a crucial juncture in our history.

“Disinformation causes a great deal of stress on otherwise functioning democracies, and The Atlantic’s preoccupation, for 165 years, has been the state of American democracy, and the state of the democratic idea worldwide. Our conference will focus on the weaponization of disinformation and the competing definitions of disinformation itself. We look forward to bringing together, with David Axelrod’s IOP, a top-tier group of experts, policy makers, journalists, and politicians to analyze this important phenomenon,” said Goldberg.

The conference will be organized around a series of keynotes, panel discussions, and breakout sessions. Among them:

  • A conversation with President Barack Obama, moderated by Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic

  • A conversation with Nobel Prize–winning journalist Maria Ressa, moderated by Adrienne LaFrance, executive editor of The Atlantic

  • What Happens When We Can’t Tell What’s Real, featuring Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy

  • Defending Free Speech in the Mobile Internet Age, featuring Mary McCord, Georgetown Law, and Geoffrey Stone, professor of law at the University of Chicago

  • Imagining a Better Social Media, featuring Ethan Zuckerman, professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst

  • Targeted by Lies: How Disinformation Spurs Political Violence, with Christopher Krebs, partner, Krebs Stamos Group; former director, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)

Please visit https://www.disinfo2022.com for more information. A full agenda and list of speakers will be released in the coming weeks.

About the University of Chicago Institute of Politics
Created in 2013 by University of Chicago alumnus David Axelrod (AB’76), the nonpartisan Institute of Politics is committed to fostering in our students a passion for public service, meaningful dialogue and active engagement in our democracy.

About The Atlantic
Since 1857, The Atlantic has been a magazine of ideas—a home to the best writers and boldest minds, who bring clarity and original thinking to the most important issues of our time. Through our journalism, we aim to help our readers better understand the world and its possibilities, as they navigate the complexities of daily life. Record audiences and numbers of subscribers have turned to The Atlantic’s exacting coverage of the pandemic, of threats to global democracy, and of a national reckoning on race. Jeffrey Goldberg is The Atlantic’s editor in chief; Nick Thompson is the CEO. The Atlantic was named the 2021 Magazine of the Year by Adweek.

Press Contacts
Anna Bross | The Atlantic
SVP, Communications

Koran Addo | Institute of Politics
Communications Director