CU Denver Faculty Collaborate to Study Strengths and Weaknesses of Global Democracies
Professor Chris Weible and members of his Grand Challenge project team.

CU Denver Faculty Collaborate to Study Strengths and Weaknesses of Global Democracies

February 29, 2024

Professor Chris Weible headshot

If the last presidential election is like the one coming in 2024, expect to see a lot of disinformation—something that is impacting democratic elections across the world. Deepfakes on social media that use artificial intelligence appearing to show candidates saying things they never said. Bots spreading falsehoods on social media. Foreign governments interfering in elections.

“Part of our democracy is anchored around the free flow of information to maintain an educated citizenry,” said Professor Chris Weible, PhD, with the School of Public Affairs (SPA). “When you have the emergence of these echo chambers in the virtual space, getting information that has not been manipulated becomes a challenging issue.”

Weible and a team of fellow CU Denver researchers aim to shine light on threats to global democracies and provide solutions to some of society’s most pressing problems thanks to award funding from CU Denver’s Research Grand Challenges initiative. “As democracies collapse, so do their foundational mores,” Weible said in the grant proposal, “including respect and human dignity, protection of rights and liberties, engagement and fair treatment of political opponents, and safeguards for marginalized populations.”

Weible is the grant’s principal investigator and head of SPA’s Building Democratic Communities (BDC) program. Among BDC’s charges is to organize public seminars that bring experts to CU Denver’s campus to talk about the evolution—and potential weak spots—of democracy.

Recently, SPA programs, including the BDC and Herrick Roth Community Seminar Series, brought U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, to campus to talk about ways to regulate privacy, artificial intelligence, and social media in the digital age to protect national security. “I’m deeply worried about the fragility of our democracy,” Bennet told the Terrace Room audience on Dec. 1, 2023.

In March 2023, BDC helped organize a campus event featuring Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, where he talked about his pro-democracy newspaper that is no longer allowed to circulate in Russia.

The BDC has assembled 33 faculty members from 12 academic units to tackle six areas of research: global democracies, disinformation, climate change/resilience, joy in self-governing, public safety, and computational modeling democracy. Their goals include:

  • Developing community-based research to support disadvantaged communities’ political activities to help achieve their policy goals.
  • Creating a computational simulation system that enables defining and implementing various models of “democracy” to explore and compare their performances in terms of efficiency, social justice and stability.
  • Building a new online master’s degree in Global Studies, with collaboration from four academic units.

The grant opportunity has gathered faculty from Political Science to Landscape Architecture to Computer Science and Engineering. “It is bringing faculty together with a shared commitment to democracy,” Weible said. “I do believe that these relationships will endure even beyond the funding that we receive. I think it’s going to be the foundation for success for this university into the future.”

And the team intends to stay busy after the Grand Challenge grant ends. They are using the grant’s seed money to brainstorm interdisciplinary proposals with an eye toward large National Science Foundation grants in areas that include climate change and disinformation.