Technology and the 2020 Election: How Silicon Valley Technologies Impact Our Elections and Shape Our Democracy

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Course Details

Live meetings will also be attended by Stanford undergraduates, graduate students, and Continuing Studies students. In addition to attending the weekly online lectures, our high school students are invited to attend two additional class meetings. These discussions, which are tailored for high school students, will further explore foundational civics topics.
Live Online Lectures
September 23–November 11, 2020
(8) Wednesdays, 5:30–7:00 pm PT
Supplemental Class Meetings
Time: 5:30–6:30 pm PT

Dates: October 29 and November 12
Grade Level
Grades 9–12

Registration Now Closed

Registration closed on Friday, September 18. Thank you for your interest in this course! To receive information about future opportunities with Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies, please join our mailing list.

Course Description

The 2020 US presidential election season will be historic, taking place amid a global pandemic, an upended economy, mass protests, and extreme polarization. While these crises grab the headlines, another force will quietly but no less inexorably shape this coming election: the digital tools and platforms born right here in Silicon Valley. With the help of expert guests, this course will examine the unprecedented influence of technology on America’s democratic process, revealing how an array of digital technologies will affect the election: technologies of the voting booth and reporting results; online filter bubbles, echo chambers, and polarization; amplification and content moderation of political candidates; online political advertising and microtargeting; manipulation, misinformation, and disinformation; the US in global perspective; and tech policy approaches.

This course will seek to draw lessons and insights about the legitimate and illegitimate uses of technology in the 2020 election and take stock of the health of American democracy. We will also explore questions about a tech policy agenda in a Trump or Biden administration. By the end of the course, students will have a deeper appreciation for the multifaceted ways in which Silicon Valley technologies shape American political life and, through their global reach, democratic societies everywhere. We will also consider how these forces can be better managed, if not harnessed, for the public good.

Confirmed Guest Speakers

  • Joan Donovan, Research Director, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Evelyn Douek, Lecturer on Law and Doctoral Candidate, Harvard Law School
  • Tiana Epps-Johnson, Founder and Executive Director, Center for Technology and Civic Life
  • Camille Francois, Research Affiliate, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Harvard; Chief Innovation Officer, Graphika
  • Ryan Heath, Senior Editor, POLITICO
  • David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • Lina Khan, Associate Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
  • Anja Manuel, Principal at Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel, LLC
  • Michael McFaul, Director, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor of International Studies, Department of Political Science, Stanford; Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford
  • Roger McNamee, Author of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe
  • Nathaniel Persily, Co-Director, Stanford Cyber Policy Center; James B. McClatchy Professor of Law, Stanford; Former Senior Research Director for the Bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration
  • Nick Pickles, Global Head, Public Policy Strategy and Development, Twitter
  • Matt Rivitz, Founder, Sleeping Giants
  • Alex Stamos, Director, Stanford Internet Observatory; Former Chief Security Officer, Facebook
  • Joshua Tucker, Professor of Politics, NYU
  • Heidi Tworek, Associate Professor of History and Public Policy, University of British Columbia
  • Shoshana Zuboff, Author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism; Professor Emerita, Harvard Business School

Course Instructors

Rob Reich
Professor of Political Science and, by courtesy, Professor of Philosophy and of Education, Stanford

Rob Reich is the director of the Center for Ethics in Society and an associate director of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. His most recent book is Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better.

Marietje Schaake
International Policy Director, Cyber Policy Center; International Policy Fellow, Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, Stanford

Marietje Schaake is the president of the CyberPeace Institute. From 2009 through 2019 Schaake was a Member of European Parliament for the Dutch Liberal Democratic Party where she focused on trade, foreign affairs, and technology policies. As a member of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, and founder of the European Parliament Intergroup on the European Digital Agenda, Schaake develops solutions to strengthen the rule of law online, including initiating the net neutrality law now in effect throughout Europe.