A Strong Voice for Democracy: Cynthia Miller-Idriss

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People can learn to recognise propaganda and disinformation and defend themselves against them. Of this the political scientist Miller-Idriss is convinced. In the Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab (PERIL) at the American University in Washington, D.C, Miller-Idriss and her team develop, amongst other things, videos that explain the mechanisms of conspiracy stories. Scary music, colours and images that trigger fear and discomfort, but also rhetoric and specific key words designed to manipulate could be identified more easily, says Miller-Idriss, if you know what to look out for. She calls this concept “video-based inoculation.” Videos like this can be disseminated on social media platforms but also on public or semi-public screens and digital advertising billboards, such as on public transport.

In her research, Miller-Idriss also employs an interdisciplinary approach and international perspectives. In her role as Creative Lead of the Humboldt Residency Programme, she gathered together 15 experts in the fields of research, art, and journalism to elaborate new ideas on the topic of social cohesion. Sharing ideas with colleagues in the Humboldt Network and the public in Berlin had expanded her perspective on social cohesion yet further – especially with regard to equalising tendencies. Too much homogeneity could be dangerous. “Social cohesion must incorporate minorities without wanting to force them to assimilate,” the researcher emphasises.

Miller-Idriss’s ideas and expertise are highly valued outside of academia, too. She regularly addresses the US Congress and informs politicians, educational institutions, the security and secret services in the United States and other countries as well as the United Nations about new extremist developments and potential prevention strategies. As recently as September 2022, Miller-Idriss was invited to the White House to give an expert presentation at the United We Stand Summit, initiated by President Joe Biden, to fight hate crime.

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