Information Inequalities and Public Policy (2024-2025)


Phenomena such as institutional racism, political polarization and political extremism are driven in part by how people produce, share and consume information. Information inequalities are disparities related to the structure, accessibility and output of our information ecosystem, and they are wide-ranging and interconnected. 

Examples of information inequalities include the digital divide — a persistent phenomenon involving disparities in internet access and associated training/skills that can fall along racial, economic or geographic lines; news deserts — which research has shown are, in part, a function of the racial and economic characteristics of individual communities; disinformation divides — in which communities of color and foreign language communities are disproportionately targeted with election and health-related disinformation; the public discourse divide — in which people of color are less able to participate in public policy debates within and across communities because of limited access to information; news production divides — in which news producers tailor outputs to appeal to a predominately white and affluent audience; and biases in algorithmic and AI systems — which include gaps and biases in the underlying data reinforce existing institutional biases. 

Given the power of information in shaping society, a more holistic understanding of information inequalities and how public policymaking can address them is both timely and important.

Project Description

This project team will conduct a comprehensive inventory and analysis of information inequalities, both domestically and internationally, with the goal of creating a descriptive framework that classifies the various information inequalities in terms of criteria such as underlying causes; social, political and economic impacts; and types of policy interventions to date. 

In the fall, team members will begin by gaining a shared understanding of what is meant by the concept of information inequalities and its relationship to the broader concept of structural inequality. They will then begin creating an inventory of information inequalities. 

Team members will work with partner organizations to identify high-priority information inequalities and then break into subteams around individual information inequalities, with each subteam conducting a comprehensive literature review associated with that information inequality.

The team will also conduct a field experiment that will involve recruiting participants (from several sources) to receive regularly emailed newsletters with headlines and links to news articles for an extended period of time, and will track both direct consumption (clicks, email opens) and learning over the course of the experiment (through incentivized quiz surveys). 

In the spring, subteams will conduct an in-depth policy analysis related to their selected information inequality. This analysis will include gathering and analyzing primary policy documents; analyzing and critiquing past/current policy interventions; collaborating with partner organizations to develop potential solutions; and creating proposals for alternative policy interventions. Subteams’ analyses can be focused on a particular national context or engage in cross-national comparative analysis.

Anticipated Outputs

Case studies; papers and manuscripts for publication

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this team will include 6 graduate students and 6 undergraduate students interested in public policy, journalism, media, African and African American studies, inequalities studies, information science, economics, political science and/or sociology.

Team members will break into two-person subteams. They will work together to collaboratively identify a research topic, conduct a comprehensive literature review, design and deliver research updates and presentations, conduct policy-oriented data gathering using sources such as legislative and agency documents, court decisions and government and civil society reports, analyze open-ended response data from their field experiment, and write and edit academic and policy-oriented research reports.

All students will develop primary and secondary data gathering and analysis skills, as well as research presentation skills. They will learn a substantial amount about the range of information inequalities that characterize the contemporary information landscape (both within the U.S. and internationally). They will also learn about the role that public policy has played — and could play — in addressing these inequalities. Students will learn to analyze existing polices and policy proposals and identify areas of potential policy intervention. Students may also have opportunities to develop content analysis skills with both quantitative and qualitative approaches. 

In Fall 2024, the team will meet on Fridays from 2-3:30 p.m.


Fall 2024 – Spring 2025

  • Fall 2024: Complete orientation on information inequalities and why they matter; conduct exploratory research and self-select into subteams; complete seminar with external partners to discuss priorities and interests; begin literature reviews; work on field experiment
  • Spring 2025: Present proposed case studies; conduct policy case study research; integrate literature reviews with case studies; produce information inequality book chapters


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters

See earlier related team, Social Provision of Information for Effective Democratic Citizens (2022-2023).


Team Leaders

  • Stephen Buckley, Sanford School of Public Policy-DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy
  • Philip Napoli, Sanford School of Public Policy-DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy
  • Kenneth Rogerson, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Asa Royal, Sanford School of Public Policy-DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy
  • Andrew Trexler, Public Policy and Political Science–Ph.D. Student