Democracy is changing, not least in digital spaces. We mustn’t passively standby but get active.

In our project “Upgrade Democracy”, we build bridges between diverse, international actors and disseminate solutions that successfully counter disinformation in their respective contexts and/or innovatively use digital tools to strengthen democracy.

Democracies around the world are under pressure. Targeted disinformation campaigns by anti-democratic forces are igniting and fueling polarization, radicalization and discord. Their dangerous goal is to destabilize Western democracies and expand their own sphere of power.

Disinformation is not a new phenomenon, but new dimensions and dynamics are unfolding in digital public spheres. Disinformation campaigns cater to the functional logic of social media: The more emotional, controversial, or pointed statements are, the faster posts and comments spread across major social platforms, amplified by their algorithms, which are optimised for clicks and reactions. We observe rising numbers of users and a trend towards more and more people getting their information on social platforms, which further increases the potential damage of digital disinformation campaigns.

It is essential that we are prepared to deal with digital disinformation and that we take measures that protect and strengthen democratic, liberal processes. In a nutshell: Democracy needs an upgrade.

All of us (politics, society, media, academia), must ensure that democracy is equipped to meet the challenges of digital public spaces. At the same time, we must ensure that democratic states and their citizens also reap the opportunities that digitisation presents. Our team assesses these challenges and opportunities. In continuous exchange with experts and partners, our team assesses these challenges and opportunities. Together, we are developing constructive and innovative solutions and proposals for how to regulate platforms, how to design and create alternative, future digital spaces as well as ideas on how to hold pace with technological trends.

On top of our proposals, we are also implementing practical ideas. Currently, we are engaged with three practical projects:

  • Data Knowledge Hub: A central hub for scientists, journalists, and activists, who are keen to learn, expand, and share their skills on monitoring social media platforms.
  • Faktenstark: This cooperation with the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung and codetekt is piloting a variety of activites in Saxony, geared towards raising public awareness of disinformation, supporting amplifiers in educational settings, and strengthening the media and information literacy of citizens.
  • Forum gegen Fakes: A large-scale, digital participation project stewarded by our colleagues at New Democracy, which aims to sensitise citizens for the impacts of disinformation at scale and to develop proposals to be considered by the German Federal Government in its Counter-Disinformation-Strategy.

This is us

Cathleen Berger

Cathleen Berger

Co-Lead

Cathleen Berger’s professional experience spans across sectors: academia, government, non-profit, corporate, and start-up. Her work and research focus on the intersection of digital technologies, sustainability, and social impact. She currently works with the Bertelsmann Stiftung as Co-Lead for Upgrade Democracy as well as the Reinhard Mohn Prize 2024 and Senior Expert on future technologies and sustainability. In addition, she occasionally advises and works with social purpose companies and organisations on their climate and social impact strategies.

Previously, she directed the B Corporation certification process of a pre-seed climate tech start-up, launched and headed up Mozilla’s environmental sustainability programme, worked within the International Cyber Policy Coordination Staff at the German Foreign Office, as a consultant with Global Partners Digital, a research assistant at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), and a visiting lecturer at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

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Co-Lead

Charlotte Freihse

Charlotte Freihse

Project Manager

Charlotte Freihse is a project manager in the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Upgrade Democracy project, where she focuses primarily on platform governance and disinformation, as well as the impact of digital technologies on public opinion-forming and discourse. Before joining the foundation, she was a freelancer in the newsroom of Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR). In parallel, she was a research assistant in the European research project NETHATE and developed a categorization system for intervention measures against online hate speech with the University of Jena and Das NETTZ. Charlotte holds a Master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies with a focus on digital technologies in conflicts as well as peace processes. 

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Project Manager

Dominik Hierlemann

Dominik Hierlemann

Senior Advisor

Dominik Hierlemann is a Senior Advisor at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, co-heads the Democracy & Cohesion program and is a member of the foundation’s management committee. He has been working on European democracy and new forms of civic participation for two decades. He has designed, organized and facilitated pioneering citizen participation projects in cooperation with the German Chancellery, the Office of the Federal President and the European Commission.  

Dominik studied public policy at the University of Konstanz and at the Institut d’études politiques in Aix-en-Provence, France. He researched and worked for several years in Krakow, Poland, and in Sydney, Australia. There he taught at the University of Sydney and the International College of Management. One of his recent publications is “Under Construction. Citizen Participation in the EU” Under Construction (bertelsmann-stiftung.de) 

Profile: Mitarbeiter:innen (bertelsmann-stiftung.de) 

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Senior Advisor

Jutta Pohl

Jutta Pohl

Project Assistant

Jutta started to support the Upgrade Democracy project in the Democracy & Cohesion program in October 2022. Her present position as Project Assistant holds the responsibilities connected with the administrative and organizational functions ensuring effective office management in day-to-day business. In addition, she is also responsible for the organization of events in the context of the project.

Jutta graduated as a European Secretary from the Academy for Management Assistants in Lippstadt. She gained professional experience in various companies in the music industry, including positions as Assistant to the Artist & Repertoire Manager, Secretary to the Managing Director, as well as in Music Studio Management. In August 2000 she joined the Bertelsmann Stiftung, where she has since then taken on tasks as Project as well as Program Assistant.

Project Assistant

Dr. Joachim Rother

Dr. Joachim Rother

Project Manager

Dr. Joachim Rother is Project Manager in the Upgrade Democracy Team at Bertelsmann Stiftung and responsible for the Reinhard Mohn Award 2024. Prior to this position, Joachim was in charge of the Israel portfolio of Bertelsmann Stiftung, where he focused on fostering the German-Israeli relationship on a cultural, economic and political level. Joachim studied History, English and Social Studies at the University of Bamberg and holds a PhD in Crusade Studies. Prior to his work at Bertelsmann Stiftung, he served as deputy director of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation (KAS) in Jerusalem, Israel. Joachim is alumnus of the KAS PhD scholarship program, The German Historical Institute (GHI) in Washington D.C. and of the Jerusalem Institute of the Goerres Gesellschaft. 

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Project Manager

Susen Schildmann-Knaak

Susen Schildmann-Knaak

Reinhard Mohn Preis Office

Susen Schildmann-Knaak is the Project Assistant of the Reinhard Mohn Prize Office. Currently she works for the project “Upgrade Democracy”, Program “Democracy and Cohesion” of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. With the Reinhard Mohn Prize, the Bertelsmann Stiftung honors individuals and initiatives that have made an outstanding contribution to pioneering solutions to social and political challenges. The award is based on a worldwide search for innovative concepts and exemplary approaches to solving challenges that are crucial to the future viability of Germany and Europe. 

The Bertelsmann Stiftung has established the Reinhard Mohn Prize Office to support the Reinhard Mohn Prize. The position is permanent in order to ensure the transfer of knowledge and experience between the various Reinhard Mohn Prizes. 

Susen Schildmann-Knaak is a legal and notary secetary, state-certified business economist (AWS/FH Hamburg), graduate management assistant Bad Harzburg Academy and many more.
She has been working for the Bertelsmann Group since 2002. 

Reinhard Mohn Preis Office

Julia Tegeler

Julia Tegeler

Project Manager

Julia Tegeler is a project manager in the Program “Democracy and Cohesion” of the Bertelsmann Foundation. In the project “Upgrade Democracy” she deals with the question of how democratic discourse can be strengthened in the digital space. She is working with civil society partners to make a practical contribution to better dealing with disinformation on the web as part of a model project. Previously, Julia Tegeler has implemented various projects for the Bertelsmann Stiftung since 2012 on values and democracy education and on strengthening social cohesion – including “TeamUp! Living Values Together,” “Young Europeans’ Forum 2019” and “Making Stendal Better.” Here, she gained particular experience in the implementation, transfer and scaling of model projects. Before working at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, she worked as a project manager for the quality of studies and teaching at Bielefeld University, as higher education policy referent at the State Rectors’ Conference of Universities of Applied Sciences in North Rhine-Westphalia, and a teaching assistant in the Philosophy Department at Bielefeld University. Julia Tegeler studied at Bielefeld University and University of Adelaide and holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy and German Studies. 

Project Manager

Dr. Kai Unzicker

Dr. Kai Unzicker

Co-Lead

Dr. Kai Unzicker is a senior project manager in Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Democracy and Cohesion program. He is co-leader of the Upgrade Democracy project, which focuses on the opportunities and risks of digitization for democracy. Previously, he has developed the “Social Cohesion Radar” for the Bertelsmann Stiftung since 2011. In numerous studies, he has examined societal changes in an international comparison, in Germany, and at the regional and local level. He frequently speaks in the media or at events on the topics of cohesion, trust, justice and solidarity, and, more recently, disinformation. He is one of the spokespersons for the “Alliance for Social Cohesion,” an alliance of several foundations whose work focuses in different ways on strengthening cohesion in Germany. In 2018, he was responsible for the Reinhard Mohn Prize on the topic of “Living diversity – shaping society” as project manager. From 2004 to 2011, he was a researcher at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at Bielefeld University. Kai Unzicker studied sociology, psychology and philosophy at the Philipps University of Marburg from 1998 to 2004.   

Further information, including publications and projects, can be found on the Bertelsmann Stiftung website: Profile of Dr. Kai Unzicker 

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Co-Lead

Georgia Langton

Georgia Langton

Junior Projektmanagerin

Georgia Langton works in the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Upgrade Democracy team as a junior project manager. Previously, she supported the Recharging Advocacy for Rights in Europe (RARE) project organised by the Hertie School and the Hungarian and Netherlands Helsinki Committees for Human Rights as an assistant. In 2021, Georgia graduated from the Philipps University Marburg with a Bachelor’s degree in Media Studies. Additionally, she is studying a Master of International Affairs at the Hertie School, specialising in Human Rights and Global Governance. In addition to the areas of migration and asylum policy, she is particularly interested in fighting disinformation. 

Junior Projektmanagerin

Martin Hullin

Martin Hullin

Director

His main responsibilities include developing innovative approaches at national and international level, the public representation of the program and its projects, and contributing empirical evidence and case studies to relevant decision-making processes.

Previously, he was the co-founder and Deputy Executive Director of the Datasphere Initiative and the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network in Paris, France.

Before building thematic expert networks in the field of international digital and data policy, Hullin was responsible for formalizing a leading global renewable energy network and worked as a consultant for the United Nations Environment Programme and GIZ.

Director

Guest authors

Vincent Hofmann

Vincent Hofmann

Alexander von Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft

Vincent Hofmann ist seit Juni 2021 als wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am HIIG tätig. Er arbeitet an dem Projekt „Ethik der Digitalisierung“.

Vincent Hofmann studierte Rechtswissenschaft an der Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main(gefördert durch das „Deutschlandstipendium“) mit dem Schwerpunkt Internationalisierung und Europäisierung des Rechts. Sein Forschungsinteresse liegt im Bereich der Plattformregulierung.

Neben dem Studium produzierte er den wöchentlichen Podcast „Wer will was von wem woraus“, in welchem er für Studierende Inhalte und Probleme des Jurastudiums behandelte.

Alexander von Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft

Anushree Majumdar

Anushree Majumdar

Digital Narratives Studio, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Anushree Majumdar is a journalist, editor and researcher based in New Delhi. She is currently working with the Digital Narratives Studio at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Digital Narratives Studio, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Matthias C. Kettemann

Matthias C. Kettemann

Alexander von Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft

Prof. Dr. Matthias C. Kettemann, LL.M. (Harvard) hat die Professur für Innovation, Theorie und Philosophie des Rechts am Institut für Theorie und Zukunft des Rechts der Universität Innsbruck inne. Am Humboldt-Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft (HIIG) leitet er die Forschungsgruppe „Globaler Konstitutionalismus und das Internet“, das Forschungsprojekt „Völkerrecht des Netzes“ und „Plattform://Demokratie“.

Am Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung  | Hans-Bredow-Institut leitet er das Forschungsprogramm  “Regelungsstrukturen und Regelbildung in digitalen Kommunikationsräumen” . Sein Team beschäftigt sich mit den Regeln, unter denen in digitalen Kommunikationsräumen und besonders in sozialen Netzwerken neue Foren und Praktiken der gesellschaftlichen Verständigung und Selbstvergewisserung entstehen.

Nach Studien der Rechtswissenschaften in Graz, Genf und als Fulbright und Boas-Stipendiat an der Harvard School promoviert er mit einer Arbeit zur Rechtsstellung des Individuums im Völkerrecht. 2014 wurde er als Postdoktorand an das Exzellenzcluster „Die Herausbildung normativer Ordnungen“ der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt gerufen, wo er sich bei Prof. Kadelbach und Prof. Vesting am Institut für Öffentliches Recht der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main mit einer Arbeit zur normativen Ordnung des Internets habilitierte und die Lehrbefugnis für Völkerrecht, Internetrecht und Rechtstheorie erhielt. Nach Vertretungen in Heidelberg und Jena folgte er im Herbst 2021 dem Ruf nach Innsbruck.

Matthias C. Kettemann ist auch Co-Head of Section, „International Law and the Internet“ am Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht; und Mitglied des Vorstands und Forschungsgruppenleiter für „Platform and Content Governance“ am Sustainable Computing Lab, Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien. Er war mehrfach als Sachverständiger für digitales Recht im Bundestag und hat u.a. den Europarat, die UNESCO und die OSZE beraten.  

Alexander von Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft

Virginia Kirst

Virginia Kirst

Freie Journalistin

Ich arbeite als freie Journalistin zwischen Rom und Hamburg. Meine Spezialität ist, die römische Politik zu entwirren und zu zeigen, welche Folgen sie haben wird – für Berlin, Bern, Brüssel und Wien. Als Auslandskorrespondentin schreibe ich Analysen, Berichte, Interviews und Reportagen für Zeitungen, Magazine und Webseiten. Außerdem berichte ich im Live-Fernsehen über aktuelle Ereignisse und werde als Italien-Kennerin ins Fernsehen, ins Radio und zu Podcasts eingeladen.

Freie Journalistin

Katharina Mosene

Katharina Mosene

Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung │ Hans-Bredow-Institut

Katharina Mosene ist Politikwissenschaftlerin (M.A.) und kümmert sich am Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung │ Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI) seit Juli 2019 um den Bereich Forschungs- und Veranstaltungskooperationen, vor allem im Zusammenhang mit dem Humboldt-Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft und dem Network of Centers. Ihr wissenschaftliches Interesse gilt intersektionalen feministischen Ansätzen im Bereich Netzpolitik, Intelligente Technologien und Internet Governance. Neben dem Kontext Digitale Gewalt, Hatespeech und Anti-Feminismus beschäftigt sich sich mit tradierten Biases und ethischen Fragen im Bereich der Künstlichen Intelligenz.

Darüber hinaus ist sie am TUM Medical Education Center der TU München im Bereich Digitale Bildung / eLearning assoziiert.

Freiberuflich engagiert sie sich beim Deutschland sicher im Netz e.V. unter der Schirmherrschaft des Bundesministerium des Innern im Bereich Verbraucherschutz und führt Workshops für Ehrenamtliche und Vereine zu Internet-Sicherheitsthemen durch.

In ihrer Freizeit ist sie Gründungsmitglied von netzforma* e.V. – Verein für feministische Netzpolitik. Dort beschäftigt sie sich mit Themen wie dem Fördern eines gleichberechtigten Zugangs zum Internet und zu digitalen Inhalten, Schutz vor Gewalt im Netz und dem Recht auf Privatsphäre.

Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung │ Hans-Bredow-Institut

Felix Sieker

Felix Sieker

Project Manager, Bertelsmann Stiftung

Felix Sieker arbeitet als Projekt Manager für das Projekt „reframe[Tech]“ im Programm „Digitalisierung und Gemeinwohl“ bei der Bertelsmann Stiftung. Dort beschäftigt er sich primär mit der Frage, wie die Chancen von algorithmischen Entscheidungssystemen für das Gemeinwohl stärker sichtbar gemacht werden können.

Zuvor arbeitete Felix Sieker an der Hertie School in einem Projekt zur Digitalisierung von Arbeit und war als Freelancer für Stiftungen und das Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales tätig. Als Sherpa war er zudem im High-Tech Forum, dem zentralen Beratungsgremium der Bundesregierung für die Implementierung der High-Tech Strategie 2025 beschäftigt.

In 2021 promovierte Felix mit einer Arbeit zur Rolle von Plattformunternehmen in der digitalen Transformation von Arbeit an der Hertie School. Zuvor hat er „Sociology, Politics and Economics“ an der Zeppelin Universität und „Comparative Social Policy” an der Universität Oxford studiert.

Project Manager, Bertelsmann Stiftung