As I reflect on my year teaching English and conducting research as a combined grantee in Salzburg, Austria, I find the concern for the integrity of democracy that I have perceived from Austrian and American students, teachers, and academics alike particularly striking. Whether in classroom discussions on American federal elections or at kitchen-table debates about regulations on free speech, I have been lucky enough to experience numerous moments of critically minded, interculturally alert engagement in the collective work of upholding democracy. Demonstrative of this sensitivity to the essential precarity (and increasingly precarious essentiality) of institutions like freedom of press and elections were the exchanges I participated in at the 2019 EU-US Young Leaders Seminar on “Shared Transatlantic Challenges: Disinformation & the Changing Media Landscape” in Brussels, Belgium.
Facilitated by the Fulbright commission in Brussels, the seminar offered a cohort of American and European beneficiaries of Fulbright grants and EU-funded exchange programs the opportunity to discuss topics relating to disinformation and media literacy with representatives from the private sector, public sector, and academia. After panels with these experts—and moderated by grant recipients—the seminar participants divided into groups to discuss the themes of the presentations and to collect ideas for further action.