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The Civic Media Observatory is a method to investigate and decode how people understand information and create knowledge in complex and seemingly chaotic media ecosystems.

Click the image for a slide presentation about the Observatory methodology.

Observatory research identifies and tracks key themes and narrative frames that emerge around events, trends and other phenomena, and explains the context and subtext of local, vernacular, and multilingual media. Researchers use an expansive definition of “media” that includes items appearing in mass media, social media platforms, open internet sources, and offline sources.

Observatory research explores the civic impact of media items, offering insight into the effect of narratives on audiences’ understanding of events and social phenomena, and identifies themes of urgent public interest. A key feature of the method is the assigning to media items a civic impact score based on international human rights standards. Using this score, we make claims about the potential effects of narratives on audience behavior and on civic discourse.

The Observatory method also suggests actions to be taken on the basis of civic impact scores. Project teams work as trusted partners with organizations such as media and tech companies and nonprofit advocacy organizations, to identify and recommend actions for certain categories of content, including recommendations for monitoring of narratives, keywords and phrases that have the potential to cause harm.

Observatory work is focused in part on questions of misinformation, disinformation, disruption and confusion, but goes beyond fact-checking. Our larger goal is to identify information that has civic value in given contexts, and around specific events and trends. The Observatory is also deployable as a method for rapid identification, sorting and analyzing of media items and their effects.

Researchers work in Airtable, a relational database, which allows for rich interlinking of media sources, themes, narrative frames, media items, and languages, as well as granular analysis of dozens of metadata fields we use to analyze media items. This approach helps us to build consistent responses to questions about the accuracy, truthfulness, verifiability, and ideological leaning underlying media items, as well as deeper analysis of context and subtext, when warranted.

Observatory research feeds into our editorial work as well, helping us to tell stories about underlying narratives, perspectives, and claims.

Since the launch of the Observatory in the middle of 2019, we have run large transnational investigations on the topics of EU Accession, COVID-19, Taiwan’s presidential election, and China’s Belt & Road Initiative (ongoing), as well as focused investigations into elections in Myanmar, Brazil, Bolivia, and Venezuela and country monitoring projects in India, Myanmar, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Haiti and Ethiopia.

Slide presentation on the Civic Media Observatory methodology.

Observatory projects

China’s Belt & Road Initiative: Deal or steal?

As China expands and advances its interests as a global power, we explore its influence in other countries.

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Taiwan elections 2020

Taiwan held presidential elections on January 11th, 2020 to determine the course of its political and economic orientation for the next four years.

Read the stories

EU in the Balkans: An accession too far

North Macedonia and Albania have long sought to become members of the EU. The debate over their application pitted ideas of nationalism, corruption, EU reform and future relations with regional powers.

Read the stories

Stories from the Observatory

Stories in Civic Media Observatory

COVID-19 vaccine in Africa: Caught between China’s soft-power diplomacy and the West’s vaccine nationalism, Part II 

Is it not hypocritical to heckle China for their soft-power vaccine diplomacy in Africa while Western governments conveniently pursue vaccine nationalism? 

COVID-19 vaccine in Africa: Caught between China’s soft-power diplomacy and the West’s vaccine nationalism, Part I

The storage of Chinese Sinovac’s CoronaVac and Sinopharm are more suited for Africa’s hot temperatures, unlike those produced in the West, which require deep-freezer temps. 

Between commemoration and rage: Haitians confront a growth in fatal kidnappings

“The proliferation of armed men, the uncontrolled circulation of illegal firearms, and growing insecurity touch every aspect of life in Haiti"

Four ways Brazilians turned to social media to question racism and corruption

With millions of tweets, Brazilians have a mixed impact on politics but show fervor for transparency, equality and anti-racism.

In Haiti, homophobic movements use anti-colonial rhetoric against LGBTQI+ communities

Attempts to increase visibility of the LGBTQI+ community in Haiti are being stifled

WhatsApp is the new tool for Venezuelan feminists during the pandemic

Global Voices interviewed the leads of four projects that aim to help women facing violence during the pandemic.  

BJP-led Assam state in India criticized for failed promises ahead of elections

The BJP was elected in the rural state in 2016 on promises to create jobs and clean up corruption. Four years on, the government faces shortcomings on both fronts.

How indigenous peoples resist COVID-19 in South America

"In this struggle for life, which dates back to our ancestor's memory, we will continue to demand the fulfillment of our rights."

Border row, trade turmoil and rising Chinese influence send Indo-Nepal ties to lowest ebbs

Nepal finds itself in the line of fire of the China-US trade war and the Indo-China border conflict.

In Bolivia, indigenous Aymara question Bolivia's Independence Day celebrations

"The independence of these countries where we Aymara live did not mean the liberation of the Aymara, but a change of 'master'."

Millions of Indian students sit university entrance exams after government disregards protests to postpone them

Students protested throughout the entire month of August, citing concerns with COVID-19 transmission and reduced transportation in quarantined zones.

Indian scientists pen letter against government slashing of environmental protections

The letter says the updates to the Environmental Impact Assessment norms will encourage projects with no prior clearance to commence operations and eventually get regularised by paying a fine.

Venezuelan government stigmatizes and blames returned migrants for COVID-19 spread

“If I could go back to Venezuela, I’d hug my family. But it’s a dangerous road back home, and it’s even more dangerous once we get there”.

Collusion accusations grow between Haitian government and organised crime groups

"[...] The gang leaders are seemingly free from persecution so long as they help keep the peace in the neighborhoods they control."

Islamophobic post on Facebook leads to deadly violence in Bangalore

India experiences another episode of real-life violence triggered by online hate speech.

Natives’ or ‘outsiders'? A mob attack in Meghalaya throws questions of belonging into sharp relief

The ethnic tensions of Meghalaya – and many more of India's north-eastern states – can be traced back to the 'outsider' narrative.

Pious, assertive, and ‘mother of all Bolivians': The political narrative of President Jeanine Áñez

The president went on costly helicopter rides to 'bless' cities during the pandemic, with passengers that included priests, evangelical pastors and legislators who brought along holy water and religious statues.

How the murder of musician Hachalu Hundessa incited violence in Ethiopia: Part II

Within an hour of musician Hachalu Hundessa’s assassination, Ethiopians netizens hit social media with scattershot conspiracy theories, hate speech & disinformation campaigns — particularly on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

How the murder of musician Hachalu Hundessa incited violence in Ethiopia: Part I

In the wake of musician Hachalu Hundessa's murder, Ethiopia has struggled to come to terms with the violence and turmoil that erupted along ethnic and religious faultlines.

Nigerians counteract COVID-19 denialism with social media campaigns

Nigerians directly confront coronavirus denial headlong with counter-narratives that use ordinary language in campaigns devoid of the usual mistrust between citizens and governments. 

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