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.
Global Voices’ Civic Media 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.
Follow our work in Undertones, our weekly newsletter. In each edition we’ll analyze an event, emerging trend, or a complex story, identifying key narratives of urgent public interest, and delving deep into the context and subtext of local, vernacular and multilingual media. Undertones also offers an entry point into the public datasets that underpin our Observatory work.
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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, conflict in Ethiopia, and China’s Belt & Road Initiative, as well as focused investigations into elections in Myanmar, Brazil, Bolivia, and Venezuela and country monitoring projects in India, Myanmar, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Haiti, Ethiopia, Russia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mali, and Nicaragua.
Slide presentation on the Civic Media Observatory methodology.
The Unfreedom Monitor is an Advox initiative to deepen our understanding of the relationship between technology and authoritarian power.
Country monitor observatories 2021-2022
Monitoring of emerging themes and narratives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Russia, Mali, and Nicaragua in 2020-2021.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Deal or steal?
As China expands and advances its interests as a global power, we explore its influence in other countries.
A clash of narratives: National identity and violent conflict in Ethiopia
Long-standing conflicts over the contours of the Ethiopian state have once more exploded into violence. Unreconciled disagreements between the state and regional powers in Oromia and Tigray threaten to tear Ethiopia apart.
Country monitor observatories 2020-2021
Monitoring of emerging themes and narratives in Myanmar, India, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Haiti in 2020-2021.
Narratives of COVID-19
Global Voices decodes narratives of COVID-19 in 10 countries as it spreads around the world in 2020.
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.
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.
Stories from the Observatory
Stories about Civic Media Observatory
Undertones: Iran's powerful narratives about religion and rebellion
"Religious narratives are exactly why the regime hasn’t been overthrown yet"
LIVE on March 23: China's Belt & Road initiative—New cycle, or fundamental shift?
Join us on YouTube Live on March 23 for a discussion of how recent world events have shaped the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in China and in the Global South.
Undertones: Zimbabwe's cyberpunk cities fueled by China
Zimbabwe is set to become Africa’s first country with a “smart” capital city built from scratch. But many are wary of Zimbabwe becoming a surveillance state.
Undertones in Turkey: Earthquakes fan the flames of election season
Erdoğan’s leadership may be on the line, with compounding accusations of corruption, economic mismanagement, and the slow and inadequate response to the earthquake.
Undertones in Nicaragua: Where parallel realities coexist
A group of researchers uncovers Nicaragua's two faces
Undertones in Myanmar: Junta, Buddhism, Youth
Researchers from Myanmar expect heightened tension as the country heads towards military-led elections this year.
Undertones in India: Going undercover in Hindu supremacy networks
A group of researchers went undercover in far-right Hindu groups to break their bubble.
Undertones in Russia: War, Propaganda, the West
Researchers share some of the strongest narratives that are circulating in Russia and what we can expect in 2023
Undertones in Afghanistan: ‘Taliban 2.0,’ Women, Resistance
Researchers share some of the strongest narratives that have circulated in Afghanistan this year
Undertones in Pakistan: Military, Women, Blasphemy
Researchers share some of the strongest narratives that have circulated in Pakistan this year
New report: Framing China's Belt and Road Initiative
Explore the effectiveness and impact of China's attempts to promote its Belt and Road Initiative through narratives, and read the full report produced by our Civic Media Observatory.
Undertones: Twitter is a double-edged sword for the Global South
Twitter’s slow or sudden collapse may particularly hit countries with high levels of censorship, disinformation, and political instability.
Undertones: Why India’s Hindu nationalists revere UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Hindu nationalists pick and choose who is "Indian enough" to serve their political interests
Undertones: Brazil copes with ‘digital militias’ ahead of tense elections
Some are asking the courts to not sacrifice what is urgent (stopping the flow of disinformation) for what is important — safeguarding democratic processes.
The Civic Media Observatory: Making sense of people’s speech, memes, and tweets
Unlike fact-checking, we explore the wider environment into which stories are woven.
Undertones: Anti-army hashtags gain rare visibility in Pakistan
Criticism of Pakistan’s powerful military has always been voiced in hushed tones, but since the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan back in April, Pandora’s box has been flung open.
The Nicaraguan government looks to imprison Catholic priests and stain their image
After the shutdown of hundreds of social organizations and the arrest of political activists, the Nicaraguan clergy was one of the few remaining critical voices in the country.
Undertones: In Turkey’s plunging economy, conspiracy and corruption allegations abound
While Erdoğan's government argues that the country is in an “economic war”, the opposition blames it on corruption fuelled by the leading party.
Undertones: Anti-war activity is not over in Russia, says Russian researcher
"It's hard to know all that is being done, because journalism is nearly dead, even though there is still a lot going on in spite of circumstances."
Undertones: How a composite sketch gone viral sparked a debate in Nicaragua
A digital campaign pressured the Nicaraguan government to show images of a political prisoner
Undertones: The West’s complicity in Russia's invasion of Ukraine
"The average Russian refugee is certainly much less guilty than the average German politician," Russian opinion leaders say.