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Observatory shining light on noisy megaphones

Click the image for a slide presentation about the Observatory methodology. Illustration by Alex Esenler, used with permission.

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.

Begun as a back-end system to support story analysis in mid-2019, 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.

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

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

Show posts about 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: Nicaragua's “sham” elections have cold shower effect on media

Journalists practice self-censorship, with propaganda channels dominating attention.

Introducing Undertones, Global Voices’ media analysis newsletter

This newsletter synthesizes Observatory research and analysis of key narratives and ideas circulating in the public sphere.

Global Voices seeks researchers to participate in our Civic Media Observatory projects

Researchers on the Civic Media Observatory analyze media items, narrative frames, themes, media sources, and creators, building an impressive constellation of information for public and partner consumption

China's reputation challenged by perceptions of low-quality projects and products in Ethiopia

In contrast to the official praise, the Ethiopian public is often critical about the quality of these projects, as well as Chinese products sold in Ethiopia.

Why are Czech elites being captured by Beijing narratives? 

The ties between outgoing president Zeman as well as economic relationships over the past few years, especially in the media, raise concerns about the public narrative around Sino-Czech relations.

Arabophone Chinese influencer divides public opinion in Egypt

Along with growing traffic to her social media platforms came a new tone in Wang's posts. What seemed as sincere patriotic pride, gave way to a seemingly targeted propaganda.

Is China exporting its surveillance state to Venezuela?

One of the largest Chinese defense companies has been pointed out for providing the Venezuelan government software to block access to the Internet and to spy on its detractors.

China in Ethiopia: Between a savior and an exploiter?

Whereas some online commentaries celebrate China’s help and contributions to Ethiopia, other discussions on Chinese projects tend to emphasize their exploitative features

Turkey’s Uyghur dilemma in the context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

As economic ties between Ankara and Beijing strengthened, Turkey's policies on the treatment of Uyghurs in China weakened.

Chinese firms in Nigeria face widespread labour abuse allegations, tainting bilateral relationship

Nigerians in that company are "mandated to call their Chinese employers master or mistress. Male Nigerian workers are physically assaulted, while their female counterparts are sexually assaulted,” writes a whistleblower.

China as a cultural threat in Ethiopia: From food to cultural appropriation

Public interest in Chinese exotic eating habits and in potential appropriation of Ethiopian traditional culture speaks of the larger rifts in Sino-Ethiopian encounters

Chinese higher education programs attract increasing numbers of students from Kazakhstan

Education abroad and study exchanges have become instruments for the Chinese government to attract foreign students, especially from Kazakhstan. Does studying in China trigger support among Kazakhstani students?

Chinese soft power in Kyrgyzstan grows through culture and language

Still looking to publicize its language and culture in Central Asia, China is using the instrument of Confucius Institutes to strengthen its soft power in Kyrgyzstan

China-funded Kaliwa dam in the Philippines flagged for irregularities

"Indigenous Peoples should not be sacrificed on the altar of development aggression, which would just benefit big businesses and Chinese investors."

Diverging narratives on the Belt and Road Initiative in Greece and China

After years of investment in the port, information on the hurdles that China’s BRI is facing in Greece differs across the language of the media reporting it.

China's unfulfilled promise to develop Venezuela's mines

The Venezuelan and Chinese governments promoted the mining sector as a solution to Venezuela's oil dependence. Despite millionaire investments, the industry is far from its achieving its promise.

Turkey and China in the eastern Mediterranean: Partners or competitors?

China and Turkey continue to collaborate on their visions for trans-continental integration, though should Ankara's political and military ambitions increase, Beijing might reconsider its role as a reliable BRI partner. 

Cambodia’s China-funded mega dam linked to rights abuses and loss of fisheries

"Today, everything the dammed-up rivers provided – food, water, an income from fishing – is gone."

Venezuela and China: Strong bond or empty words?

Venezuelan authorities claim that the strategic partnership with China remains as strong as ever, but they have reaped little economic benefits from it since 2016.

Chinese investments in Nigeria flourish on a Silk Road of corruption

The willingness of corrupt Chinese businesspeople to bribe equally fraudulent Nigerian government officials is rarely captured by the simplistic mutual understanding narrative pushed by Chinese diplomats. 

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