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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

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.

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.

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

Is anti-Chinese sentiment in Kyrgyzstan strong enough to freeze a key Belt and Road Initiative project?

A logistics project in Kyrgyzstan, part of China's BRI infrastructure program, was poised to become a commercial hub in the heart of Eurasia. Despite the hype, it now seems stalled.

China’s Belt and Road megaproject in the Mediterranean: Was it the Greek shipping tycoons who sealed the deal?

In Sino-Greek relations, the dominant narrative runs that China is taking the lead by investing in Greece. But a more layered account of the events is often overlooked.

How Sinophobia is instrumentalized in Kazakhstan as a form of oppositional politics

In Kazakhstan, Sinophobia is often a tool instrumentalized by protest organizers to mobilize people as a form of criticism of governmental policies

What a Kyrgyzstan oil refinery reveals about China's Belt and Road Initiative

"We tried to reach the mayor, arguing that the plant is harmful to the environment...We tried our best but nobody was listening to us."

Belt and Road Initiative projects ramp up Nigeria’s favourable perception of China

The BRI initiative enjoys a favourable perception because Nigeria has an infrastructure deficit that China is correcting. This programme will endure for some time in Nigeria. 

Indigenous people denounce Chinese oil giant's extractions in Peru's Amazon Forest

A coalition of non-governmental and indigenous organizations came together to hold their government and companies accountable

How the lack of Brazilian correspondents in China affects perceptions of both countries

Journalists Marcelo Ninio and Talita Fernandes discuss Brazilian perspectives on China.

Why Huawei was almost excluded from the 5G race in Brazil

Despite its two-decade history in Brazil, the Chinese tech giant's chance to compete for 5G development contracts was at one point vehemently opposed by the Bolsonaro government.

Greeks wage a court battle against Chinese-funded port that may poison the environment

Expansion of the Piraeus port will create a "subaquatic toxic landfill” at the expense of the area’s fragile ecosystems.

As Brazil increases exports to China, politicians play the blame game

"The problem is Brazil's current development model that turns it into a large farm," said Evandro Menezes de Carvalho, a specialist in Chinese law and international trade.

Is Bolsonaro's anti-China rhetoric fueling anti-Asian hate in Brazil?

Global Voices talked to five people of Chinese descent in Brazil. All said intolerance increased with the COVID-19 pandemic.

How COVID-19 ramped up a simmering hostility between Brazil and China

While governments around the world scrambled to secure vials of the COVID-19 vaccine, Bolsonaro refused to negotiate with drug companies, especially the Chinese ones.

New Chinese-led port project faces backlash from local residents and environmentalists in Peru

“Throughout the history of Peru, investments are located wherever they want, as long as they bring money, and the state or government allows this to happen”

Myanmar’s ‘civil disobedience movement’ has produced many inventive ways of protesting

Only three weeks have passed since the coup but protesters have already used various creative methods to express dissent.

‘You messed with the wrong generation’: Daily protests pose strong challenge to Myanmar coup

"Today the people of Myanmar are rising up against the military regime, demanding democracy. This is no longer a protest. It's an uprising."

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

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