Observatory shining light on noisy megaphones

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.

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.

Subscribe to Undertones

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, that 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-19Taiwan’s presidential electionconflict 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.

Observatory projects


The Unfreedom Monitor is an Advox initiative to deepen our understanding of the relationship between technology and authoritarian power.

Global Voices decodes narratives of COVID-19 in 10 countries as it spreads around the world in 2020.

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

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