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Metrics are Driving Disinformation

The COVID-19 Roundup

Prioritizing news distribution over reporting makes journalists and platforms active participants in spreading misinformation.

The COVID-19 Roundup is a curated list for social sector practitioners and policymakers navigating the complexities of the global pandemic.

01. Metrics are Hastening the Spread of Disinformation

Harvard Kennedy School’s Joan Donovan warns against prioritizing news distribution over reporting, which makes journalists and social media platforms active participants (intended or not) in spreading misinformation. These platforms – content distributors that profit solely from engagement – devalue quality as a matter of course. Donovan says, “Instead of optimizing for engagement as the metric of quality, platforms can define success recommendations and helping newsfeeds as those maximizing respect, dignity, and other productive social values.” Meanwhile, research on the impact of COVID-19 misinformation reveals a danger of heightened skepticism where Americans are “loath to believe anything at all… The virtue of incredulity, at least from this perspective, is that it creates insurmountable barriers to sound governance.”

02. Governance Is Missing in Pandemic Response

In the war with COVID-19, altruism has played a role in mobilizing entire industries to the cause. But as researchers at Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Lab note, rushing toward solutions unfocused does more harm than good. Technologists who lack experience in medicine or ethics are influencing how risks are calculated, tracing solutions are developed, disease patterns are modeled, and quarantines are enforced. With inadequate public oversight, this presents a problem. Data governance expert Sean McDonald says, “If we’re going to realize the value of those good intentions, we’ll need governance to ensure that the direction they pave serves us all. ”

03. At the Height of the Pandemic, Let’s Not Forget Climate Change

Amid the global pandemic, climate change is still top of mind for many. Our very own Lucy Bernholz calls the climate crisis “the biggest and most existential threat to humanity since we first unlocked the power of nuclear weapons.” Amid the pandemic, the issue is taking on a whole new meaning. C40, a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change, launched a dedicated COVID-19 portal for cities during the global crisis. Policymakers and social sector professionals working with administrative data can now search a curated collection of media and resources on topics relevant to city government agencies.

04. Black Voters Matter Launches Mutual Aid Fund

Anyone operating a mutual aid program or emergency fund related to COVID-19 can apply for support through The COVID-19 Mutual Aid and Emergency Relief Self-Determination Fund, a program of Black Voters Matter designed to support community-based efforts. Based on concepts of “solidarity, not charity,” the fund is one of several lines of support the organization has made available through its website.

05. How Will Civil Society Empower Itself in a Post-Pandemic World?

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Recode’s Kara Swisher emphasizes the role of COVID-19 in “accelerating” the rise of tech giants, which could muddle efforts to regulate privacy as governments rely more on private data to slow the pandemic. “This consolidation of power, combined with Big Tech’s control of data, automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, media, advertising, retail and even autonomous tech, is daunting.” But as Swisher suggests, the real question is how civil society will empower itself. “There are a lot of synonyms for power, including one that connotes dominance and one that points to potential…what wonder the future could hold if power were used in more creative, inclusive and, most important, more unusual ways.”

06. Collaboration “Made Easy” with COVID-19 Grants Tracker

Funders are collaborating and innovating in new ways amid the pandemic. Anna Scott of 360Giving writes, “Open data’s value has never been greater for the public good.” The COVID-19 Grants Tracker, which the organization developed to give funders easier access to related grants data, draws on data they publish using the organization’s open data standard. “The crisis has prompted even more of this collaborative effort, with more funders than ever publishing their grants data openly and recognising the need to frequently update the data they publish.”

07. Ada Lovelace Institute Calls for Public Debate

As world governments deliberate on how to “exit” the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a growing concern among CSOs, academics, and privacy experts about the technologies and data governance systems that will guide these transitions. On June 25th, Ada Lovelace Institute held the second of two virtual events sharing findings from a rapid online deliberation project looking at public attitudes to COVID-19 exit strategies. “The project was an experiment in working exclusively online, at the same pace as the most rapidly evolving policy process we’ve seen [in] decades.” Video at the link.

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