COVID-19: The Search for Reliable Information

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Three #COVID19 crises are playing out in real time: Public health, economic and information. The information crisis, which impacts health and economic well-being, is least understood.

Case in point: Yesterday a NBC/WSJ poll said Americans believe the worst is yet to come. Yet, digging deeper into the numbers 56% say the virus will change their lives in only a small way or not at all. This figure tells a story of messages gone unheard, urgencies dismissed and masses unprepared for what’s to come.

Partisanship divides our collective perspective into distinct camps, even during a pandemic. The NBC/WSJ poll said 68% of Democratic voters are worried that an immediate family member might catch the coronavirus, compared with just 40% of Republicans. 47% percent of all voters say they’ve stopped or plan to stop attending large public gatherings — 61% of Democratic respondents but just 30% of Republicans.

Information Gaps Need to be Filled

Mainstream media is the go-to place we turn to for information in times of crisis. As COVID-19 continues to spread, people will grow more desperate for neutral, unembellished facts that media networks are hard-pressed to provide, especially cable news.

I spoke with Vivian Schiller from the Aspen Institute about the difficulty this presents in addition to the array of coronavirus information being shared online. She explains:

Our current information ecosystem fails when it comes to nuance and context. It is not purpose-built for public service information in the face of a global crisis. Tweets and even headlines from legitimate news organizations can be deeply misleading in their brevity and reliance on raw numbers which are meaningless without critical context. As a result, they unwittingly drive panic or apathy, both bad outcomes.

COVID-19 signals a coherence crash. The NBC/WSJ poll numbers show media sources have struggled to break through the noise effectively, to present the realities of the pandemic through expert points-of-view.

We’ll need better, more intentional visibility into digital networks where expertise and context that explain the headlines are shared. This brings new compositions into play: Twitter lists, content aggregators, data sources and deep reporting.

Twitter Lists

I’ve found Twitter to be the best place to follow real time updates, consequences and expert perspective across health, economics, media and disinformation practices. There is vast, deep expertise shared that’s not breaking through to the mainstream, thoughts from people like Balaji S. Srinivasan, Peter Attia, Scott Gottlieb, Helen Branswell, Claire Wardle and Tyler Cowen. I aggregated thirty sources in this list here as well as follow Naval Ravikant here and Noah Brier here. There are others to consider but this is a good start.

Content Curators

A growing cohort of curators can direct us to the critical, credible information. Notables include MIT, which curated a list of real-time coronavirus dashboards and venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which aggregates official resources and background reading. Other collaborative sources include Google Docs like this and searching #coronavirussyllabus.

Data Simulations and Aggregators

Data simulations and dashboards are going mainstream around the world to fill information voids. Yesterday’s Washington Post curve simulator attracted tens of thousands as did Reuters simulation of spread from patient “31” a single source that spread the virus in South Korea.

Others are from sources you would not expect. In Singapore, a programming outfit called Upcode scraped data from Singapore Ministry of Health’s own dashboard to build incredibly detailed reports, including every known case, affected hospitals, clusters and more. Residents of Hong Kong can also access similar details affecting the region as well as those in Italy trying to get an accurate picture of the spread across the region.

Among the most popular examples is Johns Hopkins interactive outbreak map, which notably includes the often unreported “total recovered” number. Launched in January, the dashboard has been visited more than 200 million times by users from nearly every country across the globe. And at this rate, it’s on pace to accumulate one billion visits within the next couple of weeks. To put that in perspective, the New York Times’ “The Daily” podcast reached 1 billion downloads last fall “only” 2.5 years post-launch, which was considered surprisingly fast.

Deep Reporting

Deep reporting and analysis is a crucial part of an expert network comprised from a range investigative journalists. Examples include The Atlantic which has been publishing remarkable, discomforting reporting on second, third order impact. Same goes with front-line reporting from ProPublica, The Guardian’s global coverage and cultural points-of-view from The New York Times’ Charlie Warzel related to the outbreak.

As the crisis continues to escalate, so will the need to uncover the most trustworthy information and get it to the masses. We’ve seen investigative journalists, universities, VC’s and new actors fill information voids in a media ecosystem not incentivized to deliver factual, public service information.

Where else can we turn to?

Chief Innovation Officer, Weber Shandwick

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