Meedan has always been an effort to apply theory in the world. If that is not in itself geeky enough, the theory we work to apply relates to meaning and context. Our work gives partners the tools for teasing out how meaning is represented, and mis-represented, on digital surfaces, and gives them a path to connecting investigations, fact-checks, assessment, flagging with claims, links, images and videos needing context. 

Our bet is that a world where information is more reliable is a world where societies make better decisions, where science is better applied, and where crimes are more likely to be prosecuted. At its core, this is the idea that the internet needs more context and with this humanity benefits. 

During times of war theory feels like an insult to the emotional attention the suffering of innocents demands. But, as a grapple for a way to speak about our organization in the context of this war I am inclined to lean into theory.  

When we were established we hoped to use the emerging social internet to build peace. This is where Meedan - as the Arabic town square - began its work. We built friendships and networks across the Arab region in the years before the Arab Uprisings. We also built technologies for collaborative human-assisted machine translation and a site that aggregated media and allowed our editors to curate views (to provide a context lens) across English and Arabic media - blogs, social, and msm. 

Through this all we were always committed to the idea that with the benefit of context we would start to erode the layers of conventional tropes and simplifications that was too often covering a wider/deeper understanding of unfolding histories.

A true commitment to context, however, is not merely a commitment to telling of the truths beneath the events. It is a commitment to knowing that the tellers and the listeners bring their own histories. And, these tellings on Israel and Palestine are wide and divergent. Intersecting layers of violence, repression, injustice, genocide, and retribution render any act of contextualizing as a provocation. 

All of which establishes my context to assert that it is profoundly difficult to serve as a good leader to an organization holding team members who have felt losses on both sides of this war over the past 19 days.

As always we look for a way out through words. 

We are an organization premised on the idea that communities should be able to assess content, structure those assessments consistently, and share them programmatically. They are always attributed. We allow, both technically and theoretically, that two fact-checkers can work on the same claim and arrive at differing conclusions. Knowledge, like language, is contextual. In war these differing contexts are not subtle differences in the meaning of a word, they are the difference between an act of defense and a war crime, between a terrorist and a victim of state terror, between a war criminal and a war hero, between a legitimate act of war and a genocide.

Even in the very act of signifying—the War on Gaza, the Israel/Palestine War, the Israel/Hamas war, the Israel/Gaza War—there is embedded a view of the truth of the war. Even as we name the event we are drawing conclusions. 

War is a series of violences, and the condemnation of each violence is the justification for the next violence. And in the information war, the same dynamics are at play. My view of the truth becomes the proof of my inhumanity, and so you respond in a way that degrades my humanity.  The relative anonymity/distance of online ‘interaction’ and the ease with which we can other and degrade and harass with keystrokes into our mobile devices only  amplifies and accelerates this. 

So, what can we as Meedan do against what feels like a hopeless situation and an impossible setting? First, we can stand as an organization opposed to violence in all its forms. It is a principle that allows us to condemn both the Hamas killings and hostage taking on October 07 and the ongoing IDF retribution. Second, we can stand as an organization that supports human rights as a grounding principle. There is no question that Israel has, in the name of security, compromised the fundamental human rights of an entire population. And, there is no question that my government’s senseless veto of the initial UN resolution for a ceasefire has cost two thousand Gazan children their lives. 

Yes, I do realize that we are living in a world where lesser statements have cost people their jobs. But, in order for me to do my job, to lead this organization, I need to try to explain where we stand. We are on the side of the journalists who are risking their lives to report on this war and the activists, and the researchers and those who are risking their careers and affiliations to speak truth to power. 

So I would like to suggest that we do what we can as an organization to contribute to a world where crimes are cataloged, where harmful and false content is fact-checked, and where efforts to support or promote violence are flagged. In supporting the work of gathering this evidence we place ourselves on the side of history demanding international resolve to investigate and prosecute war crimes and acts of violence committed by non-state actors. We will try to support the work of memory and sense-making in the hope that one day our global institutions will have the wisdom and resolve to bring forward justice - and from that to build peace on a stable foundation.

Our work is grounded in the notion that understanding improves societies and that improved societies will mean healthier people -ie, less fear, less war, more education, more joy, more *peace* - I hope that we can see ourselves as a peace organization, somehow.

Ed Bice
Woodacre, CA 

10/26/2023 

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Footnotes

  1. Online conversations are heavily influenced by news coverage, like the 2022 Supreme Court decision on abortion. The relationship is less clear between big breaking news and specific increases in online misinformation.
  2. The tweets analyzed were a random sample qualitatively coded as “misinformation” or “not misinformation” by two qualitative coders trained in public health and internet studies.
  3. This method used Twitter’s historical search API
  4. The peak was a significant outlier compared to days before it using Grubbs' test for outliers for Chemical Abortion (p<0.2 for the decision; p<0.003 for the leak) and Herbal Abortion (p<0.001 for the decision and leak).
  5. All our searches were case insensitive and could match substrings; so, “revers” matches “reverse”, “reversal”, etc.

References

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Ed Bice is the founding CEO of Meedan and in this capacity has since 2005 devoted his professional energies to creating digital tools and programs that promote collaborative verification, annotation, and translation.

Ed Bice
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Published on
October 30, 2023
October 29, 2023