“Information wants to be free.” 

It is a phrase often credited to Stewart Brand and is used in both as a description of the agency of information and the imperative of an open, uncensored internet. 

These are quite remarkable days in the history of the Internet. Against the backdrop of AIs that promise to replace the human work of constructing and sharing visual and textual meaning, activists organizing under a free-speech banner are sharing tea with the cultural forces that have sought to restrict language, burn books, norm patriotic behaviors, and limit various fundamental aspects of human agency and expression. Meedan has been named as one of the organizations intent to censor the Internet and at this year’s end I find myself wanting to express the distance between our work and this imagined frame.

Meedan’s work from the outset has been premised on the idea that we - the citizens of the Internet - deserve better, and should be empowered to effectively collaborate to add context in the form of a translation, an annotation, or a fact-check. The Internet should help the humans who use it make better choices for themselves and their communities and their countries and their planet. We do this by developing algorithms that help journalists see patterns in questions and respond to claims at scale on messaging platforms. It is one-to-one journalism, but our chatbots can serve that content automatically to the next user who happens to ask the same question or submit the same image. Last year our technology powered projects that distributed almost 150,000 fact-checks to voters in Brazil, and allowed hundreds of partners in the Philippines to collaboratively address rampant misinformation.    

As we prepare for the ‘World Cup Year’ of global election, in which an estimated 2.6 billion people are expected to cast ballots in elections scheduled for 81 countries, Meedan is gearing up for coalition efforts in the US, Mexico, India, Indonesia, and Brazil. In all these projects we have the singular goal of providing timely information to voters who have questions about the content they are encountering. Our media and civil society partners do tireless work to try to make sense of a chaotic media landscape, often in messaging spaces where they regularly face harassment. 

Doing journalism in these settings is heroic work in itself, but 2024 will be the year that AI is woven into the fabric of our information environments. And it will arrive to a setting optimized for chaos: platforms have dramatically cut or totally abandoned their civic integrity teams; fact-checking programs and research efforts facing funding and operational pressures due to political attacks; cultural and political polarization is at a boiling point; and a horrible unfolding war in Israel/Palestine fueling historic levels of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. 

Those who seek to sew chaos could not ask for a riper convergence of factors and tooling. Against this our small but mightily-well-intentioned organization will work in the year ahead to design and deploy AIs and assemble and align coalitions to work in service of an open, healthy, resilient Internet and the well-informed democracy it should enable. 

Peace, 

Ed A. Bice 

CEO of Meedan

Written on December 20, 2023 for the end-of-year special issue of the Checklist newsletter, which you can read here.

Tags
AI
AI for Good
Internet
Democracy At Risk
Elections
Crisis Response
Israel Gaza War

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.

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Published on
December 20, 2023