Mis/dis/malinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 demonstrate how overwhelming quantities of changing information provide openings for malicious acts that reduce public trust and sow confusion. In this research project, faculty and students worked with State Department officials to create a toolkit that helps Ops identify misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation online and push authentic and reliable information to the Secretary of State and other senior officials.
Operations Center (Ops) is the Secretary's and the Department's communications and crisis management center. The organization's mission is to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Open 24/7/365, Ops monitors world events, prepares daily briefings for the Secretary and other Department principals, and facilitates communication between the and the rest of the world. Ops is also the Department’s crisis management hub, collecting and disseminating information about breaking events, briefing principals and facilitating a whole of government response to a crisis, including the management of 24-hour task forces. It is critical that Ops personnel push timely and accurate information to Department principals to enable diplomacy and policy decisions at the nation-state level. Ops monitors open-source reporting, including social media as well as traditional news outlets, for breaking developments affecting U.S. foreign policy interests and objectives. In an age of proliferating campaigns of malicious misinformation and disinformation, often propagated by sophisticated state actors, Ops staff need to know how to differentiate between real breaking news and disinformation quickly and accurately. It is critical that only accurate information be forwarded to the Secretary and senior Department leadership and used as a basis for making crucial foreign policy and national security decisions. Additionally, the Secretary and senior staff would benefit from the identification of common disinformation narratives, particularly those disseminated by authoritarian rivals. This would help shape counter-disinformation campaigns and prevent the advancement of strategic competitors' foreign policy objectives through the unintentional spread of their disinformation narratives.