The Rona Report. One Year On
A NARRATIVE LANDSCAPE MAP OF THE NEXUS OF COVID-19, WORKERS, JOBS, AND THE ECONOMY
PREPARED BY THIS IS SIGNALS, A PROJECT OF REFRAME
Research, Analysis, and Writing by
Shaira Chaer, Hermelinda Cortés, Liz Hynes, and Ivie Osaghae.
You can find the first Rona Report here.
Last updated May 1, 2021
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COVID-19 HAS RADICALLY ALTERED THE WAY WE MOVE THROUGH THE WORLD
This report identifies dominant, emerging, and enduring narratives shaping the landscape over the past year. We looked at conversations across the board through the lens of COVID-19, with a focus on the economy and workers to identify which critical narratives were operating in the space. Research for this project was primarily English-based and situated in the U.S.These narratives move and interact with each other, sometimes competing and sometimes complimenting each other, creating opportunities and risks along the way. Narratives transgress borders and move across cultures, but given the size, scale, and complexity of COVID-19 we limited research parameters.
Over the last year our society has gone through a massive amount of change and trauma. COVID-19 has radically altered the way we move through the world — what puts us at risk, what makes us feel safe, how and when our kids go to school, how we buy our groceries or spend time with a loved one. The pandemic has permeated our everyday conversations and shapes how we understand our past and imagine the future. Simultaneous to the pandemic, a summer of uprisings where millions of people across the country demanded racial justice and the end to militarized, violent policing; a lengthy national election, the January 6th attempt to overturn that election, the start of the Biden Administration, and the arrival of three vaccines (and counting...) all continue to impact the conditions of our lives.
As it becomes more possible for some of us in the U.S. to picture a life “after covid”, we have watched a set of narratives stay the same and some of those narratives shift. With over 33 million people unemployed last year, dominant COVID-19 conversations focused on how the pandemic affected workers and the economy. Worker conversations centered the safety and sacrifice of “essential” workers, unemployment, and the losses and adjustments people had to endure at work. We also saw narrative trends around the covid economy, the Trump economy, the care economy, and the future of the economy. A year on, infections are still spiking, over 500,000 people have died, and millions are still out of work or stringing together multiple jobs. Conversations no longer prominently focus on workers, staying at home or “coping with the new normal” but on “reopen already” and a “return to normal”.
Now that multiple vaccines have become more widely available in the U.S., state governments are lifting restrictions, pursuing a myriad of plans to get things back to the way they used to be and racing to put the pandemic behind them. The economy is still as central as ever but now conversations are shaped by the dominant narrative, rooted in ideals of productivity, individual freedom and economic growth contending that it’s time to get back to normal. The counter-narrative that normal was the crisis has been present in the COVID-19 landscape throughout the pandemic. This narrative, rooted in care, community safety, and social transformation — offers an alternative vision for both workers and the economy but has yet to gain narrative prominence.
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YOU’LL FIND AUDIO CLIPS LIKE THIS AVAILABLE THROUGHOUT THIS NARRATIVE LANDSCAPE MAP.
Narrative Insights in a Complex Landscape
The COVID-19 narrative landscape started out complex, stretching out and touching nearly every conversation in its path, and it’s remained so. Likewise, the economy has been a central and primary driver in the U.S. narrative landscape for over 30 years. The overlapping events of the last decade - the growing Movement for Black Lives, the climate crisis, the viciousness of inequality, the rise of authoritarian populism that threatens democracy - continue to challenge our understanding of the world around us, but COVID-19 cracked open narratives about the economy and the way workers are framed in a new way.
While the stories and messages have changed over the last year, the economy remains dominant in the covid landscape. It sits at the nexus of the pandemic, the role of government, and our ideals about productivity and safety. It is also a critical vector for both mis-and-disinformation, a force that has had a profound effect on the narrative landscape over the past year.
The influencers within conversations about covid, the economy, and workers range from elected officials, academics and researchers, organizations and coalitions, partisan media, and labor unions, to name a few. Influencers in this space sometimes interact with each other in shared conversations but they also drive and participate in distinct conversations. This means that many of these influencers can act as bridges between communities and transmit narratives between groups. Because the pandemic, the economy, and workers are such broad and pervasive subjects, influencers within these conversations range from the ultra-right, centrists and moderates, to progressives and leftists spanning race, class and ideology, all of whom have contributed to conversations about the economy and workers. The networks and influencers we’ve tracked and identified below are not meant to reflect the entirety of the narrative landscape or the endlessness of entertainment and information ecosystems, but to give a sense of key groups and actors who reproduce and reinforce critical narratives related to COVID-19.
Members of the Republican Party — both in office as well as the formerly elected — are also contesting for narrative power in conversations about the pandemic. Their stories, messages and narratives span conversations rejecting “big government,” reopening the economy, forcing a sense of normalcy and demanding productivity from the country’s labor force. Some influencers inside of this network also peddle conspiracy theories and covid mis-and-disinformation across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, news media, and more nefarious platforms. Influencers within this network include Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (604k, Twitter), Senator Rand Paul (3.1m, Twitter), Congressman Byron Donalds (21k, Twitter) and Senator Ron Johnson (242k, Twitter).
CLICK ON THE IMAGES OF THE INFLUENCERS
BELOW TO HEAD TO THEIR PROFILES.
Right Wing Media
From the Epoch Times (490k subscribers on YouTube) to Turning Point USA (2.5m, Facebook), and media pundits like Ben Shapiro (7.8m, Facebook), Laura Ingraham (3.7m, Twitter), and Richard Grenell (582.7k, Twitter), this group of influencers and media outlets reach approximately 30 million users on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In lockstep with the GOP, this network often uplifts narratives that reject “big government,” reopening the economy, normalcy and worker productivity. They also launder mis-and-disinformation.
Surface level content among Black Nativists appear to promote Black self-determinism but many of the influencers in this network create, promote and uplift racialized disinformation and right-wing talking points that are anti-government and often create and promote anti-science disinformation, all of which have real implications for the Black community both on and offline. Influencers within this network include Tariq Nasheed (263k, Twitter), Chakabars (1m, Instagram), and Rizza Islam (38.7, Instagram). This network can be found on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok.
The Media and Media Workers
Progressive journalists or writers that have written about covid, the economy or labor can be found within this network. This includes Kim Kelly (96.7k, Twitter), Ben Smith (336.7k, Twitter), and Kyle Griffin (1.1m, Twitter); content on the care economy and stories challenging the role of government in a crisis are abundant within this network across platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Centrist and Moderate Media
From SBS News (1.8m, Facebook), The Daily Beast (33k, TikTok), to The Reid Out (565.3k, Twitter), and media pundits like Rachel Maddow (2.6m, Facebook), this group of influencers and the media outlets within it share messages, stories and narratives on the economy that echo a moderate “don’t rock the boat” approach to governance, safety and a return to “normal.”
Academics and Researchers
While it is thankless work, professors, scholars, essential workers and medical professionals have not only had to grapple with the ways in which the pandemic has shifted their respective fields, but are also serving as pre-and-debunkers of all things mis-and disinformation across social media. The influencers we’ve identified in this network — like Two Dusty Travelers (54.8k, Instagram), Woke Doctors (39k, Instagram), Abbie Richards (202k, TikTok), and First Draft News (35.5k, Twitter) — mostly contend with narratives on safety around the virus and the vaccine, highlighting that we are only safe when all of us are safe.
CULTURAL WORKERS, ORGANIZeRS, LEADERS,
AND ORGANIZATIONS (OH MY!)
This network includes labor unions like the AFL-CIO (139.4k, Twitter), the Day Laborer Network (57.7k, Instagram), and SEIU (177.9k, Facebook). Influencers within this network are contending with narratives on safety and normalcy, either adopting a “don’t rock the boat” approach or a reopen safely approach across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They have also been staunch advocates of worker protections and labor organizing throughout the pandemic.
ORGANIZERS AND CULTURAL WORKERS
Like organizations and coalitions listed above, left and progressive artists, organizers, and content creators in this network are often anti-capitalist, pro-union and pro-worker, challenge the role of government in a pandemic, and uplift calls for a new economy that centers people, not profits. Influencers within this network include Alice Wong (51.4k, Twitter), TikTokLeftists (165k, TikTok), Hyejin Shim (6k, Twitter), Summer Lee (25.3k, Twitter) and Just Seeds (68k, Instagram). Influencers within this network reach users across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter.
ORGANIZATIONS AND COALITIONS
Left and progressive nonprofits, affinity groups, movement organizations, and campaigns run by a cohort of organizations all believe in reopening safely, challenging the role of government, and uplift the belief that normal was the crisis, clearly seen in the rallying behind policy proposals like the THRIVE Act, #PeoplesVaccine, or the Green New Deal across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Influencers in this network include Democracy At Work (235k subscribers on YouTube) the New Economy Coalition (20.4k, Facebook), Mijente (48.1k, Instagram), New Georgia Project (46.7k, Twitter) and Sister Song (41.2k, Twitter).
Progressive members of the Democratic Party and movement adjacent leaders are also contesting for narrative power in conversations about the pandemic, mostly around the care economy, and policy platforms like the People’s Bailout, covid relief, cancelling student debt and the Heroes Act. Influencers inside of this network include Stacey Abrams (2.6m, Twitter), Reverend Dr. William Barber II (330.1k, Twitter), and members of The Squad. They mostly contend for narrative power across platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
On the Horizon
COVID-19 HAS CREATED A
DYNAMIC NARRATIVE SPACE.
While some opportunities have narrowed over the past year we have started to see others expand. There are long term and near-term narrative interventions that progressive actors, influencers, organizations, formations and movements can invest in and continue to build towards a vision of a multi-racial democracy and an economy that works for all of us. We have seen people, networks, and organizations come together in extraordinary times to do extraordinary things in response to an onslaught of crises over the past year. There are also foreseeable opportunities, in relationship to the narratives explored in this landscape map, to strengthen the infrastructure that was deployed in the lead up to the Presidential election, deepen relationships amongst communities and networks, and support broader narrative change. Some of these opportunities are a continuation of openings we named last year, while some come out of a shift in conditions since January 2021.
KEEP ON BUILDING THAT “BIGGER WE.”
Unemployment, housing insecurity, and financial relief have maintained volume across race and class in Covid conversations. They often intersect with a growing interest in unions, racial justice, anti-corporate sentiment and criticism of the wealthy, and climate justice. There are narrative connections to be made across these struggles and relationships to build and deepen here.
CONTINUE TO BE EXPLICIT ABOUT RACE, CLASS, GENDER, SEXUALITY, AND DISABILITY IN COVID-19 CONVERSATIONS, ESPECIALLY AS IT RELATES TO THE ECONOMY.
We know from the seminal work of Makani Themba and from the messaging work of We Make the Future, that when we erase race from our communication, we set ourselves up for policies and practices that further entrench institutional racism. Knitting together the stories of COVID-19, the struggle for racial and gender justice, worker protections, climate justice, and a people-centered economy can build that bigger we and move us toward the common purpose of a liberatory, multiracial democracy.
WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY RIGHT NOW TO REDEFINE THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT AND BUILD GOVERNANCE THAT PRIORITIZES PEOPLE, NOT PROFITS.
Conversations around Big Tech and bigbusiness also suggest a narrative opening to move the needle on the role the government plays in meeting peoples’ basic needs. The lack of public internet infrastructure and the digital divide, #FreeTheVaccineconversations, democracy and voting, and the forthcoming national infrastructure bill provide opportunities to expand the notion of what is priceless and what resources should be held by the public.
DRAW LOCAL AND NATIONAL CONNECTIONS TO TELL A DIFFERENT AND COMPELLING STORY ABOUT GOVERNANCE.
We should still emphasize and lift up how our communities have taken care of each other so beautifully over the last year, but mutual aid conversations have not advanced narratives around transformational government. Lift up stories of government and local partnership, government accountability, and public officials serving their communities with devotion and love. Use stories of mutual aid, not just to point out community care, but to demand transformational government that meets peoples’ needs.
Examples of these stories include West Virginia’s vaccine rollout and incentive program and health department partnerships with Black churches across the country. Strategically point to the explosion of mutual aid during the first wave of the pandemic to make the case for meaningful governance.
PUSH BACK AGAINST PRODUCTIVITY AND COMPETITION NARRATIVES.
- Productivity places an inherent value on the number of people vaccinated, how many kids are back in school full time or middle class women back in the workforce. But so many things are priceless and people know that there are so many things in life that can’t be measured.
- Emphasize the ecosystem of people who have gotten us through the pandemic and draw attention to examples of our priceless experiences — hugging a loved one, the health of a child, or the place you call home. Don’t let the numbers define the debate or flatten the experiences of our communities. There are many people doing great work in this area —challenging dominant frames around the economy, centering people, and underscoring the importance of care in everyday life.
AMPLIFY AND DRIVE CONVERSATIONS THAT CENTER WORKERS AND LONG-TERM, GOOD PAYING JOBS. WHILE NOT EVERYBODY IDENTIFIES AS A WORKER, EVERYONE WANTS A STABLE JOB.
- Make connections across industries. COVID-19 has left a big crack in the conversation about the economy. While productivity and growth are still primary drivers, we have seen the reemergence of #RaisetheWage, and support of unions and an expansion of the social safety net in 2021.
- While there have been loud anti-union conversations around schools, there have also been parallel pro-union conversations around Amazon that connect to criticisms of Big Tech and the risks that frontline workers have taken throughout the pandemic. Efforts to organize in the publishing industry, tech workers and universities, and indications of shifts in unions in the energy industry, coupled with legislation around infrastructure and the PRO Act indicate energy and openings to continue pushing the narrative on wages, unionization, worker protections and tech accountability, while naming corporate greed that centers profit over people.
ACTIVELY NAME AND DEFINE SAFETY.
- Draw linkages between safety and other movement efforts. Along with a rise in conversations about the end of the pandemic and a “return to normal,” we see a deep overall desire and concern for safety.
- There is an opportunity to leverage this desire to expand notions of safety and center care, sustainability, and preparedness while making links to including the Movement for Black Lives, gender justice, disability activists, and worker protections.
- Mis-and-disinformation, varied responses to the virus, and a chaotic year have destabilized and fragmented notions of safety. Progressive communicators need to step into this void and define the parameters of the conversation. Uplift the safety of children and teachers in schools, care for our elderly and the sick, and readiness for future national challenges.
CONTINUE TO AMPLIFY MESSAGES WITHIN THE NORMAL WAS THE CRISIS NARRATIVE BUT DON’T LEAN TOO HEAVILY INTO APOCALYPTIC TROPES.
- While we need to tell a clear story about where we’ve been, the crisis moment we’ve arrived at, and where we’re headed, a focus on criticism can often depress action. The harms caused by capitalism, racism, and patriarchy need to be balanced with a clear vision and clear solutions.
- Project an aspirational vision of the future that speaks to peoples’ material conditions — weariness, exhaustion, and hanging on — and underscores that change is possible. Stitch stories together about mutual aid, creative governance, and people-centered economies that have come out of the pandemic and draw on rich histories. Regularly connect the dots between these disparate stories to weave a bigger narrative on transformative and just governance.
DRAW DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN WHAT IS ACTUALLY POPULAR AND CONVERSATIONS WITHIN THE POLITICAL CLASS.
- Keep the focus on people and use the narrative momentum to push for bigger, bolder progressive wins. As the ARP was poised to pass in March 2021, we saw President Biden, and progressive , and centrist legislators pivot away from the dominant narrative around political polarization and idealized bipartisanship toward popular public support. This was an effective strategy that resonated across audiences by making people, not politicians, the protagonists.
- Reinforce the popular support most progressive policies command by centering people, not political frameworks. Socialism and communism continue to act as dog whistles against the expansion of democracy and a progressive agenda. Conversations almost always spike around policy fights and movement moments. Don't take the bait or spend time debating what socialism is or isn’t.
- The GOP doesn’t quite know how to counter broad popular support for progressive policies right now. After the passage of the ARP we saw GOP politicians trying to take credit for provisions in the bill, despite their “no” votes. Simultaneously, they used predictable messages on government overreach, debt, and socialism, using dog whistles suggesting everyone from Black farmers, incarcerated people, immigrants, and working parents were getting more than they deserved. Take advantage of this dis-alignment; keep an eye out for culture war wedges, continue to hold them accountable for votes and call out distraction tactics — like their obsession with "cancel culture" — directly.
BE PROACTIVE ABOUT WHO THE MAIN CHARACTERS ARE IN A GIVEN STORY.
- We can change the story when we work together. We watched the narratives around vaccine hesitancy evolve in real time. But ultimately, it took many months to shift some focus away from anti-Black coverage and toward issues of access and entrenched vaccine resistance amongst white Republican men.
- On the flip side, there was no major shift in conversations about reopening schools, where teachers’ unions have continued to be cast as obstructionist villains who are preventing economic progress. Align with partners around messaging early and often. We can anticipate these similar narratives that center anti-blackness and cast unions as antagonists in the near future on infrastructure bills, climate, and voting. Be ready to name the actors who are actively causing harm and redefine the heroes.
MAKE COVID-ERA POLICIES PERMANENT.
- Stimulus checks, expanded voting rights, the child tax credit, student loan relief and the eviction moratorium were all established over the last year but many are set to expire in 2022. We have already seen GOP leadership moving their long-term plan to suppress voting across state legislatures and roll back Covid-related expansions while President Biden and Democrats signal that policies like the child tax credit are at risk of evaporating. Leverage the networks that were activated during the election to push back against voter suppression and advance the narrative that it should be easy to participate in government and the government works for us. We can weave together stories from across the country that highlight record civic participation and effective representation to support progressive narratives about democracy and change peoples lives.
PEOPLE CARE ABOUT THEIR MATERIAL CONDITIONS AND THEY DON’T ALWAYS TALK ABOUT THEM USING PROGRESSIVE TERMS OR CAMPAIGN HASHTAGS.
- The volume around stimulus checks, both in 2020 and 2021 far outstrips most other COVID-19 conversations, including unemployment. This content includes jokes and memes alongside political commentary and lyrics in songs. We should use these moments to both engage in a different tone — humor, relief, joy — while inviting people into conversations about the social safety net and a government that works. Some specific opportunities on the horizon include:
- Vaccination: Harness the excitement and relief embodied in vaccine selfies and content of families and loved ones reuniting to celebrate the collective experience, community safety, and contributions of caregivers and frontline workers. Lift up stories of community partnerships and good governance.
- The American Jobs Plan: Leverage the progressive language that has already been introduced to emphasize the care economy, center people, jobs, and families over abstract terms like “infrastructure,” and name specific material benefits that will come from bold policies. Tell stories about where this is already happening, like in Native communities.
- Children and Family: The pandemic has put a spotlight on education, women in the workforce, and care infrastructure like sick leave, childcare, and care workers. Connect stories around well-being at school, baby bonds, early childhood programs, and families affected by the pandemic to support care economy narratives.
- The child tax credit provision in the ARP is going to go a long way in impacting the lives of working poor and working class families of color. We know these policies are imperfect and do not apply to the most marginalized groups, including returning citizens with felonies and undocumented families. Leverage the potential expiration of the provision and care provisions in pending infrastructure bills to connect all of these stories and push for bolder change. Elevate stories of families who will be impacted by the tax credit, and uplift the belief that popular, progressive policies are the key in addressing economic barriers felt by many families across the country.
- Sub-conversations on the mental health and struggles of children who are out of school, child poverty, the expansion of the child tax credit and even the some of the recent conversations about children at the border suggest a narrative opening to shift focus away from punitive stories about the working poor toward care, wellbeing, and policies that support children. This attitude is held, to some degree, across ideologies but stay alert for risks. While these policies have advocates across partisan lines, the right wing will reinforce a narrow, hetero-normative definition of family and will likely use anti-LGBTQ and anti-Black dog whistles as wedges to support the status quo.
- Debt Cancellation: It’s unclear when and if student debt cancellation — or other debt cancellation — will materialize but there is growing momentum and some debt has already been forgiven. There are on-going opportunities to celebrate debt cancellation, imagine what life would be like without debt and push for bolder action.
Right wing threats over the last year focused heavily on personal liberty, competition, and anti-Black and anti-Asian narratives manifesting in mask opposition, the April “Liberate!” conversations, and the proliferation of anti-vaxx and covid hoax conversations. We saw dominant conversations that employed Red State versus Blue State competition frames and pitted people and governments against each other. Law-and-order conversations spiked after the summer uprisings, dovetailing with the emergence of Trojan horse narratives on election integrity and security, and false claims of voter fraud deployed to undermine the 2020 election. These same claims are currently being used by the GOP to justify the rollback of voting rights across 43 states. Most of these narratives were often accelerated by networks of disinformation, and amplified by regular people, often unknowingly.
Most of these risks are still operating in the narrative landscape but since Joe Biden’s election and the shift of power in the Senate, we have observed the right wing refocus on tried-and-true wedge issues that rely on white nationalism, neoliberal economic policy, and the culture wars in order shape and control COVID-19 narratives and beyond. We can anticipate the risks below and build strategies that advance our vision of multiracial democracy, justice, and liberation.
Immigration as a Crisis.
- Immigration has reemerged as a powerful wedge issue within the COVID-19 conversation and beyond. It is a reliable galvanizing issue for the right wing media, and right wing networks will continue to use immigrants as a way to create controversy, attack political opponents, and shift focus away from progressive efforts and narratives that center care, justice, and equality.
- In January we started to clock anti-immigration content in right wing news media. While other news media were covering the stimulus bill and vaccine roll out, the right wing news media had started to run stories about the Southern border aggressively. These stories painted immigrants as super spreaders who are compromising reopening and efforts to get back to normal. Toward the end of March 2021 these conversations moved from right wing media to both neoliberal and left media. #BidenBorderCrisis and stories connecting immigration, Biden immigration policy, and COVID-19 have since trended upwards.
- Criticisms of the Biden administration include the idea that his presidency is “more of the same” xenophobic, back-to-normal American imperialism. These critiques made by news media, progressives and leftits are legitimate, but the right wing leverages them to further nationalist, xenophobic narratives. Conversations often conflate and flatten immigration policy across the Biden, Trump, and Obama administrations leaving the narrative squarely on the right’s terms. There is a risk that a general sense of defeatism in these conversations will likely be used to fuel voter apathy during the 2022 and 2024 electoral cycles, whether it is by leftists critiquing electoral politics as a viable strategy; the right dogpiling on the Democrats’ broken campaign promises to peel off voters; or chaos agents sowing election discord.
CHINA IS THE ENEMY.
Anti-Chinese conversations have been amplified throughout the pandemic, building on existing sinophobia and white nationalism and further fueled by the Trump Administration and their political allies. These conversations blame China for the pandemic and often move anti-Asian conspiracy theories.
- Anti-China rhetoric, which is expressed across ideologies, poses real risk. Increases in violence against AAPI communities had led to the rise of #StopAAPIHate and #StopAsianHate conversations. Throughout the pandemic this conversation was present but low in volume. We observed a dramatic increase in the usage of both the #StopAAPIHate and #StopAsianHate and hashtags and subsequent conversations on Anti-Asian violence since the violent shooting of 6 Asian women in Georgia on March 15th.
- China is also regularly used as a geopolitical foil and economic rival to the United States. Both within and beyond COVID-19, there is political agreement across the two major parties and mainstream news media that China is an economic and global rival. These twin conversations, which vilify both China and Asian Americans, contribute to broader white nationalist and capitalist narratives and are used to justify violence, Cold War-style policies —especially around the economy and democracy — and hurt people at home and across borders.
THE GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM.
- There are dominant narratives around government inaction and inefficiency that span ideologies. Left and progressive networks need to be careful not to play into these narratives. Regardless of our own reservations about government, this is the narrative terrain that is worth fighting for. Compelling stories about government action, and real material changes need to be uplifted and woven together to shift anti-government narratives and move us toward multi-racial democracy. Left and progressive networks can counter the GOP’s push to roll back voting rights rejecting frames on election integrity and fraud. Instead, uplift voting policies like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and elevate messages that say the GOP is ushering in a new era of Jim Crow with anti-democratic voter suppression legislation in direct response to an election won by the power of the people at the ballot box.
- Conservative frames around debt, bloated government, and economic anxiety shape the broader conversations around government intervention. We can see that in the use of terms like “spending” instead of “investment” and an obsession with raising taxes, tax hikes, and fiscal irresponsibility. Racist dog whistles that point to the undeserving poor like “welfare queen” and government scammers also animate both limited and anti-government narratives.
- Conversations around voting rights, voter suppression, election security and election integrity have maintained much of their volume and velocity since the Presidential election. As conservatives try to roll back Covid-related voting practices, they will continue to push false narratives about election fraud and appeal to values of fairness and security to advance anti-democratic practices.
- Always make the voters the protagonists. Instead of focusing on political platforms and policies, lead with the kinds of change and government intervention people actually want. Lean away from polls and policy checklists and push leaders to respond to the needs and desires of their constituents.
- The Right is building a covid narrative that advances individualism and limited government based on state and local examples of leaders who resisted lockdowns, reopened quickly, and never fully closed schools. The actions taken by Governors DeSantis, Abbott and Noem are used to tell a national story about government overreach and harmful economic policies during the pandemic. They are often placed in contrast to the covid response in California and New York to demonize Democratic leadership and undermine government intervention.
- Legislative and policy-related conversations as well as content that focuses on political elites are opportunities for the right wing to continue to use congressional bipartisanship in order to delay, dilute, and deter popular progressive policies. These conversations operate within elite political networks, driven by elected officials, news media on the politics beat, and advocacy organizations. Broadly, the rest of Americans don’t pay close attention to these insider conversations beyond election cycles.
MIS-AND-DISINFORMATION ISN’T GOING AWAY.
- Our research is clear: mis-and-dis information plays a tremendous role in shaping covid narratives and permeate nearly every conversation we’ve monitored. Covid mis-and-disinformation makes use of anti-science and anti-government sentiment - transmitting narratives around the deep state and government corruption, white nationalism, sinophobia, and anti-vaxx conspiracies. We can expect the related risks and effects to continue within and beyond COVID-19.
- Covid-related mis-and-disinformation cross-pollinate around race, class, governance, and the economy in order to drive alignment away from progressive visions of the future post-covid and towards authoritarian populism. Though much of Covid-related mis-and-disinformation has been traced to former President Trump and his GOP loyalists, the narratives it relies on have made it easy to spread throughout the general public because they rely on existing narratives to amplify and accelerate their spread.
- Build mis-and-disinformation mitigation strategies into all of your plans. We have seen misinformation and disinformation explode and overlap — particularly affecting Black and Latinx communities — using age-old narratives, as explained in our piece for Nonprofit Quarterly, “Defanging Disinformation: 6 Action Steps Nonprofits Can Take.” Use our Disinfo Defense Toolkit curated by ReFrame and PEN America for the Disinfo Defense League to get started.
THE ONGOING CULTURE WAR.
- The right wing will continue to use culture war tactics to advance their agenda and distract from popular and progressive narratives. In the past several months we have seen abortion leveraged against vaccines, mis-information about red meat and climate change, and a slew of transphobic legislation meant to activate traditional cultural frames.
- Transphobic narratives have already spiked several times since January 2021. Both the Equality Act and an anti-trans amendment introduced during the ARP debate were meant to shift the narrative around Covid relief bills. Transphobic stories — particularly around gender identity and sports — are featured prominently in right wing media and will likely gain steam and mainstream coverage as slew of anti-trans legislation has been introduced by conservative legislators across the country, with Arkansas as the first to ban trans affirming care for transgender youth. We can expect these conversations to gain in volume over the next 18 months.
- Cancel Culture has been on the rise since summer 2020, when members of the GOP co-opted the phrase as part of their culture war during the Republican National Convention. It was also a major theme at the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). GOP claims of cancel culture are used to shift the narrative terrain back in their favor by activating deeply held beliefs about free speech, censorship, and democracy across ideologies. We anticipate this tactic will be used in any conversation that involves pushing back on traditional GOP values and across conversations on policy, pop culture, as well as individual politicians or media workers who are values aligned with the right.
Our Research Process
We conduct narrative research on established, emerging, dominant, and trending narratives. We also track for narrative voids; places where there is an absence of coherent stories that add up to a clear narrative. Our research tracks volume and velocity trends, conversational patterns, stories, content and messages, and network influencers across time, platforms, and channels. We meticulously dissect content (news articles, social media content, websites, broadcast news and entertainment, podcasts, forums, and more) to identify embedded messages, story and character archetypes, and their underlying ideas, values, and beliefs. This report uses a combination of Google Trends, Zignal Labs and narrative and content analysis done by our Signals team at ReFrame.
Navigating narrative space is never an easy task — especially during COVID-19 — so we created the Rona Report to help those who don’t have the time to find the signals in the noise of the landscape we communicate and organize in every day. Our initial research period began in March 2020 and we continued tracking trends for over a year. We conducted a second, focused round of research from March 1—March 31, 2021 where we focused on COVID-19 and the interconnected trending conversations around reopening, vaccines, the economy, and the role of government in the United States.
This landscape map represents significant trends and patterns we identified over the course of our year-long analysis. It is meant to provide a 50,000 foot view of the concepts, values, and beliefs that shape common sense around both popular and nascent concepts, ideas, and values on jobs, workers and the economy in the COVID-19 narrative landscape in English in the United States.
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Small Listening A method that relies on person to person relationships, informational interviews, surveys, traditional media scanning, and social media scanning to inform keyword development applied in big listening technology.
Big Listening* The art and practice of tracking topical online conversations over time — listening to what “the internet,” writ large, is talking about at any given moment. Track millions of pieces of data on online conversations that impact the meaning people make offline. Big listening is distinguished from traditional social media monitoring by its scale, fluidity, focus on topics, and expanded access to historical data. Big listening provides a methodology by which to deeper understand how meaning is made across time and space. *Adapted from Upwell.
Volume The quantity of keyword mentions within a conversation over a designated period of time.
Conversations are categories of keywords related to a particular topic that are monitored in real time and historically using big listening technology. We track conversations to analyze the exchange of content including messages, stories, information, ideas, and opinions.
Narrative Void Indication of a vacant space in the public discourse where there are not enough stories or messages to cohere into a solid narrative. *Inspired by data voids, defined by Data & Society as search terms for which the available relevant data is limited, non-existent, or deeply problematic.
Influencer We define influencers as individuals in the narrative space that wield clout. They have some public name recognition, a large number of followers (though this number is relative, not fixed), or are seen as a representative of their community with a robust network offline to match their online presence. Regardless of size, they have the ability to affect the volume of particular conversations across networks and audiences.
Misinformation is information that is false, but not created or distributed with the intention of causing harm.
Disinformation describes information that is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organization, or country.
For more information and tools on combatting disinformation, check the Disinfo Defense Toolkit curated by ReFrame and PEN America for the Disinfo Defense League. Also check out ReFrame’s START Tool, a campaign- based tool that can help sharpen your strategy, and help you decide whether or not to use strategic communications to intervene in disinfo as one of the barriers to winning your campaign.