First Cohort of IFL Fellows Showcase Their Projects at Pitch-a-Thon

Brown’s Information Futures Lab fellowship program provides dedicated practitioners with the resources, time, and support to develop and test pilot projects that address information disorders and digital literacy.

Every minute, an estimated 500 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube, 347,200 Tweets are posted to Twitter, and 1,700,000 pieces of content are shared on Facebook. The overwhelming amount of information online exacerbates the spread of misinformation—a problem familiar to science communicators. Combatting this deluge of mis-and-disinformation is a challenge that the Information Futures Lab (IFL) at the Brown University School of Public Health is seeking to address. As Associate Professor of the Practice Stefanie Friedhoff, the co-director of the IFL, stated, “Misinformation doesn’t occur in a vacuum; it is facilitated by the design of our information ecosystems.”

To help tackle this information crisis, particularly in the field of public health, the IFL has launched the Information Futures Lab Fellowship. This program provides eight dedicated practitioners with the resources, time, and support they need to develop and test pilot projects that seek to address information disorders and digital literacy.

Recently, the first cohort of IFL Fellows gathered in Providence for the IFL Pitch-a-Thon. The invite-only event offered fellows a chance to showcase their projects to an audience of faculty, staff, and researchers from Brown University. The fellows come from diverse backgrounds, communities, and countries, including Nigeria, Thailand, the UK, and the US, and are working on a range of public health-related misinformation and disinformation issues.

Their projects include empowering young people in Nigeria to combat anti-vaccine disinformation, and raising awareness of the health impacts of air pollution in Thailand and advocating for a clean air law. Another project aims to bring an online media literacy program into secondary schools in the UK to help brace young people for media diets high in social media content.

Lam Thuy Vo, a data journalist and professor at CUNY City Journalism School, is examining what she calls the “gamification of paranoia” through popular apps like Nextdoor, Neighbors, and Citizen, which send up-to-the-minute crime alerts to users. As an IFL Fellow, Lam’s project focuses on the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the Bay Area. Lam is concerned about the impact these crime alert apps may have on their mental health, as anti-Asian violence has surged since the pandemic.  “Algorithmically warped information” can create moral panics, she said, and her goal is to fill the gap left by languishing local news sources, and provide reliable, timely information about the safety of neighborhoods.

Misinformation doesn’t occur in a vacuum; it is facilitated by the design of our information ecosystems.

Stefanie Friedhoff Co-director of the IFL

Kelsey Scott, a public health communicator at Oakland’s Roots Community Health Center, is working to create authentic public health materials that represent the residents of East Oakland, which in turn may lead to better-informed health choices. And Adrienne Ammerman, a communications specialist from the WNC Health Network, is building a health communications platform called ARCLET. This platform will make it easier for health communicators, like Kelsey, to create culturally tailored and evidence-based public health information for any community in any idiom.

Each of the projects, if successful, has the potential to be scaled to serve a national or international audience.

The IFL fellows, Friedhoff said, embody the principle of “being the change we wish to see.” She encouraged them to run their pilots and conduct their research, testing their ideas in real-world scenarios. The fellows will return to Brown and report their findings in six months’ time.