What Can Atlanta Teach Us About Responding to COVID-19 as Georgia Re-Opens

A growing number of states are allowing their shelter-in-place orders to expire and considering how they will reopen for business. Communities face a hard question in the new paradigm: how can they balance people’s desire to get back to work and the possibility of economic recovery with the necessary steps to prevent a new spike in virus transmission?

When Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said on April 20th that Georgia would adopt the most aggressive reopening policies in the country, the reception was mixed. Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s mayor said:

It appears that the governor’s orders supersedes anything that I can do as mayor, but I certainly still have my voice that I can use. And what I’ll continue to ask Atlantans to do is to please stay at home.

I’m not sure what data the governor is referencing in helping him make this decision. I’ve not spoken with him. I’ve talked with the mayor of the second-most popular city in Georgia, Mayor [Hardie] Davis in Augusta. He’s not spoken with him. So we don’t know what the governor is looking at.

What I do know is that we have more than 19,000 people who tested positive as of this evening…I’m extremely concerned about the announcement the governor made. I hope that he’s right and I’m wrong, because if he’s wrong, more people will die.

To support Georgians and Atlantans in this pivotal time, we’re hosting a design challenge inviting creatives, designers, strategists, academics, technologists, healthcare workers, disinformation experts, and professionals of all stripes to create solutions for the COVID-19 infodemic in Georgia.

The world is dealing with a flood of misinformation around how to keep safe. The WHO says we are not only fighting a pandemic, we are also fighting an “infodemic” — an over-abundance of information — some accurate and some not — that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.

This is not the first infodemic. Coined by David Rothkopf, infodemics have always trailed calamities.

Sylvie Briand, director of Infectious Hazards Management at WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme and architect of WHO’s strategy to counter the infodemic risk, told The Lancet, “We know that every outbreak will be accompanied by a kind of tsunami of information, but also within this information you always have misinformation, rumours, etc. We know that even in the Middle Ages there was this phenomenon”.

“But the difference now with social media is that this phenomenon is amplified, it goes faster and further, like the viruses that travel with people and go faster and further. So it is a new challenge, and the challenge is the [timing] because you need to be faster if you want to fill the void…What is at stake during an outbreak is making sure people will do the right thing to control the disease or to mitigate its impact. So it is not only information to make sure people are informed; it is also making sure people are informed to act appropriately.”

”Science is slow; the virus is fast; and information is faster. But misinformation travels the fastest, which itself is perverse and punctuates the unfortunate nature of this progression, thereby shining a light upon itself as the first point of intervention,” says Daveed Benjamin, founder of Bridgit and co-founder of the COVID19 InfoImmunity Project.

But misinformation is big business. Last year, Facebook took down 6 Billion fake accounts, mostly bots. And at any given time they have 5% bots which now is about 400M fake accounts at any given times. This tells us here is a lot of money is fake accounts. Fake accounts change behavior — getting people to buy things they don’t need, not vote for a certain candidate, and act violently towards others.

Information overload is incredibly anxiety-provoking — which is true even when the information is accurate, but here, if people get the wrong information from unreliable sources, we may have more trouble slowing the spread of the virus. And we can’t afford to get this wrong.
~Jaimie Meyer MD MS, Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist

We need a safe (for all ages) and secure Next Generation Internet with sufficient contextual information to identify potential misinformation and thoughtfully make up one’s own mind. This cannot happen on today’s Internet. Of course, we do not need to thoughtfully contemplate everything but it should be done for things that matter — for things that require our collective intelligence and learning like responding to the Coronavirus.

The projects that are born out of the Infodemic Challenge: Spotlight ATL are part of the immune system of the Internet.

As Georgia re-opens gradually, we’re a team of volunteers coming together to find creative solutions to keep every Georgian in the loop about up-to-date medical information that can save lives.

The Infodemic Challenge is focused on building powerful tools to support communities and organizations in Atlanta in the fight against misinformation. The solutions developed in this challenge will be informed by the direct experience of Georgians. As citizens of the most densely populated area in the state, the voices of Atlantans are critical to our collective success.

We’re giving teams a chance to learn from and solve for the COVID-19 challenges of each of the community groups listed below:

  • Employers & Employees — Solutions that support better communications, workplace practices, and collaboration between employers and employees
  • Vulnerable Populations — Solutions that protect one or more specific populations that are particularly vulnerable to COVID19 (e.g. elderly person with pre-existing medical conditions, disabled, prisoners) or enable advocacy organizations and agencies to better support them.
  • Media Influencers & Journalists — Solutions that enable media companies, social media, influencers, journalists, and/or news consumers stop fake news and misinformation in the news and help people find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.
  • Policy Makers & Law Enforcement— Solutions that improve communications, practices, and collaboration between local Atlanta agencies, state agencies, law enforcement, and their constituencies.
  • Researchers & Health Workers — Solutions that support researchers working on a cure or flattening the curve as well as any kind of medical staff or health worker to better do their job.
  • Clergy & Religious Congregations — Solutions that support better communications, practices, and collaboration between clergy and their congregations around stopping fake news and misinformation and helping churchgoers find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.
  • Educators, Parents & Students — Solutions that improve communications between educators, students, and parents as well solutions that provide better virtual learning experiences.
  • Women & Children — Solutions that protect women and children and enable advocates and agencies to improve communications, practices, and collaboration with and on behalf of women and children.

We need to ensure everyone is informed — so we’re reaching out to you and your communities to inform our design solutions over the course of our two-weekend-long challenge.


Join the challenge and post this to your story and/or feed with #InfodemicChallenge @InfoImmunity The Auxiliary
  1. Join our hackathon using the following form.

2. If you’re based in Georgia: can you take five minutes to fill out this form, detailing the COVID-related communication challenges your community? Please pass it along to the smartest and most connected people you know as well.

We’d really appreciate any insight you can give us into how the COVID-19 virus and the confusion around it have affected your community.

Visit our website infoimmunity.com to learn more.

Please reach out to infodemicchallenge@gmail.com with the subject line “Infodemic Research” with any other questions.

Connecting the World with Context. Bridgit is a web overlay that advances the way the world exchanges information on the web. Try our Chrome extension today!

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