The Social Science Research Council, with funding from The Rockefeller Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, will quantify the costs and harms of mis- and disinformation, and identify new tools to reduce its impact.
New York | November 16, 2021—The Social Science Research Council announced the creation of The Mercury Project, a three-year, $10 million investment to combat the growing threat of mis- and disinformation on public health in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic with $7.5 million in seed funding from The Rockefeller Foundation and an additional $2 million in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and $500K from Craig Newmark Philanthropies. Responding to calls from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General, and the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder, the Call for Proposals opened today seeks ambitious teams worldwide to quantify the scope of the problem and its impact on society, as well as identify tools, methods, and interventions that better support people’s health across nations.
“We need to stop thinking about misinformation and disinformation as just a technology problem,” said Bruce Gellin, Chief of Global Public Health Strategy at The Rockefeller Foundation. “This requires swift, strategic, and synergized efforts embodied in the vision of The Mercury Project, a landmark effort to tackle these problems and build solutions we can use long after this pandemic is over to help protect us from any future pandemic threats.”
This funding highlights the critical role of communications and community engagement for the success of global public health programs, as well as the powerful role of research both in reducing mis- and disinformation’s effects and in discovering new ways the public health community can share accurate and effective information.
“This pandemic has revealed the real and physical risks that mis- and disinformation in our media environment pose to us all. Currently we lack knowledge about cost-effective interventions that may be able to counter the effects of mis- and dis-information, and support the uptake of reliable and accurate information,” said Anna Harvey, President of the Social Science Research Council. “But evidence, data, and collaboration are cornerstones to solving many of society’s global issues, and the researchers in The Mercury Project consortium will lay the groundwork to improve public health now and for decades to come.”
“The Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder focused its recommendations on reducing the worst harms, creating transparency, and building trust,” said Chris Krebs, founding director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and co-chair of the Commission on Information Disorder. “This initiative does all three: it addresses public health risks, which put everyone in harm’s way, and it seeks to create an evidence-based model using data, which builds both trust and accountability. It’s great to see three major philanthropies driving this work forward, and I hope their leadership will inspire others.”
The Mercury Project will fund projects based in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Latin America for up to three years and will, for the first time, connect organizations fighting public health misinformation on five continents and provide an opportunity to share resources and communicate best practices. A significant part of the program will include annual international convenings of grantees, other researchers, and leaders in policy and technology to develop joint recommendations that advance global public health.
The Mercury Project is accepting applications for projects examining the causes and costs of health mis- and disinformation online and/or offline that pioneer one or more of the following:
- Interventions that remove obstacles people face to accessing reliable health information;
- Solutions that create equity in access to health information;
- Effective approaches to increasing Covid-19 vaccination efforts that will also inform future vaccine uptake efforts.
“Mis- and disinformation disproportionately impacts communities of color and plays out in the context of structural racism and a history of medical abuse and neglect in this country. It feeds off of racial tensions and deep-seated socioeconomic anxieties in ways that are harmful to individual health and trust in community institutions” said Dr. Alonzo Plough, Chief Science Officer and Vice President of Research-Evaluation-Learning at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We need to understand how an individual’s information ecosystem forms and evolves and what makes it vulnerable to mis- and disinformation; we need to develop more targeted interventions to counteract mis- and disinformation; and we need better ways to ensure that everyone has access to accurate, high-quality information from a source they can trust. Research on these topics will help to define the future role for public health in keeping our information environment safe.”
“The fight to build a trustworthy information environment is not easy, but the victory is for us all,” said Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. “If left unchecked, misinformation in our online world will only continue to chip away at the trust, truth, and fairness that is central to our health systems everywhere. The Mercury Project is a really serious effort to counter that risk with real-life tools that our policymakers and technology experts can use to support our society’s safety.”
The Mercury Project, which alludes to the ancient Roman god Mercury of messages and communication, is accepting initial letters of inquiry on a rolling basis from now through May 1, 2022. Applicants are encouraged to submit their letters as soon as possible, and successful applicants are invited to submit a full proposal. More information about the application process and criteria can be found here on the Social Science Research Council’s website.
About the Social Science Research Council
The Social Science Research Council, an independent, international nonprofit, mobilizes necessary knowledge for the public good by supporting scholars worldwide, generating new research across disciplines, and linking researchers with policymakers and citizens.
About The Rockefeller Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation to enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We work to promote the well-being of humanity and make opportunity universal. Our focus is on scaling renewable energy for all, stimulating economic mobility, and ensuring equitable access to healthy and nutritious food. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at rockefellerfoundation.org and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.
About Craig Newmark Philanthropies
Craig Newmark Philanthropies was created by craigslist founder Craig Newmark to support and connect people and drive broad civic engagement. It works to advance grassroots organizations that are getting stuff done in areas that include trustworthy journalism & the information ecosystem, voter protection, gender diversity in technology, and veterans & military families. For more information, please visit: CraigNewmarkPhilanthropies.org.
Social Science Research Council
The Rockefeller Foundation
Craig Newmark Philanthropies