OPINION: News Manipulation, The Risk Of Civil War, Russia And Ukraine: RAND Weekly Recap

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This week, we discuss how Russia and China manipulated news about COVID-19; the risks of America’s increasingly uncivil behavior; measures to help stabilize the health care marketplace; attracting diverse talent to the public sector; the value of understanding student opinions; and how the West could help Ukraine.

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Tracking News Manipulation During the Pandemic

Both Russia and China used their authoritarian power over the media to manipulate news about COVID-19 and advance their political goals. A new RAND report identifies these subversive efforts, including Russia’s advancement of anti-U.S. conspiracy theories about the virus, China’s efforts to improve perceptions of its pandemic response, and both countries’ use of media to oppose public health measures.

The authors identified these patterns using a scalable infrastructure to capture and analyze an enormous amount of news articles, as well as machine-learning and other data-analysis tools.

This proof-of-concept study provides a potential blueprint for creating a public system that can detect manipulation of the news by malicious state actors at the global scale. In fact, the authors recommend that the U.S. government consider supporting the establishment of such a system.

A cyclist rides along fencing that was erected around the U.S. Capitol in the wake of the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., July 8, 2021

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Is the U.S. Headed Toward a Civil War?

Violent threats against politicians. Polarization on social issues. A surge in citizen militias. Does this behavior mean the United States is heading toward a second military conflict between the states? This threat cannot be dismissed, says RAND’s Brian Michael Jenkins. But it’s more likely that the United States will face “a turbulent era of civil disturbances, armed confrontations…and other acts of political violence—in other words, one that is a lot like the last 200 years of American history.”

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Preventing Health Insurance Loss During Future Recessions

Temporary safety-net measures helped prevent widespread loss of health insurance coverage during the pandemic. That’s according to a new RAND study. The findings also show that provisions of the Affordable Care Act alone might not have fully prevented such insurance loss. This suggests that current legislative proposals to make the temporary, pandemic-related measures permanent could help stabilize insurance coverage during future recessions.

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The Value of Student Voice

Understanding students’ views can make the process of teaching and learning more reciprocal and could help address issues of inequity in schools. Results from a new RAND survey suggest that nearly all secondary school leaders are capturing student opinions, especially through informal conversations and surveys. Even though most educators said that they respect and listen to students, they also reported that student input doesn’t necessarily influence decisionmaking.

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Developing a Pipeline of Diverse Talent for the Public Sector

Although there is great interest in attracting talented and underrepresented individuals into public-sector jobs, college graduates may not be considering these career paths. A new RAND report highlights opportunities to address this challenge by examining the public-sector workforce in Southern California. The findings point toward two goals: increasing underrepresented students’ awareness of public-sector opportunities and making public-sector organizations more diverse.

A soldier stands guard near a tank position close to the Russian border near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, March 24, 2014

Photo by Dmitry Neymyrok/Reuters

How the West Could Help Ukraine

There are reasons to worry about increased Russian threats in Ukraine, says RAND’s William Courtney. And if such threats materialize, there are ways that the United States and its NATO allies could provide support. These include supplying Ukraine with more weaponry, further buttressing defenses in the Baltics, and imposing tougher sanctions against Russia. Although the Kremlin’s intentions remain unclear, one thing is certain, Courtney says: “the West will be watching.”

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