A post-truth pandemic?


As the coronavirus pandemic continues apace in the United States, the dizzying amount of data being generated, analyzed and consumed about the virus has led to calls to proclaim this the first ‘data-driven pandemic’. But at the same time, it seems that this plethora of data has not meant a better grasp on the reality of the pandemic and its effects. Even as we have the potential to digitally track and trace nearly every single individual who has contracted the virus, we have no idea exactly how many people have had the virus, been hospitalized, or died because of it, largely due to a confluence of factors, particularly active obfuscation and mismanagement by public authorities and misinformation spread through social media and right-wing media channels. But beyond these dynamics, there also lies the less nefarious ways that the everyday, subjective practices of data collection, analysis and visualization have the potential to themselves (re)produce these very same dynamics where data is at once valorized and ignored, preeminent and completely useless. That is, the pandemic has revealed only the general inadequacy of our data infrastructures and assemblages to solving pressing social issues, but also the more general shift towards a ‘post-truth’ disposition in contemporary social life. But, as this paper argues, it would be a mistake to see the centrality of data as being somehow the opposite from the larger post-truth apparatus, as the two are instead fundamentally intertwined and co-produced.

Big Data & Society 7 (2): 1-6
Taylor Shelton
Assistant Professor of Geography