The Fight Against COVID, Sexual Violence in the Military, Disinformation on Social Media: RAND Weekly Recap

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July 23, 2021

We discuss ways to keep up the fight against COVID-19; countering sexual assault and sexual harassment in the U.S. military; foreign disinformation campaigns on social media; how algorithms could help social media users moderate their own content; the risks of launching into a “new space era,” and the pandemic's effects on strategic competition in sub-Saharan Africa.

A member of the Armed Forces receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine obtained under the COVAX program in Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 15, 2021, photo by Agustin Marcarian/Reuters

Photo by Agustin Marcarian/Reuters

How to Keep Up the Fight Against COVID

Recent health and economic trends suggest that continued vigilance is needed to fight the pandemic. “The world needs to be as relentless as COVID-19 to defeat it,” says RAND's Krishna Kumar, who has discussed how to address gaps in the pandemic response. Here's an overview of his insights:

  • In the United States, vaccination rates are uneven, allowing new strains—such as the highly contagious Delta variant—to spread rapidly in some areas. Providing vaccination incentives, combating misinformation, and tailoring public health messages to specific communities could help address vaccine hesitancy.
  • In many other parts of the world, the challenge is lack of vaccine availability, rather than hesitancy. To help meet demand, developed countries could further ramp up vaccine production and help developing countries increase their capacity. Relaxing trade restrictions on vaccine components and other goods could also help address supply chain challenges.
  • To support U.S. economic recovery, investing in skills and job training could help connect unemployed people with unfilled job openings, and expanding childcare assistance may help women (who have been pushed out of the labor force in record numbers) return to work.

Without such efforts, Kumar fears that “a future mutation or two of this ruthless virus could send us scurrying for cover. Again.”

A U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor prepares to initiate "Lights," the start of her platoon's morning routine, photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley/U.S. Marine Corps

A U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor prepares to initiate “Lights,” the start of her platoon's morning routine

Photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley/U.S. Marine Corps

Countering Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the Military

Sexual assault and sexual harassment remain a persistent problem in the U.S. military—especially for women and sexual minorities. And without bold action, these behaviors will continue to have negative consequences. That's according to a new report based on years of RAND research. The authors identify several recommendations, including establishing multiple channels for service members to report sexual assault and harassment, including confidential channels that exist outside their chain of command.

Capt. Sarah Miller and Tech. Sgt. Carrol Brewster discuss options in response to a staged cyber attack during filming of a scene for an AFRC mission video at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, June 1, 2019, photo by Maj. Christopher Vasquez/U.S. Air Force

Capt. Sarah Miller and Tech. Sgt. Carrol Brewster discuss responses to a staged cyber attack at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, June 1, 2019

Photo by Maj. Christopher Vasquez/U.S. Air Force

Combating Foreign Disinformation on Social Media

How are China, Russia, and North Korea using disinformation on social media to advance their interests? A new RAND report finds that the disinformation campaigns executed by these states may be more nuanced than they're commonly portrayed. And while much of the U.S. response is currently ad hoc and uncoordinated, efforts to counter disinformation are evolving. However, disinformation campaigns are evolving, too, so it's unclear who has a competitive edge going forward.

Woman using smartphone with social network icons, photo by Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images

Photo by Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images

Can Algorithms Help Social Media Users Help Themselves?

Social media platforms generally rely on human moderation to remove prohibited content. This slow process often allows hateful, violent, or false material to spread wildly before its removal. But there's another option, according to RAND's Christopher Paul and Hilary Reininger of the Pardee RAND Graduate School: Platforms could use algorithms to generate prompts that encourage users to moderate or fact-check their own content before posting. This could help reduce the spread of harmful content while respecting freedom of expression.

Super Typhoon Noru photographed by ISS astronaut Randy Bresnick above the Northwestern Pacific Ocean on August 1, 2017, photo courtesy of NASA

Super Typhoon Noru above the northwestern Pacific Ocean, August 1, 2017

Photo by ISS astronaut Randy Bresnick/NASA

A New Era in Space May Require New Rules

The space tourism industry saw key milestones this month, as billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos—along with small crews—embarked on short flights to space. In a recent paper, RAND experts considered the risks that come with increased space activity by a growing number of companies and spacefaring nations, including the potential for extraterrestrial collisions and conflicts. Importantly, the authors also outlined the first steps toward ensuring responsible behavior in this “new space era.”

Staff members of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency promote social distancing at the Ikorodu Community School in Lagos, Nigeria, photo by Adeyinka Yusuf/Getty Images

Staff members of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency promote social distancing at the Ikorodu Community School in Lagos, Nigeria

Photo by Adeyinka Yusuf/Getty Images

The Pandemic's Effects on Strategic Competition in Sub-Saharan Africa

The pandemic has caused considerable health and economic harms in sub-Saharan Africa, and there is growing concern about spikes in cases due to the Delta variant. A new RAND paper assesses the effects of COVID-19 thus far on the continent, as well as how the outbreak may have shifted strategic competition there. In particular, the authors look at China's and Russia's attempts to exploit the pandemic and enhance their influence.

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