Zeynep Tufekci named Tar Heel of the Month by N&O for COVID-19 insights and advice

February 1, 2021

The News & Observer recently named Zeynep Tufekci, Associate Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), Tar Heel of the Month in recognition of her early warnings and sound advice on the COVID-19 pandemic and related issues. 

Snapshot of Zeynep Tufekci
Zeynep Tufekci on a 2020 research trip to Sri Lanka. 

“As a tenured professor with international influence and a moral duty, she spent most of her time the past year fighting against misinformation, despite the risks of challenging the global health authority,” N&O Higher Education Reporter Kate Murphy writes in her Jan. 29 profile of Tufekci. “Her extensive research on the social impacts of digital technology and misinformation, how humans interact with each other and the sociology of pandemics proved to be essential in her efforts to help mitigate the spread of this virus that has killed more than 2 million people.”

Throughout 2020, Tufecki wrote columns and op-eds that appeared in the Scientific American, The Atlantic, and The New York Times, among other national venues. She repeatedly broke down complex data about the virus and its spread into understandable and actionable insights.

Her March 17 op-ed in the Times, in which she criticized public health officials for sending mixed signals about the importance of masks to prevent virus transmission, was reportedly the tipping point that convinced the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to change its stance in April.

In the fall, the New York Times lauded her for regularly “getting the big things right,” not only in regards to COVID-19, but also in her previous analyses of Twitter’s impact on social movements, media coverage of school shootings, and the risks of radicalization via YouTube. 

A principal researcher with Carolina’s Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP), Tufekci was already a well-known and often quoted source on topics related to digital technology, politics, social media, and artificial intelligence. 

While she published extensively about COVID-19 issues throughout 2020, they were not her exclusive focus. She wrote columns and gave talks addressing concerns about the presidential election, the importance of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, and the risk of authoritarian power grabs to U.S. Democracy, among other topics. 

Tufekci has continued to advance the pandemic discussion in 2021, asking “Why Aren’t We Wearing Better Masks?” in her Jan. 13 column for The Atlantic and blasting vaccination red tape in a New York Times op-ed

She is also co-author of a paper, “An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19,” published in the January Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The article debuted on Pre-Print in 2020 and has registered more than 370,000 views and 88,000 downloads.