Breakfast Panel on the Global Threat of Disinformation vs. Democracy


yes good morning welcome this morning
I’m Ken Wollack president of NDI and I wanted to welcome you to what
promises to be a timely and informative discussion on democracy and
disinformation which is the theme for NDIS 25th democracy Award dinner
tomorrow evening at which we will be honoring the three panelists who you
will be hearing from this morning margo gontar stopfake in ukraine maria reza of
Rattler in the Philippines and Phil Howard of the Oxford internet Institute
at the University of Oxford I wanted to thank Politico for being the media
sponsor for this event and Susan Glasser politicals chief columnist for
moderating the panel and for interviewing senator Cardin we now know
that the initial views about the impact of technological change were incomplete
there were those who had presented a cyber utopian or cyber optimistic view
of the impact of social media on democracy whereby increase Internet
access would inevitably lead to more open societies this has now given way to
perhaps a more realistic if not darker view as Wael Ghonim the democratic
activist whose Facebook posts helped ignite the Egyptian revolution warns
social media he said was once seen as a liberating
means to speak truth to power now the issue is how to speak truth to social
media each of our awardees and the organizations which they lead are all
responding to this call sometimes at great personal risk for its part nd I
launched its info Tegrity initiative in Palo Alto last spring through this
initiative we are providing tools and other assistance to hundreds of civic
groups worldwide representing four million citizen monitors to detect and
expose disinformation being spread to subvert democratic elections we are
connecting political and civic groups across borders and regions who can learn
from each other and support each other in the fight for truth online and
through other mediums we are carrying out new types of public opinion research
that can identify populations that are most vulnerable to disinformation and
find the most effective ways to reach them with facts in other words to build
resistant resilience and from our office in Silicon Valley we are working with
technology companies to what we call design for democracy to find ways to
reduce the abuse of their platforms for disinformation purposes something
Senator Cardin has taken a lead on we are certainly not alone
in this effort this is a global challenge that requires a concerted and
multifaceted response now given that our two of our three awardees are
journalists I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that our dinner tomorrow
coincides with the UN’s International Day to end the impunity for crimes
against journalists the day will also memorialize the more than 900
journalists who have been killed in the past 11 years for their reporting so I
would now like to turn our program over to Rob Liberto the treasurer of nd eyes
board of directors who will introduce Susan and senator Cardin thank you very
much good morning it’s my pleasure to
introduce our two discussants in senator ben cardin we have someone who has spent
his life as a legislator and a public servant he has been a legislator for
over 50 years first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1966
served in the Maryland House for 20 years was one of the youngest speakers
ever of the Maryland House of Delegates then in 1986 he was elected to represent
a district in Baltimore where he served in the house for 20 years and then in
2006 was elected to the US Senate he’s one of our the nation’s foremost foreign
policy voices as the ranking member it would be chairman if the Democrats took
back the Senate of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee I mean we don’t you
know we’re not partisan here at NDI he has worked across party lines to advance
national security and he’s been an outspoken leader in protecting universal
human rights senator Cardin has served on the US House sinky Committee
commission since 1993 and has been chairman on two occasions in 2015 he was
named special representative on anti-semitism racism and intolerance for
the 56 Nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe parliamentary
assembly senator Cardin has denounced Russian military aggression in Ukraine
and Syria actions that violated international commitments and showed
clear disregard for the sovereignty and humanitarian norms
together with Senator John McCain II introduced and passed the Magnitsky Act
the single most important piece of legislation to impact Russia since
jackson-vanik to ensure that there would be consequences for violating human
rights after Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election
senator Cardin immediately began a bar partisan effort to strengthen
comprehensive sanctions with his knowledge of foreign policy human rights
cyber security and hybrid warfare senator Cardin is the perfect panelist
to address those topics this morning the moderator of our discussion in the known
and journalist Susan Glasser who currently serves as politico’s chief
international affairs columnist and host of the weekly podcast Global Politico
Susan served as the founding editor of Politico magazine and editor throughout
the 2016 election cycle she has reported from the halls of
Congress to the Battle of Tora Bora she has deep knowledge even vast knowledge
of Russian politics and foreign affairs she spent four years traveling the
former Soviet Union as the Washington Post Moscow Bureau Koch bureau chief and
discovered and covered the Wars of in Iraq and Afghanistan she co-authored
Kremlin rising Vladimir Putin and the end of revolution with her husband the
New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter
Baker also if any of you had the opportunity to watch the PBS two-part
special on Putin Susan is very prominently featured in the first
section the second second piece airs tonight it’s really terrific program so
go back and watch it if you haven’t had a chance been watching tonight during
her tenure as editor-in-chief of a foreign policy of the magazine was
record as a finalist for 10 national magazine
awards and a 1/3 of the magazine’s world’s highest honors before that Susan
worked at the Washington Post shouldn’t look old enough to have done all this
stuff where she was a foreign correspondent editor I’m the post Sunday
outlook and national news section and a political reporter she began her career
at roll call roll call covering the US Congress so please join me in welcoming
senator ben cardin and politico’s susan Glasser well Rob first of all thank you
very much for that very generous introduction ken thank you for your
leadership here at NDI Susan it’s good to be with you let me just at least try
to wake you up by saying you don’t I don’t think America fully understands or
even closely understands the danger of disinformation and the concerted efforts
that our enemies are waging in order to affect our system of government
I want to thank NDI because you have been a champion on building democracies
by strengthening political parties and civil societies and engaging in dialogue
between elected officials freely elected officials in the public that’s critical
to a democracy and we need to acknowledge today that we have enemies
that are trying to compromise our democratic systems of government by
using our democracy or democratic institutions against ourselves
so you’ll see reports Russia’s interference in the United States
elections what Russia is doing in other parts of the world or different bits and
pieces but which you don’t really focus on
that this is a designed effort by our enemies using many many tools in order
to use disinformation to really bring down our system of government and expand
their influence globally so it’s a pretty sophisticated effort and to give
you a little bit of a tease Damien Murphy is here as a staff in the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee we intend to issue a report from the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee later this year that will outline in a pretty
comprehensive way what one of our enemies Russia is doing in regards to
the disinformation and their efforts not just in the United States but globally I
also want to congratulate the three honorees that will be on the next panel
really on the front lines and the experience personally these these issues
Russia to me is the most dangerous country in the misinformation they
operate in many countries a Marshall fund study recently indicated that
within the last two decades has been 27 countries in Europe North America that
Russia has been directly engaged in the misinformation they use all types of
vehicles from silencing those that would tell the truth taking them out
discrediting them using Russia controlled media to spread
misinformation using propaganda using funding proxies in order to deal with
misinformation and there are many many examples that we can point to around the
world but making up stories in order to get an anti-immigrant sentiment as we
saw in Germany to planning misinformation about a journalist who is
disclosing the there are troll farm operations and Finland to directly
financing elections in Montenegro to try to disrupt the Montenegro’s accession
into into NATO they were directly involved in the brexit to
and with misinformation in order to support the the the exit exit campaign
so they’re directly involved in these issues the question is what do we do
about this and I’m just an outline just very briefly we got to improve our
resiliency against this attack and it starts with for Free Press and
investigative reporting so I’m very pleased at this forums at the Newseum to
me the key is to get the investigative information and support investigative
reporting we also need to be realistic and understand of the attacks that are
against us so as we’ve built a very strong military defense against our
enemies such as NATO and our alliances around the world we need to build that
type of resiliency recognizing the protection of our democracy this the
Congress started that yeah in the bill we recently passed authorizing 250
million dollars for a fund to work with our European friends to build
cybersecurity and to build an anti propaganda campaign so that we can
counter the attacks that we’re finding against our own country and then lastly
there’s a common theme that we see and I miss all these campaigns and it’s
corruption we really need to address the issues of corruption globally and
there’s some legislation that we’re authoring this year to try to deal with
that to get a better grip on it Russia the people of Russia are wonderful
people we should recognize that many have been extremely courageous our our
our campaign is against the corruption of light Amir Putin and the way that he
has controlled this country he’ll start a war in order to become popular and
stay popular and we need to recognize that it’s based upon his corrupt
practices he’s the wealthiest order to be the wealthiest person in Europe and
he’s been a public servant all of his life so we need to deal with these
fundamental issues if we’re gonna protect our democracy and the democracy
of our allies around the world thank you for being here to learn more part of
this is a better informed constituency better informed citizenry
on the risk that we have to our democracy senator cardin thank you so
much and thank you of course through everyone for coming out this morning
right it’s you know a nice late subject to start your November off but it’s it’s
incredibly well timed right this conversation and I want to start right
where where you began which is how global is the threat you talk about 27
different countries in this report that Russia has been active in one thing
that’s been striking to me is this didn’t just start obviously in the 2016
election even though many people here in the United States are focusing on this
you know the people I knew in Russia circles right they were
I used to say they were like blinking red right the light was going off and
they were sort of trying to get attention because this was happening in
countries next to Russia for quite some time in Eastern Europe in Central Europe
what do you think there were signals along the way do you have a starting
point for this well first of all the 2016 engagement of Russia in our
elections I think Russia was caught off guard as to why we thought it was so
surprising I mean they’ve been involved in this for or this is not the first
election they’ve been involved with they’ve been engaged in this information
and planning information in the United States and globally for a long period of
time this has been a conscientious effort admittedly it was mr. Putin when
he rise the power that really took this to a level that we had never seen before
yes in the United States primary target Europe primary targets are the former
republics of the Soviet Union and those countries that were under control of the
Soviet Union that that was that’s their primary target their secondary targets
are in Europe and we are a third target and a great prize for them to be able to
get so yes we saw signs of this well before the 2016 elections we were naive
about it and we saw Russia putting a lot of money into RT and to Sputnik and to
other news medias and we saw we were looked at their news we thought it was
pretty clever we didn’t recognize their involvement in social media that I think
caught us what by surprise and we’re now seeing
the numbers at least I was not aware of how widespread their influence was on
social media we learned during the 2016 campaign that they have developed ways
in which they can make fake news look real and get it circulated at a very
very quick level and we also now learning through what is happening with
the investigations that they use American talent American assets the best
that they can to further these goals some of this is innocent contacts by
Americans other is just greed and by Americans trying to profit wherever they
can not recognizing the damage they’re doing to our country but there has been
certainly complicity by by Americans as there have been in other parts of the
world against the interests of their own country well it’s interesting you raised
this point about we’re just learning now obviously some of this playbook even
though it’s been used in other countries I interviewed Jim clapper the former
Director of National Intelligence who was under President Obama and he said
that was the big new revelation over the last few months is the extent of the
social media use and manipulation but you raise this point that there have
been some actions taken that that you’re putting together a fund for example that
would work with European allies and partners on this are there concrete
things that we are not yet doing that we didn’t do before that we should be doing
for example you mentioned the countries of the former Soviet Union several of
them are now NATO members members of the European Union in the Baltic States for
example how do we share information right now are there concrete things that
we could be doing that we haven’t yet done and are there tools that people
have found that are effective in your view right we’re certainly not at the
level we need to be in sharing information among their allies I talked
to many of our European friends as to how well prepared they are in regards to
first the cyber activities not just Russia by the way there are other
countries that are active engaged in misinformation and using
cyber information to either compromise individuals or to get information that
they can use and spin in the way that they think is useful for their
objectives we we have because of the dangers of Seibert directly to our
national security in compromising our military or our energy or a banking
system or transportation grid there’s been more cooperation on cyber security
than the propaganda issues and the uses of information against our democratic
institutions what we’re trying to do is use that same model that we’ve used on
cyber cooperation to use it on propaganda and how attacks are being
made detection of our free election systems
Europe is very concerned about the free election system they’re working with us
on that actual voting systems you mean well yes I mean they could manipulate
actually in the United States it’s difficult because of the way we control
elections are so local that it’s it really is extremely complicated to
figure out how you can but recognize as we saw in some of the work in the 2016
elections Russia was hiring American experts who knew where the
vulnerabilities were to change an election result of what precincts are
the most important what communities are the most important they hired those type
of experts in the United States in order to target there are social media to
those critical spots it doesn’t take a lot for Russia to figure out well if we
can manipulate but not to manipulate every voting booth if we can manipulate
a fraction we can affect the outcome of elections or we can affect the outcome
of a Senate race or it can affect an outcome of a house race so yes we are
worried that they will directly get involved in trying to manipulate
election results every country’s a little bit different the integrity of
the election system is something that we spend a lot of time on so I tell you we
are taking precautions we do know we’ve been hacked you know how many state
systems have been hacked that’s me we know that so we are trying to shore up
the this cific elements of a democratic system
but it’s the broader issues on the use of social media the use of
misinformation disinformation the propaganda the amount of resources
Russia puts into RT and Sputnik and those types of issues versus what we do
we being the Western alliance and we are nowhere near where they are so this
appropriation and I’m going to give the appropriators credit because they
started before even the authorization was passed putting money in the budget
is now it was released by the Trump administration they’re now implementing
it is to develop a NATO type strategy among our allies to recognize that we’re
under attack and how can we protect us against disinformation no it’s it’s
interesting you use this phrase under attack I wanted to ask you what is the
sort of framework in which you see this problem some people have given it almost
a military connotation right I think was former Vice President Dick Cheney said
something like this is akin to an act of war many people have looked at general
grass mobs article of a few years back in Russia and promoting the idea of this
as a tool and a part of a new kind of hybrid warfare other people say listen
this has been around you know long before there was Facebook or Twitter
this was a part of the Soviet Union’s playbook in Eastern Europe how do you
personally view it do you think it’s war is the right metaphor here you’re
falling into Russia’s trap that that’s Russia is spending money in this country
to convince us that this is nothing more than what’s been done through since the
beginning of time it’s a conscientious effort to say we all do this so why is
America getting upset and you were flowing trap to it because we’re given
legitimacy to this I mean the most absurd example I could give you this
information Rob mentioned the Magnitsky law that we passed the facts of
Magnitsky are well established known these are facts Russia’s hired American
PR firms discredit Sir Magnitsky and we see this on social
media all the time so we’re now getting is there two stories two minutes key no
there’s not two stories two minutes key and they’re not two sides to this this
is a cyber is an attack against our country when you use cyber in an
affirmative way to compromise our democratic pre-election system that’s an
attack against an America so I’m guessing you’re yes then and you
know that’s a very good example that you brought up about Sergei Magnitsky not
only do you have the sort of fake news aspect or the the propaganda aspect but
you actually now I believe they went into a courtroom in Russia just the
other day and they’re now claiming that not only was Sergei Magnitsky not killed
by the Russian authorities in jail in Moscow but that actually somehow his
employer bill Browder from thousands of miles away killed him while he was in
the Russian jet yeah the absurdity of what they say but you know we say that
this is ridiculous nobody’s gonna believe it but it does discredit this is
there this is their mo this is what they do and the Magnitsky trademark has
gotten such an important global point Russia is spending a great deal
resources to discredit the individual himself and of course bill Browder
they’re trying to discredit him as soon as Canada passed the global Magnitsky
law Russia for the fifth time put prouder Don the Interpol lists and it
caused a little bit of commotion for a few days so and then but but that story
over being the internet now forever that that bill Broward was is an
international criminal was evil an Interpol this how kid that’s a fact he’s
when Interpol this isn’t here criminal so that’s how they operate and nothing
is too small and their objectives are very large for Russia and other
international players to use disinformation but their principal
objective and they did this in our elections is to say everybody does
it everybody does it so you get some people discussed it and they don’t
participate and we see this playing out in American politics not that we are
facilitating the Russians intentionally I’m not suggesting that at all but we
see this play out in American politics where we reinforce this message and
therefore what is real news and what is fake news the public’s starting to
wonder whether anything is real and therefore they take fake news and they
take real news and they evaluate it the same that’s frightening
have you seen examples in your work on the Foreign Relations Committee of other
countries learning lessons from this very sophisticated campaign by the
Russians around the world not just here in the United States are you seeing
other countries other authoritarian governments that are learning these
lessons and applying them oh absolutely we see you know propaganda has been
around for a long time Russia’s taking it to a different level
the particularly use of social media they are well ahead of any other country
but yeah so we see other authoritarian countries put out information that is
just blatantly false and they do it we also see them using other tactics that
Russia has used for maintaining popular support and a totalitarian government or
an authoritarian government you know we’ve seen some of this in Venezuela
we’ve seen some of this and in in China we’ve of course in a democratic country
the Philippines we’ve seen that believe I’m president dirt a saying that the
numbers are or you put out these are the authoritative numbers X number and we
know that the real numbers are much much higher than the numbers he put out and
you have an expert here talk more about the Philippines so yes we see this being
played out in other countries well so let’s go back to tools for a second as
you think about it as a legislator you know you you mentioned your work on
sanctions and you’re the co-author with Senator McCain of the Magnitsky act
we’ve imposed a series of sanctions also on Russia since the
takeover of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine do you think sanctions
can help address issues like this are there more effective tools obviously one
of the big challenges in dealing with this area is that we have freedom of
speech here and we have a First Amendment which inevitably makes it an
even more difficult legislative matter so Susan I got to correct you
Congress passed new sanctions against Russia haven’t implemented
the president has not implemented those new sanctions he missed the first
deadline on giving us information he has now given that to us the next end lines
occur early next year that will be watching pretty carefully to see whether
these mandatory sanctions are in fact carried out as Congress intended now
there is certain discretion that the administration has in definitions
Congress was pretty clear as that will be intended there is going to be strong
oversight I’ve had numerous discussions with the Trump administration and I hear
the right things from the people who are implementing the statutes but Senator
McCain and I intend to be very much active in making sure they are carried
out mr. Putin really despises sanctions he despises them he hates the menisci
law he despises the sanctions that Europe in the United States opposed
against him for what happened in Ukraine and he’s very offended by the two pieces
of property that had been taken away from him in the United States one
happens to be in Maryland so these are really important issues they may not
seem to be much but they really are so if we take this to the next level which
is what Congress mandated it will get Russia’s attention and I think it will
affect their conduct bill take us to as far as will let them take us take no
they will not in my view invade a NATO country because they are concerned that
we will live up to our treaty commitments and respond Ukraine’s not a
NATO country Moldova is not native just not NATO why are Russian troops
there because they can be there so we’ve got to make it clear that we are going
to be stand up against these attacks on the United States do you think do you
see a big difference between how China for example uses cyber tools or in
information warfare from the Russian campaign yes China is is active it’s not
more active than Russia on cyber they are extremely active they use it for a
different purpose they’re not there’s not as globally interested as Russia
Russia has global intentions as far as restoring the prestige of the Russian
Republic China is more strategic they just like to steal you know they want a
competitive advantage for their industries they want they they look at
ways that they can help their own country and their system showed their
citizens that they’re doing well so it’s it really is a different philosophy in
China it’s not that it isn’t dangerous it is dangerous but it is much more
strategic to China’s emerging interests as a major economic power yes they’ll
use it at times that they’re concerned about security we saw that on maritime
security issues there clearly an issue that’s on their mind and that’s causing
a major security issue and they’re certainly worried about North Korea as
we are worried about North Korea so they’ll use it in some of that aspect
for security most of its economic well it’s interesting you brought up North
Korea you know who was I interviewed I think it was Dennis Blair a month or so
ago and he he made the point that North Korea has really punched above its
weight when it comes to hacking and cyber intrusions and that you wouldn’t
think that a small isolated country that you know isn’t even connected to the
Internet for the vast majority of its citizens would have this as one of their
sort of asymmetric strengths but that they were quite strong in this have you
seen an escalation in hacking from North Korea at the same time that there’s been
this escalation in the public well North Korea
when you don’t use your resources to feed your people it gives you resources
to use them for other purposes they’re they’re extremely oppressive against
theirs they’re citizens as the we believe they’re number one in the world
when human rights violations so it’s and there’s a lot of candidates out there so
but North Korea is totally focused on regime preserving its regime they see
their nuclear program as their best way of getting there so they spend a lot of
effort on their nuclear programs most of their cyber activities are centered
around that objective there’s there’s different aspects to that but they’re
again they’re not like Russia that has these global desires for greater
influence North Korea’s trying to preserve a regime and are using their
cyberattacks for getting revenues working with criminal elements things
like that in order to further their self-preservation so tell us looking
ahead in your crystal ball we know you can see into it clearly is there
anything that stops this this cycle of escalation especially when you don’t
really see a at this point from the United States or from other countries
when it doesn’t work and it won’t work if the public’s better informed which
brings us back to where we are right now at the museum and and the freedom of the
press and investigative reporting and all those issues we have to have a
better informed constituency not just the United States but globally and
they’re better prepared so that they can sort out what is real and what is fake
and you know I would never diminish the intelligence of the people of this
country in the world they get it they need to understand the tactics are being
deployed they can sort through it once that happens democracy will prevail and
these tactics won’t work so yes I think there’s an end when it when it doesn’t
work power in this countries with the people you know I have to say as a
journalist it’s delightful that you’re so optimistic in a way about the the
power our profession because I will tell you
that in some ways you know I come out of 2016 somewhat concerned about you know
our religion always was basically transparency
you know sunlight is the best disinfectant but in many ways write a
fact-checking this has been a golden age for it we have more fact checkers
working at Western institutions here in the United States but but in Europe as
well than ever before right you have better access to facts and
information and and to real news along with fake news than ever before the
accountability question is is really where it comes to so give me some more
optimism here well first of all the news profession has changed so dramatically
probably changed since yesterday to today I’m just changing so quickly and
when I go out and I speak to groups all the time one thing I get President Trump
a lot of credit for he’s been extremely successful and I and I thank him for
this of energizing the public they really want to get engaged in the
political process more than ever before so when they asked how I tell them first
and I hope I’m not offending people in this room turn off the cable news for a
couple days every week and take a break you know because it’s distracting you
stay focused on the issues you care about so if your passion is to protect
America’s values on the refugee population the migrants the docker
registrants the temporary protective status stay focused on that issue
don’t let the indictments yesterday distract you from what you’re trying to
get done because that’s gonna be the story for the next couple days and now
the next day will be President Trump saying that he had the largest crowd
ever in in Asia than anybody has ever had in the history of mankind and that’s
gonna be the news for two days because that’s what’s gonna be the cable so stay
away from that stay away from that stay focused on the issues and yes I think we
all have responsibility to get the facts on the refugee immigrant the facts are
clear we got to get that information out there’s been a lot of misinformation now
we know the the direct effort that was done in Germany and setting up leisa the
immigrant raped by an immigrant which was a false story in order to get the
anti immigrant you got to counter that so you got to get the facts out and but
I do think that there’s a lot of people out there who are on your side
you’ve got to empower them by making sure they don’t get distracted and they
get the real facts so that they can work and use the power of the people well I
know we’re almost out of time so I guess my final question to you is is there are
there examples of other countries or other institutions that you think are
getting it right or that are adopting policy choices we might look to adopt
here you know a lot of people talked about Estonia for example Estonia is
very striving doing a great job on cybersecurity we’re doing a great job on
cybersecurity I was at the the cybersecurity center of excellence in
Montgomery County Maryland they’re doing a fabulous job in my own state of
Maryland says there are some good things that are being done and we got to share
those those best practices I think that is extremely important I guess I would
just say that the challenge I think and where we really need to understand you
mentioned the first amendment we’re all very sensitive about the First Amendment
but we really need to understand the responsibilities of social media and
we’re having hearings on the hill dealing the social media the the
infiltration by Russia into what they did I think that’s going to be the area
where we can share best practices our technology firms here really are
extremely capable we need them to give us the answer to this problem that
doesn’t impede technology but protects us in our democratic institutions and I
guess to me it’s taking the innovative technology that we have and the people
behind it in the States in applying it to our national
security of our democratic institutions working with our European allies with
the monies that we already made available to develop new standards for
how to deal with this threat and yes I see that coming from the United States
of America I think we can do well it seems like you have a lot of work to do
up there on Capitol Hill senator thank you I know we’re we’re all very grateful
to you for sharing your time with us this morning especially on such a you
know timely subject so we appreciate that and as a journalist I have to say I
thank you for your very optimistic view of our profession and my only regret is
not to go back to the hill now so now I think we’re going to jump right into our
next panel so I’d love to invite the panelists to come up in social media we
are live in the Philippines this morning folks live in the Philippines well this
is really this is a treat I have to say for me I’ve been looking forward to
having this conversation all week cuz I want to hear what everybody has to say
but these are as was mentioned our three honorees and I think you can all find
out more information in your schedule here but let me go ahead and introduce
I’m looking to see if I have that description so our panelists today have
been brought here really literally from around the world and they represent a
lot of the front lines that Senator Cardin was talking about right so we can
almost right in I’ll just introduce everybody
as as we get right into it first of all right here we have Maria
Reza representing her organization rattler in the Philippines and she she
can literally discuss with us what it is like to be a woman on the front lines of
the disinformation fight with president de Arte so thank you so much Maria for
joining us thanks for having me no it’s wonderful congratulations
and then another front in the global war we already talked a little bit about
Ukraine this morning we have Margo cantar here who is one of the founders
is that right of the organization stopfake.org in Ukraine and what’s
amazing is that this is an organization that started really right in 2014 so you
know you’ve seen the whole evolution in some ways of how Russia operates in what
it considers to be a battlefield the cyber battlefield in Ukraine as part of
the actual battlefield so thank you so much no it’s late fool and he’ll Howard
here from the Oxford internet Institute I think is really helping to shape all
of our perceptions about how this works not just in one individual country and
your group has been doing really cutting-edge research not only about
individual case studies but about basically this rapidly developing new
field of computational disinformation I guess that’s the very fancy Oxford name
for it well thank you so much for joining us ville and of course we are
gonna bring in the audience as well and I’m looking forward to hearing some of
the very well informed questions I know we’ll get but let’s let’s go ahead and
start with you you heard the Senators remarks and
obviously he’s working to try to figure out how does the United States fit into
this global context in many ways of individual countries and individual
actors figuring out how to use these tools that we have for not just for
information but for disinformation what can you tell us about how quickly this
environment has shifted I mean one thing I think is that many Americans are
saying wow this you know where did this come from what’s your timeline though
what’s your chronology you’re laughing cuz you’re gonna say
we’ve been living with this for more than two years yeah well I certainly
agree it’s been around for several years we also started in 2014
looking at this phenomenon I was living in Budapest at the time and many of you
will remember the summer of 2014 was when the Malaysian Airlines flight was
shot down over Ukraine and I watched my Hungarian friends get multiple
conflicting stories about what had gone on there were stories that the Americans
had shouted down there were stories that Ukrainian democracy advocates had shot
it down because they thought Putin was on the plane they there was a story my
favorite was a story about a lost world war two tank that had been stuck in the
forests of Ukraine and come out and made the mistake of shooting down an airplane
with some really old soldier two very old soldiers took aim with their tanks
shot the plane down and so it was amazing to see how my Hungarian friends
were processing this because they knew that the origins of the story were with
Russia but processing it was part distracting everyone was part of the
strategy seeding these multiple conflicting often ridiculous stories was
the goal the communication strategy was not about giving the opponents one
message to respond to but four or five different ones so that opponents
couldn’t even agree on what the terms of response would be and the big surprise
for us in the research we started that summer 14 in summer 2014 the big
surprise about for us was watching this communication strategy move from being
one that dictators used in their country to one that authoritarian regimes used
to target voters in other countries and then to being a strategy that political
leaders endemic Persis also copied right so the strategy
of generating fake news is now a normal part of party competition in several
democracies and so over the last few years has been that that shift in
strategy and social media has been a very important part of making it
possible to seed multiple conflicting stories over our own trusted networks of
family and friends right that’s the secret that’s the secret sauce and
making the delivery so successful well there’s a lot more to come back to you
in there but that is that as a great sort of foundational story so you were
in Ukraine obviously when that happened right where were you when the Malaysia
plane was shot down it was actually two days before my birthday
no well to me it was in a way what we’ve seen afterwards it’s like a turning
point for a lot of mainstream media I mean like before we still needed to like
tell more what is it why it is dangerous and war actually can be happening but
after this tragedy all the the first pages of a lot of news media we’re
pretty concrete about stating like who can be behind it and what they think
about putting himself so on this way it is like a Black Swan like it Savannah
had this Black Swan effect so and and yeah we were fighting starting from
March with all the propaganda and everything and we will be doing we will
be seeing how Russian military forces are actually moving around and highly
support those metal units was that the specific origin of stopfake.org the
Russian denial of their military being in Crimea well we’re only little green
men yeah we launched actually day after are they like to the 2nd of March so it
was day after all news wear with this sign that why should declare the war
against Ukraine which officially it did not they just said they need to protect
russian-speaking population like speaking people in Crimea you
was actually the selling point of their invasion was actually in the fake news
because it all was all over the place that two Russians were killed in Crimea
that’s why they need to protect them the thinnest that they say that appeared to
be fake but they never withdrew the decision that they can do this and then
Greenman again wearing no with no insignia but later he himself admitted
it’s in a film so studying point was exactly for our project that we’ve seen
how many how much is information this information is in there and that it
might be hard for general public who does not have time on their hands and
maybe expertise to actually get to know because the thinnest we’ve done the
schools in Ukraine that a lot of people the majority actually feels that there
is a danger and the threat of Russian disinformation but the other thing that
majority again feels that they have the gut feeling to actually get the idea
what is fake with no problem expertise just because they will feel it but the
finish if you can feel it it’s a bad fake story because usually it’s more
complicated than that and it can actually be really hard to get the idea
and you will still advertise the fake narrative while you try to debunk it
right well I think that goes back to my question to the senator rate about how
is it possible that we can be living on the one hand and what is our inarguably
the Golden Age of fact-checking of access to information good information
ability right away to get to real facts and yet that that could coexist with a
golden age for disinformation it’s it’s paradoxical but I think you know that’s
that’s something that you are both experiencing I want to come back to you
about what you’ve learned in in undertaking this is 2014 but Maria why
did you start rap what is your sort of foundation story social media really you
know at the core of it is that social media spreads exponentially and so we
caught the positive wave so rattler is five and a half years old in
2012 we grew 100 to 300 percent based on that crest of social media but in 2016
we also watched social media destroy the democracy that that we had seen and you
know in a quick answer to the question that you you just post is you know when
when you have this exponential sea of information and the old ways of
determining fat from fiction are gone it hasn’t you know political your
credibility doesn’t necessarily translate online you’re the same as any
any person online more than same journalists who have been fighting for
the decades we would be the same in fact we celebrated that at the beginning but
now how do you separate fact from fiction when you’re separated from the
real world so that our goal now is to try to define that to try to harness it
to try to stop anger and hatred and you know we don’t have concrete links I mean
unwrap ler I have seen links from Russia we at the same way we’ve seen links from
China but in the Philippines the platform where you should see all of
this and the data is there I’m certain of it is Facebook because in the
Philippines and that’s I think the one thing we haven’t mentioned are the tech
platforms where all of this travels right in the Philippines we spend of any
country in the world and we spend the most on line and that’s from we are
social so you’re saying that but Facebook doesn’t give you the data no
like you know again if we say we want transparency I think that’s the first
step we don’t want transparency just from governments we want transparency
from platforms and I think the other part of the Philippines is that 97
percent of Filipinos on the internet you’re talking about roughly 58 million
Filipinos ninety seven percent are on Facebook so Facebook is our public space
right if if Americans are I think it’s roughly forty four percent yeah
we are rough almost everyone and our we’re very young population 23 years old
as the median age let me ask you though so do you agree with this war
metaphore do you believe that this is a form of information warfare and in in
some ways what you’re describing is not an external threat as much they’re
external people involved but that your democracy somehow was threatened from
with him it’s both I don’t think this is homegrown the tactics are not homegrown
we just have certainly seen it in other countries around the world but what
we’ve seen now is the campaign so our very very first social media president
is as mayor then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte some people call him the Trump of the
east some people call Trump to do tear there were six months ahead of the
United States so we could be a cautionary tale but what what you see is
state-sponsored online so online state-sponsored hate and I think that’s
one of the things if you’re not certain where it’s coming from if you’re being
manipulated if it is meant to stifle dissent and to shape a narrative why we
saw it so it’s funny he got elected in May 2016
but the weaponization of social media didn’t actually begin until after July
it’s slightly coincided with the beginning of the drug war you know it’s
no secret the Philippines has been criticized by every human rights group
for the thousands of people who have died in the drug war beginning July of
2016 and what’s happened since then is anytime anyone on Facebook questions the
extrajudicial killings they get bashed so the first people who felt it or human
rights activists people who were questioning the thousands of people who
were dying every night we would get if we would see at least eight people dying
every night at the beginning of this drug war then after that the next
targets were the journalists and after Raptor came out with a social media
propaganda series where we actually gave the data you know here it is 26 fake
accounts a sock puppet network of 26 fake accounts can ripple to three
million others we counted that annually for three months because we
didn’t trust attack that much until after the journalists went through it
and then we automated the scraping of the data the data is there we’ve given
it to Facebook and I think part of my great frustration now is that technology
really has to jump in you know it’s not within our hands the journalists are no
longer the gatekeepers the gatekeepers to the tech companies whether they take
it or not well I want to ask everybody this but just quickly do you worry as a
journalist that you know when we say technology is that is it’s got to
provide us the solution that we’re gonna be getting into regulating speech do
they have the capability to address this without impinging on people’s rights to
offer free speech including speech that we disagree with yeah absolutely I mean
that is the crux of it right and I think that the the question the challenge is
to define the line when freedom of expression becomes inciting to violence
or inciting to hate but from my experience what I’ve seen is given it’s
been almost two years that I’ve lived through this and I think at one point I
was getting 90 hate messages per hour per hour for a month for about a month I
mean the war zone from very hard to tell right now there definitely are BOTS on
Twitter and they’re definitely automated alerts on Facebook but just to get this
it’s easier to be a war zone correspondent than to be online now in
the Philippines because of the frequency of attacks and the attacks are
psychological now and the hard part is you don’t know when it transfers from
the virtual to the real world so given all of this and given that we have given
the data to the people who have the data you know the only thing I would say is
that at best it’s an abdication of responsibility for the tech platform at
worst it’s a kind of complicity with the state because any business needs the
state to operate and which business will actually put public good and press
freedom issues and a head of business that’s the dilemma
for them so Phil what is your research across countries tell us about exactly
this issue of first of all responsibilities of the tech platforms
and how much has it become now new capabilities that are enabling people to
do this beyond just you know a few people at a time I certainly agree that
in most other countries Facebook is essentially a monopoly publisher of news
right they have that stature and they play a functionally they play a
publishing role for many political systems and there’s a very important
gender component to this in that many of the we’ve seen over multiple countries
now the some of the most unfortunately the most successful campaigns are those
that target prominent female politicians prominent feminists intellectuals female
journalists there this kind of campaigning is particularly
driven successful at driving female voices out of public culture in multiple
countries I think that the moment for industry self-regulation is passed so
we’re at we’re at a moment where some kind of gentle public policy oversight
is needed the nature of that is going to vary a lot from country to country the
European Union is likely to regulate first before anything happens in the
United States so so the no task for us becomes trying to make sure that they
don’t over regulate right so the technology platforms on their own
haven’t done enough to help public life some gentle nudges from public policy
probably that involve just enforcing the rules that we already expect our media
providers to live by or I probably just enforce some of those norms filing ads
with central government officials you know making sure that they ads declare
who paid for them maybe these things are basic basic rules for political systems
and and making sure that social media platforms behave as media firms
that’s probably the way part of the way forward let me follow up on this gender
targeting the gender specific targeting do you it seems like there’s a lot of
head nodding here that everybody now women of course are already a minority
in public life here in the United States as well as around the world and so is
this targeting a vulnerable minority population in fact in the public space
or is there something specific you found that it that it is more effective
against women I’m happy to defer to the two of you who may answer that I would
just offer that there are that the goal of these campaigns is often to just push
a push someone off line to prevent them from doing their there and you know
growing number of civil society groups and journalists now have to face this
choice of responding aggressively or withdrawing so this is your point that
by responding sometimes to disinformation you elevate it or give it
a platform which of course the people who are producing it know very well yeah
but well basically you still need to go through these key points to decide
whether we react or not and I think like government officials sometimes do this
as well I mean like how far it goes like how many people actually seen the fake
news and how many people might see it more if you refute it but not reacting
at all is not the case if we’re speaking about fake information for example
because social media that would mention now that its we’ve seen how it’s may
appear in social media and then if no reaction happens media can pick up it
and then elevate it and basically the reason for this will be precisely that
it appeared in social media they kind of have the argument but way people are
saying about this so that’s why there might be they need to jump in right away
because a part of journalists there are also activists who would love to spread
the the truthful content but they cannot be before it’s being refuted so they
also wait for this refutation of fake appears so they can actually fly the
trolls who fight those who since really believe in so conspiracy
theories so just quickly in Ukraine since you’ve been going in 2014
how much have you learned that there is a connection between the the online war
the cyber information war and the physical war and and and also violence
against journalists we talked about that but you know does this exist purely in
the virtual space how much do you feel that it’s just a part of a broader
campaign of violence well thank you for those and I actually feel that well we
are now I think it was mentioned before but we are now in a situation when there
is no like distinction between the information and like physical action on
the war field so basically we information is being weaponized and it
all starts with information and information continues as the war action
mike-mike my go further so that’s why yes as definitely is definitely
influencing and we definitely seen how the impacts of this because it all
starts with winning the hearts and mind of people and then they can contraction
so basically some of it that you can could have seen in Crimea and in eastern
Ukraine being also a part of these campaigns as well do you feel that you
and your team are under actual threat physical threat I actually don’t know
this is what Maria mentioned this is exactly the thing I also received the
heighth messages about like dying in my own blood or something like this but you
never know like how much it is just like hateful comment that someone did out of
rage or because being paid for it and when they will know I don’t know do
something more so that I think that the main reason behind the right things
being under attack in terms of technical hacking or something yes we had them I
think three major ones and also we have something like it whenever some even
happening basically something connexes and Netherlands with
random so any particular even you can see more fakes coming and more like
attacks coming when this happening the other thing that we have great a team
and we basically managed to deal with that so tell me about the connection
that you see between you know the physical world and this sort of hate and
misinformation filled online world I’m just gonna pick up some of the threads
that you brought out right first is you know if if a lie is told ten times truth
can catch up but if a lie is told a million times its truth and I think
that’s that’s the problem that we have I don’t think we cannot not respond
because and we tried in two years we’ve tried everything from responding to
everything to not responding to anything and what we’ve found is at least if you
respond your your response is out there and and people can find it but they have
to find it because it depends on the algorithm growth this this information
is not just meant to make you click once on fake news it’s meant to game the
algorithm so that they they’re there this kind of disinformation pops up more
on the newsfeed so the first is that you cannot not respond now if you take it as
it individually right if I were to have responded to 98 messages per hour
98 messages per hour that would mean in a 24 hour days it would be 6500 hours I
don’t have enough time to do that and why should the journalist be the one to
have to police that platform that’s the second part and then I think the third
part is I’ve been so very patient because it was how we grew you know and
it is amazing the things that you could do with this exponential growth of
Technology disaster risk reduction fighting corruption getting a message
out starting a new group but what we’ve seen in and that you’ve documented this
in the computational propaganda reports in France for their elections because of
the US elections so first we actually gave that data in
August of 2016 and I actually said you know this could impact US elections and
then I was asked for the data again after the US elections after President
Trump won em were an outpost the French elections because of the US elections
30,000 fake accounts were taken down if 26 fake accounts can reach 3 million
how many can 30,000 fake accounts take down and then after yep just yesterday
just this week right because of the hearings here in DC all of a sudden were
told that almost 44 percent of Americans were reached by disinformation you need
to push to get this stuff the data is there action needs to be taken the only
groups that can take action are the tech companies ok so there’s so much to
unpack here Phil how much are you seeing lessons learn spread around you know and
is this solely the province really at the most voluminous level of state
actors right now you know how much is it going to be a tool that many others can
use what what can you tell us about the ways in which people are learning from
Russia’s disinformation campaign I think I think every election that has passed
since November 2016 Facebook has done more and more Twitter’s done more and
more to try to try to prevent electoral interference I think different
governments are trying different strategies among the strategies people
talk about that these are my favorites do these are just the ones people talk
about leaving it to industry to identify fake accounts and shut them down
other policymakers talk about algorithmic audits so we audit video
gambling machines we audit financial transfer algorithms perhaps we should
audit Facebook’s news algorithms to help understand what goes on in a way that
doesn’t violate their IP but we have systems for algorithmic audits we can
audit Facebook there are proposals to encourage to not
so much make Facebook a sensor but to put out more good speech so to try to to
counter all of this by promoting news from the credible news organizations and
that’s sort of a safe one because it’s it’s fairly easy to identify the top 50
most credible Norgan news organizations that kind of list is easy to come up
with it’s also fairly easy to identify the worst 50 we can identify those sites
so having social media platforms do a little bit more to make sure that the
reason public speech flows well and the nasty stuff gets stifled that’s that’s
another reasonable policy just quickly on that question of whether you’ve seen
other states take up some of these techniques and you know how much do you
see the lessons of 2016 being now fed back out into other places do you mean
learning the techniques of manipulation well that’s that seems ahead to me that
that’s another part that’s another I guess dark side of the story Russia has
been successful in doing this and so there are other regimes that are
applying the techniques sometimes it’s a matter of the same consultants
physically flying off to other capital cities to advise on how to do this
things well these things well in the next year alone there’s major elections
happening in South Africa and Egypt Pakistan right there’s there’s several
countries where racial tensions ethnic religious tensions run high where the
slightest rumor about misconduct you can take this from being a Facebook exchange
to being a violence in the streets very quickly so let’s go back to Ukraine
right now which in many ways has been sort of a laboratory for all of this and
still it so what tell us what you’ve learned you know what was the most
response that you got when you tried to fact-check
something what you know where did you get the most public response well the I
think the first thing I’m saying to a question was actually about what we
learn how it was said before again that we’ve learned that this is not the goal
of this information to actually made you believe what they say but this is
actually more to confuse you and to gain the skeptical skepticism that there is
no truth and I actually heard this from youngsters who actually tell me this in
a ball way like well you know I’m skeptical about truth I’m like wait
something wrong is here because how it can be skeptical but this gives this you
know intellectual right to intellectual laziness like right not to dig in not to
actually check what is happening this kind of feeling that everyone has their
own truth but this is not a relationship this is like a factual like context we
either have someone doing something or not you either know it or not then
investigate but this is precisely Kremlin’s stance I mean like I think
someone of them told like we will never know who actually shot but um but again
other thing than that I to me looks like the biggest response and the biggest
achievement in a way that we’ve seen Russian disinformation changed strategy
because for a few first months starting from March to summer we actually got no
response from them at all it was a weird time because we were like oh we have
active what is happening and in summer we started to see how Russian channels
were using the same patterns like of refuting base still to produce fakes and
this is exactly what is important to understand about how it works this is a
virus and they just use everything we have great like a chief sophist human
pioneering democracy and all the ways to realization Lee but just like to make it
look like a real thing but they still fake like they
make it look like a journalism material but it still might be fake and now I
think the latest we’ve seen is Russian Foreign Ministry having refuting fakes
about Russia on their website which is surreal yeah and Russia today having a
project called fake check which refute fakes like they say for example of
coming from Washington Post so this is against the real thing to me and it’s
still that so basically now we have this weird combination of everything but the
other thing which also we learned that Russia really that they have tailored
approach to any concrete country and they turn like push on the weak spots or
in sweet spots basically to influence so I think the most important thing to
understand for countering it is to know this weak spots there with minority
questions whatever can be used and the other thing is that usually it’s obvious
in Ukraine because it’s undermining everything Ukraine has and Ukraine s so
basically resources span on discrediting like describing in part of Ukrainian you
you discrediting us Ukrainian state but in other countries in West as well it’s
not so obvious so tremendous information here like everywhere might look like
just something similar to conspiracy theories but it still doesn’t look like
exactly coming from from Russia right exactly it’s not it’s more sophisticated
as you pointed out earlier it’s not you know parroting some explicit credit and
foreign policy line it’s play off of the conversation it just encouraged in
suspicions high school like narrative and something of like rather closing the
border and like communication rather than open and be like Turin and this
that’s why it might be harder like in European countries you know they’re like
to pinpoint in just with a gut feeling but this is an excellent point I want to
bring in our audience in just a second but yeah I want to come back to you does
anything work have you found anything that changes for example how president
Duterte has gone about his campaign or would you say
he’s winning so what we’re seeing right now is and it wasn’t great to hear the
senator talked about how journalists can do this but what if journalists are
being replaced right in the Philippines there’s an active state propagandists
and again that same kind of you know shifting everything over the glass is
half empty half full we can start there and then as you move the line further
you’re Alice in Wonderland and a whole chunk of your population believes
something completely different from the reality that you have so the way we
dealt with it last August when we started seeing anger and hate being used
on these fissure lines in society it’s obviously a scorched-earth policy right
I studied the Ukraine in Russia and one of the things we tried to do is you know
to shine the light you talked about that and then when we did that effect I
figured we did the right thing because we were attacked and then when the
journalists were attacked and then working with the state when the state
then the term decides to take bloggers to the UN General Assembly instead of
journalists these are all signals that ripple through our society so the quick
answer to your question what works you just got to hold the line you just hold
the line and you know that that spiral of silence that began in July last year
lifted this year around only about two months ago you know and and I think that
I’m hoping for the people who are watching from the Philippines you know
we cannot stay quiet what happened two months ago a fourteen-year-old boy was
killed in the drug war and you know again this is an in a difference between
the United States and the Philippines because in the Philippines social media
posts can kill you know when when this boy had 14 year old and a 17 year old
boy almost within within a few weeks of each other and Filipino started to wake
up a little bit and realize that you know we’re going to have to say
something you don’t there’s a saying in in Indonesia the
hammer that stands out the nail that stands out gets the hammer and no one
wants to get the hammer first but I think that started and then when people
started to speak they found they found these these points still very fledgling
keep in mind our president unlike yours is very popular Trump is what thirty
three percent our president is thirty eight percent our president is at around
eighty percent at lowest of seventy five percent so he’s a very popular very
powerful he has a super majority in Congress he will appoint 11 of 13
justices of our Supreme Court this will ripple through our society no one wants
to challenge that but if we hold the line true that’s our only that’s our
only hope but right now it sounds naive unless we get help that’s why I’m
watching very closely what are you guys gonna do with its platform short medium
and long term right that’s right so that’s what I want to ask all of you and
then let’s get your questions ready but that’s that’s my final question to
everybody so the United States obviously has long been held itself out as you
know a beacon in the world and embedded human rights and the promotion of
democracy as part of its foreign policy increasingly and not just under this
administration that has been called into question right you know you saw
President Obama was not particularly enthusiastic about you know the
spreading democracy as a part of his foreign policy agenda now we are in the
midst of what appears to others as an internal crisis and questioning our own
democratic principles you know every time I imagine there’s a fight over fake
news here in the United States you must quake a little bit so what is the what
is the impact of this internal democratic crisis here in the United
States on our ability to be useful internationally on our foreign policy
well we’ll start with I mean it’s incredible how much the world has
changed in a year and a half in the Philippines
with our change in leader we went from and president I’ll quote
president to Tata he said you know we will pivot from the United States to
China and Russia he said in his visit to Beijing and that’s critical for the
South China Sea in the United States your shifts are rippling throughout the
world and I guess this is this pivotal moment globally because who will take
the leadership right who will which values when that’s the other part we
haven’t talked about at all is when your your young men in society when people
see this much hatred what does that do for the values of the next generation
for the kids who are there for the people who are coming in online what
does that mean for America back to your question I think this is crisis and
opportunity some countries I hope in Southeast Asia it’s the 50th year of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations we keep pushing as journalists to say
hey what are we doing you know there’s there is a gap and that that’s a climate
change obviously huge gap because we’ll globally we all fought for something
like that and the Philippines will be on the losing end of the climate change we
hope we look at the u.s. again we hope that you will sort out the issues here
because those issues reverberate throughout the world how has our changes
affected the fake news conversation in Ukraine well I think it’s on the
straighten straighten the conversation itself because it just what we’ve seen
what we try to do through first year and second year is to prove that this is not
just something happening in country called Ukraine and which people who are
not interested in the discourse you know like a subject in the Universities
you’re trying to get attention but those who we’re understanding what’s happening
primarily like countries near us and so basically they stand with us from the
beginning but others I I saw this kind of like yeah well so
after all the events around the globe actually started I see more of
understandable eyes when I speak – me too – whatever I’m speaking so that’s I
think what it probably mostly done do you see a big you must see a big change
in the research that you’re doing before and after the u.s. became a part of this
story certainly and I think one of the big changes ahead of us and I actually I
genuinely believe that deep threats are ahead of us not behind us I think I
think regardless regardless of what you think about any particular election out
over the last year or two in a very deep way this strategy is about undermining
the Russian strategy is about undermining how Western politicians make
decisions right – so dissent about some of the basic things that we have
consensus on like the link between smoking and cancer for 60 years there’s
been consensus that smoking causes cancer the latest campaigns we’re seeing
are about introducing doubts it’s not all cancers and it depends which brand
and depends on your age gender and there’s a series of issues like that
that are geared towards getting the public to be unsure and getting
politicians to go with their gut instead of going with some of the evidence
that’s the deep threat that will undermine democracy right we all need
good information when we vote we also need good information when we make
public policy decisions and so I think we’re moving from stage of manipulating
particular elections to manipulating public opinion around immigration and
how we treat people who cross the border and the climate change in science and
there’s a bunch of other policy issues issues specific trying to get Western
politicians to use less evidence in their decision-making is is the next
deep threat because politicians were already known for their careful surry
mode that’s an excellent note to bring in our
I’m looking forward to the questions because I know this is a very
distinguished and thoughtful group out please I think we have some microphones
and please just go ahead when you get up tell us who you are
where you’re from and do make it a question so we can get in as many thank
you thank you for having me on Lauren Bosman with the Albright Stonebridge
group this question is for Mir for Maria I’ve followed Leni Robredo very closely
being a vocal critic of President to today who happens to be his vice
president and I’m wondering if you’ve noticed sort of a online smear campaign
against her and what tactics she’s used or her allies have used to combat
disinformation I’ll start with the last part of it it
hasn’t been effective the tactics that they used so the first attack against
Leni Robredo really happened the organized one happened January this year
they use the hashtag Leni leaks we were able to map it and looked at the
disinformation network that was there we looked at the main content creators
those were three accounts that were broken down by demographics one takes
care of the pseudo-intellectual the other takes care of the middle class the
last takes care of the mass base the middle class and the mass base bloggers
are now working for the government and what we saw is that same network as the
same network that attacked other female politicians other critical voices I
don’t know if you know senator viola de Lima she was the head of the Commission
on Human Rights and former justice secretary she’s now in prison on drug
related charges the the sequence whether it is against politicians or against
journalists there’s three three steps the first step is to hit credibility of
that person whoever they’re attacking to continuously hit it exponentially
through the blogger Network and then introduce corruption step1 step2
tear them apart sexually the minute you can do that and it takes hold in society
then then the conversation online moves to really dark places and we saw that
happen with senator Lila de Lima with Leni Robredo it went as far as you know
she was supposedly pregnant the man that she was supposedly sleep it’s hard to
talk about they said civilized society levan she was supposedly with who’s
another congressman this was all public right and then once you get down to that
point then it’s very denigrating and hacks and then in the case of Lila de
Lima who was in prison step three was hashtag arrest Lila de Lima and then a
few weeks later she was arrested they got into three steps with me I’ve gotten
the hash tag arrest Maria essa but two things stopped it in second step in the
denigration and the sexual attacks our chief of staff of the military one of
the attacks fake news started to say that I don’t know what they I don’t
remember exactly they put out a fake news article and then over a weekend a
lot of soldiers got involved and it was again very denigrating I at that point I
was like I’m not even gonna look but other people jumped in and someone
actually wrote a piece an open letter to the chief of staff of the military and
he on Monday investigated those men and then apologized publicly so that was a
really welcomed event and then the third part is that same blogger Network tried
to trend hashtag arrest Maria Ressa it was the Trump detect a letter so we we
published it in the Philippines The Washington Post and the intercept
published it in the United States based on that I was supposed to have been
arrested because it is it is traitorous to publish a letter of detector and
Trump I mean sorry the conversation between the tears and Trump it didn’t
get that far for me so then you were bred dog continues to battle this is the
vice president she continues to fight but she’s conflicted it’s wet where is
Journal also have to face this point right where
do you stop and handcuff yourself because you’re not supposed to jump in
right advocacy versus merely putting the information correct and in this in this
environment those Alliance are completely different now so when you the
the opposition politicians they’re essentially is no opposition they’re
starting to find their voice as our people are starting to find their voices
and we’ll have the fee but it is it’s a tough battle against you know
state-sponsored online presence okay questions yes your ma’am hi I’m
Katherine Messina Pyatt I’m a freelance consultant and writer I want to thank
all of you for being here and commend your bravery I have a question about how
to address the demand side of the equation because so much attention has
been paid rightly to the supply of disinformation the origins of it how to
expose it who’s propagating it but it seems that
there’s at least in the United States a certain amount of fertile ground for
people to believe it and not only just to be susceptible but to actually hope
you know deny truth when it is exposed so are any of you looking at that
question how to look at I think you mentioned the weak points in society
that can be manipulated and taken advantage of well this is a headache of
everyone at least of my colleagues I know who deal with the face shaking
because everyone wants this you know one pill for any of these problems but there
there are mostly long-term pains so for this one you mentioned there is a long
term thing as education basically educating people on like critical
thinking and on that there will be no conflicting and ideas coexisting because
most of conspiracy theories and most of fake news we’ve seen this is like
conflicting ideas coexisting in mine so this one and
and what media is and educating and how to deal with it and having this on
having this space between you and information not to jump in and share and
believe but maybe to to at least make like primary investigation like what
source it is what is happening in the title and and all of it but that great
starts made by a lot of organizations but also about like 30 percent people
able to believe in conspiracy usually 25 so this is the thing so I think it was
we’ve talked with nd I colleagues about pessimistic people being more
susceptible to this information and you for example can find a lot of
pessimistic people around like post-soviet space but not only that but
I mean like if we know for example that this is one of the reasons we can
understand that the worm it might we might target this question as well but
yeah workshops bringing it to attention I love the idea about showing the link
between like the cigarettes and cancer so basically maybe showing that moisture
in the link between this different not verified information not quality
information like junk news like it’s called by Oxford Express as well so and
some tragic and drastic events later so providing the information and how it was
said by Schneider collagen so basically informing the skins constituencies so
informing yeah I’m this you know Daniel Kahneman’s book thinking fast thinking
slow thinking fast will always be thinking slow and that’s why we
journalists are actually handcuffed because you need people to stop and
think slow and this stuff the way this this information is set up anger and
hatred anger is the fastest emotion to spread whether it’s in the physical
world or in the virtual world so the negative part I’ll start with a negative
first the negative thing is that this is the worst of human nature that’s what
we’re playing to and we cannot fight it with rational thought
that’s the initial input you that’s medium-term because by the time there’s
thinking slow they’re already there or a deal heading towards our domain so what
do you have to do in the meantime that’s why it’s truly important that given the
way humans behave that our cognitive biases will get the best of us even when
we don’t know it that we have no I we cannot control it so I go back why are
these wise fact and fiction it shouldn’t be right there aren’t actors who want it
to be that way but in the age when journalists were gatekeepers that
certainly couldn’t have happened that way you could argue that well that was
an elitist world and we should make it far more open to everyone okay we can
have a far more open because we’ve had this on the on the internet and social
media works far more open it really wasn’t only until 2015-2016 that it
pushed a step further I think you’re gonna have to pull that back the only
way under on that supply-side is you know getting to the news that you get
and right now you’re getting that news from social media so immediate
short-term what can be those actions be a lot of heads nodding at the behavioral
psychology problem of this you know the different countries consume this junk
news at different levels and the countries that seem to consume the
lowest amounts are the ones that have some kind of public investment in a
national broadcaster and I don’t mean I don’t mean government ownership of the
media I just mean some kind of public/private partnership or some kind
of publicly sponsored national media that creates a culture professional
journalism the second thing is that the countries that do consume the least junk
news are the ones with significant where Western news outlets have a significant
foreign desk because the first thing that happens when people get junk news
is they they check the BBC CNN they they look for the other Western news
what’s that are covering their country just to do the fact that’s what most
citizens do as fact-checking so having some kind of public broadcaster makes a
difference having a lot of foreign correspondents in your capital city city
makes it a difference the third thing I’d say on this demand
side in question is that that even even if you could change education and
improve our understanding of argumentative fallacies and fix the news
the most immediate cause of the problem is that the social media firms serve
junk news to voters in the three days before they vote like in our studies the
proportion of professionally produced news content is always at its lowest the
night before people so there’s there are some big picture macro causes but
there’s a very proximate cause the delivery of junk at a crucial moment
when decisions have to be made so the fix has to involve the big structural
and the proxy hi I’m Andrew keen from TechCrunch and it’s a question for Maria
and on this I mean you know you’re all kind of dancing around this you’re
saying it’s a huge problem and you’re coming out with incredibly cosmetic at
best solutions to this they’re not even solutions they’re you know that the
body’s being cut up in you coming along with plasters for the problem so I
wonder if there’s more substantial ways of thinking about this and I’m
interested Maria in your in your response on the issue of anonymity
because I mean the problem is is at least in terms of fake news is there a
lot of liars people who are claiming to be one person or actually someone else
and the senator talked about I think Susan you asked the question to the
senator about well are there other countries with models for fixing this
and he brought up Estonian what Estonians come up with is an ID system
where there’s a new kind of social contract between citizens and government
in terms of anonymity giving up anonymity online in exchange
for kind of accountability or in terms of government so I’m particularly
interested Maria because given the threat to personal security in the
Philippines what’s your position on anonymity some people embrace I mean
liberals in particular human rights people have always defended anonymity
but isn’t that the problem but if we’re going to have kind of architectural
reform of the system we need to change something substantial and the real
challenge is making everybody accountable for what they say and in
that sense we have to do away with anonymity even if it isn’t obviously
ideal so yes I agree with you so andrew is also the contrarian of the internet
we he came to the Philippines and shocked us we were at our most
optimistic and Andrew came in and said you know this is the way it’s going to
be and now okay yeah I’m with you I think the anonymity issue works yes
and I think that Facebook will have to go there because they’re already trying
out payment systems right there in China for example there are already other ways
that you can you can blend commerce and that brings your credit card that brings
your identity but in the doTERRA administration the worst bloggers the
worst attackers of perceived critics are not anonymous they’ve gotten the you
know they’ve gotten the pat on the head by the government and and president
declared to himself is the first attack for example the largest television
network to say you’re not gonna get your franchise or the largest newspaper or
rattler at his State of the Nation Address
so those things when you’re talking that it about state-sponsored ways to try to
limit freedom of the press or limit speech that’s a whole other ballgame
that I don’t think we’ve even gone into this way if we’re talking about it it’s
very different from just free speech and insight
eight structurally I think I’ve been very straightforward right I think that
the platform’s have been at the very least complicit by not taking action on
in all of this and they do need to structurally it helps they know so why
is it that all of a sudden when you’re called to a hearing names from Russia
the internet research these names that have been there forever
all of a sudden begin to unravel as threat they need to be pushed to
actually unravel these threads faster because I’m gonna deviate one one last
thing we talked about how information is really the core of everything right and
that this is this is a whole trend of Moore’s law it doubles every the amount
of information on a chip doubles every 18 months and now and we disrupted every
industry and now government has been disrupted in in last year so how do we
fix it the the gateway the gatekeepers have to go back and tell us what are the
rules of the game they need to put stop signs and say red yell means stop and if
you violate it you’ll be taken the problem is that you can violate and it’s
quite random it’s not transparent and there is no accountability I think
probably everybody wants to get in on this is very important question I I do
think your point Maria is very well taken on the there’s anonymity but we
now have arguably a new development which is a public battle between you
know openly named sides in which it’s become a part of the political war in in
these countries as well as here but I know you wanted to get in on no I think
the anonymity so it’s it’s some of the platforms example Twitter allow people
to be anonymous and that creates some kinds of problems facebook tries to do
real names but you can still rent tens of thousands of fake users to push your
messages so my default is rather than I’d be more interested in using the rule
of law to demonstrate that you you you can’t lie too much or public find
funding for your political campaign gets withdrawn you know I’d rather default to
the rule of law than micromanage any particular platforms and a Numidian
policy so I would love to continue this one I think and this is precisely what
what is stuck in my head that we definitely get all these great pains
systems and everything but once we have someone who uses all the system to
violate it we might consider coming up with some ideas which might be precisely
maybe yeah flagging what is actually we allow and what we do not allow because
information space is still in this way to me looks like a gray area basically
everything considered because it’s free internet or like freedom of speech but
maybe we need to consider this right the same as like critical threats and just
to maybe take this direction and definitely like maybe again fine media
who break the like journalist code maybe pinpoint those who are violating
and our trolls and maybe do something about it considering like companies as
well I think we have time for just one more question if it’s very quick school
it’s probably not a quick question but I’m just wondering to what extent the
people working on the front lines of this issue and thank you all for your
presentations very thought-provoking to what extent should we be looking at this
as the ultimate cause the disinformation campaigns and to what extent should we
be thinking about it or in connection with it being a symptom of a kind of
underlying alienation from democratic institutions that is you know cross
fertilized in different countries right now but maybe has a
different underlying causes related to the economic changes and globalization
look I think it’s I think that is a great question I mean you know is it
it’s the chicken or egg question of this whole controversy where do you come down
so I what keeps me going and studying all this stuff across many countries is
the strong feeling that democracy advocates tend to be more creative and
more desperate than most authoritarian leaders most authoritarian leaders copy
right they they see what the democracy advocate has done and then they try to
copy it and turn these things into tools for social control so I think you know
we’re not gonna withdraw the technologies we’re not gonna we might
break up the Facebook monopolies in some countries you know that that is one of
the options discussed but for the most part the creativity is actually I think
on the democracy advocate side of things and I just have some faith yeah I think like spreading this mistrust and
spreading the doubt I think to me looks like what is the most danger that what
Russian information did is actually can be used for will by whatever
organization or like political actor to disrupt the trust and believe inside any
state or community that that’s why I think it’s so important to understand
that we need to have this new tools to to face it and to country and maybe to
flag it and to whatever to for not the threat not to go further well you get
the last word so when I was with CNN I had the great privilege of covering the
transition to democracy from authoritarian one-man rule of most of
the countries in Southeast Asia people power in the Philippines Lee Kuan Yew
stepping down in Singapore Muhajir in 2004 and I watched that
Swayne right when the pendulum swing in the Philippines with each of the leaders
we watch the pendulum after 21 years when you let go of the pendulum it
swings wildly like this until it finds equilibrium you’re right there is a
failure in the Philippines of the of the political elites to bring real real the
fruits of democracy to the mass base the trickle-down theory didn’t work but that
doesn’t mean that it’s also right that this information can function they don’t
go hand in hand what’s happened is the pendulum swing is being pushed back the
other way by state actors who want to retain more authoritarian rule and they
are able to use tech platforms in exponential ways so those two things are
both happening at the same time and perhaps one of the best things we should
be doing is discussing this really having a societal discussion in the
Philippines we can’t even have that discussion because the the propaganda
machine what we nicknamed the shark tank you know the minute you start to raise
anything you just get bashed so we need to go back and use these tools for real
democracy which is what it was from 2012 to 2015 the Philippines we were able to
find solutions using social media in governance that we’d never had before we
can go back to that it’s just now you’ve just got to find ways of preventing it
from turning into a sewer and being used by autocrats all right I know I share my
appreciation for your work and your your thoughtful ideas I want to thank NDI for
bringing us together this morning and of course I want to thank all of you for
taking your time to listen to this very provocative and thoughtful discussion
thank you

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