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Defeating Disinformation Series: Social Media Regulation Around the World

As Congress and regulatory bodies consider the way forward, how can the United States balance preserving democratic discourse, the electoral process, and free speech for years to come?

Date & Time

Feb. 5, 2020
5:00pm – 6:30pm

Location

6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Defeating Disinformation Series: Social Media Regulation Around the World

Online disinformation has become commonplace, seeded and spread by both foreign and domestic actors and amplified by social media. In order to stem the flow of malicious information, legislators around the globe are beginning to take action to regulate social media platforms, but the United States has perhaps the most influential role to play in regulation efforts. As Congress and regulatory bodies consider the way forward, how can the United States balance preserving democratic discourse, the electoral process, and free speech for years to come?

This event, the second in the Wilson Center’s “Defeating Disinformation” series, featured keynote speech from Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), and considered nascent regulatory approaches to online disinformation from Brazil, France, and the United Kingdom and the democratic challenges they pose.

Selected Quotes

Senator Mark Warner (D- Virginia)

“I fear that we’ve entered into a new area both of nation-state conflict, where nation states will spend less on traditional military hardware, and more on cyber and misinformation and disinformation techniques. And why? Because it’s effective, and it’s cheap, and…you can do it, if you care to, and hide your hands.”

“It’s not enough to simply improve [the] security and integrity of our own infrastructure in computer systems and data, we’ve got to work in a coordinated way to deal with adversaries and bad actors. And I think we have to do that on an international basis. Start setting standards around attribution. Start setting standards around what is going to be viewed as acceptable behavior – and what is not.”

“For over two decades, the U.S. has maintained and promoted a completely hands-off approach to internet governance…. The fact that we have not been able to pass legislation means that this self-policing effort that is run by the platforms, frankly, is not getting the job done…. Somehow we’ve said ‘If we make any rules of the road or tweaks, we would end up stifling innovation.’ I don’t buy that.”

“We know now: The United States faces serious threats in the cyber-domain, both from state and nonstate actors. Not to mention the actual threat that I think is as great as direct attacks that comes from misinformation – from not only Russia, but now a host of other countries that have seen their playbook... One of the reasons why we know Russia and others will be back? If you add up all that Russia spent interfering in our elections in 2016, if you add up all Russia spent in the Brexit vote, if you add up all they spent when they were so obvious in the French presidential elections when [Emmanuel] Macron was elected. Add that all together, those three interventions. It’s less than the cost of one new F-35 airplane.” 

Damian Collins, Member of Parliament, United Kingdom

“I think some of these issues are so important, so fundamental, and these technologies touch so many aspects of all our lives, we cannot just leave it to the tech companies to police this for themselves. There should be some rights that can be enforced through law.”

“There’s been real debate about the way certain advertising tools that are used in political campaigns on social media, and whether microtargeting is used to actually aide things like voter suppression…. I think Facebook should remove look-alike audiences from data targeting in their campaigns as well. We should make this sort of stuff harder. I think political targeting and political ads should be based on much more generic information…not detailed data about your religious beliefs, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and so on. I think this is being exploited and causing a lot of harm.”

Congresswoman Naima Moutchou, France

“I aimed to legislate in a manner that would preserve the freedom of expression, of course, according to our constitution, and at the same time, ensuring citizens have access to information they can trust.”

“There has been a significant shift in the parliamentary debate. At first, my [opposing] colleagues did not even believe that there was an issue vis-à-vis fake news. They acknowledged the existence of false information, but they felt that it was not a problem requiring the intervention of the legislature…. Then, minds gradually changed, and my colleagues [said] ‘Yes… Fake news is a main issue in our society.’”

Congressman Alessandro Molon, Brazil

“That is a huge problem in Brazil nowadays. Disinformation was a very important weapon in the last elections, and it was very important to the results. So that is really a big threat to democracy, as we saw in Brazil.”

“And about optimism. I am optimistic because I can see a possibility of consensus in Congress, not between Congress and government.”

Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Security Policy, Facebook

“There are two types of people who might find misinformation, whether it’s a video or otherwise. First is someone who might stumble across it. You don’t want people to stumble across misinformation, and that’s why we down rank it. Second is people who look for it, who seek it out. If we remove it, for example, those people will probably find it elsewhere, because as Nina [Jankowicz] was talking about, banning things doesn’t make them disappear.”

“The texture of what is and isn’t hate speech is an incredibly difficult line to draw.”

“We have a pretty clear policy now. Anyone who is sharing content that lies about where, when, or how to vote, for example. That is one of the pieces of content that we will remove. Because the consequences of tricking someone into not being able to vote for an election are so enduring and so longstanding that we need to take that immediate action.”

Nina Jankowicz, Disinformation Fellow, The Wilson Center

“Governments that don’t recognize that they have a domestic disinformation problem are really unable to solve the regulatory issues related to foreign disinformation.”

“I don’t know how we can in good faith put rules of the road down on paper when we aren’t willing to adhere to them ourselves.”

“If you’re in Iowa, or Kansas, or North Dakota or someplace where you don’t have that local lens on what is going on in the rest of the country, I think you search out other sources of information. And that’s why we’re seeing that gap filled with information that is not necessarily trustworthy.” 

“I think the most important thing that Senator Warner said was about international standards. Right now we're at a bowling alley that has no bumpers at it and we're not particularly good at bowling at the moment. We need to set those bumpers because even if Facebook has its own set of terms, if we have our colleagues from Twitter or other platforms in the room, everyone is referring to these phenomenon differently, and we're not speaking the same language and certainly congress is not speaking that same language either, and that’s one of the goals of why we brought these legislators from around the world are here today. So I think setting those standards is a key important goal as we move forward in regulation.”

Opening Remarks: Jane Harman, President and CEO, the Wilson Center

Keynote Speech: Senator Mark Warner (D-VA)

Panel: Social Media Regulation Around the World

  • Damian Collins, Member of Parliament, United Kingdom
  • Congresswoman Naima Moutchou, France
  • Congressman Alessandro Molon, Brazil
  • Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Security Policy, Facebook
  • Nina Jankowicz, Disinformation Fellow, The Wilson Center
  • Moderator: Jane Harman, President and CEO, The Wilson Center

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