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The University invited prominent figures from the military, computer, journalism, and social science fields to speak about the defense tactics that United States should employ in the social media age at a day-long forum on Saturday, April 7.

The first panel, moderated by Mara Liasson from National Public Radio, focused on the foreign policy and military challenges of weaponized information. The second, moderated by Carol Giacomo from The New York Times, dealt with the technological challenges of weaponized information.

The third, moderated by Jim Rutenberg from The New York Times, posed the following question: how can we defend America’s democracy from attacks rendered through disinformation, propaganda, and other digital information interference?

Panelists included R. David Edelman, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a former member of the White House National Security Council; Terrell McSweeny, from the Federal Trade Commission; Philip M. Napoli, from Duke University; Lieutenant General Robert Schmidle, formerly with the United States Cyber Command; and Rand Waltzman, from the RAND Corporation.

“We need more humans involved in the governance of technology [because] we don’t have humans minding the technology they’re putting out,” McSweeny argued.

She acknowledged that while there have been conversations about privacy and security, there needs to be more dialogue surrounding governance and ethics. People who are building high-profile technologies ought to bear these values in mind, she suggested. Other panelists questioned the definitions of transparency and privacy in the modern age.

The final panel, moderated by Ferris Professor of Journalism Deborah Amos from National Public Radio, focused on deterrence, exploring which measures the United States can take to deter adversaries from spreading propaganda that causes unrest. Panelists included Christopher Fonzone, formerly with the White House and National Security Council; Admiral (Ret.) Cecil Haney, formerly with the United States Strategic Command; Mark R. Jacobson, from Georgetown University and formerly with the Secretary of Defense; Laura Rosenberger, from the Alliance for Securing Democracy; and Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs Jacob N. Shapiro.

The panelists began by questioning what exactly the United States is trying to deter. While they jokingly claimed that we ought to always try to deter ignorance, the conversation shifted to a more serious tone when the issue of Russian disinformation was addressed. Rosenberger began to answer the daunting question by pointing out something that the United States is not trying to deter: influence.

“Countries do influence,” Rosenberger said. “That is part of how countries project power beyond their borders.”

The blurred lines between hard and soft power that countries employ are related to the idea of sharp power, which penetrates the political and information environments in targeted countries, Rosenberger added.

General (Ret.) Michael V. Hayden, from the United States Air Force and formerly with the Central Intelligence Agency, gave the closing keynote. Throughout his keynote, Hayden emphasized how the rights of the American people are continuously challenged and that they must be tended to. Particularly, the success of Russian covert influence has created a crater in the relationship between the Trump administration and the CIA.

Hayden explained that our only salvation lies in fixing our political culture.

“If you can’t have truth, you’ve got no foothold to brace yourself, to push back against the misuse of power,” Hayden said. “If there is no truth, you have no tools to push back against abuse.”

He concluded with a quote from Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder: “Post-truth is pre-fascism.”

The forum, entitled “Defending Democracy: Civil and Military Responses to Weaponized Information,” was held on Saturday, April 7, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Friend Center.

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