Meeting on democracy and disinformation. #DISINFOWEEK MADRID 2019

In partnership with the Atlantic Council, the US Embassy and the United Satates Mission to the European Union.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation, the Atlantic Council, the US Embassy and the United Satates Mission to the European Union, in an effort to promote transatlantic partnership to counter disinformation, organised the #DISINFOWEEK MADRID 2019 meeting on 5 March at 6pm.

the event was structured according to the following programme:

18.00 Welcome

18.10 Democratic values in the age of disinformation
Ana Palacio, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Spanish Government

18.30 The information narrative: bots, trolls and the structure of political discourseo
Alexandre Alaphilippe, Executive Director EU DisinfoLab.

18.45 Dialogue on how to address electoral interference in the age of disinformation
Daniel Fried, Senior Research Fellow at the Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council
Nicolás de Pedro, Research Fellow at The Institute for Statecraft
Kadri Kaska, Legal Researcher, NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence
David Alandete, Journalist, ABC Newspaper (moderator)

20.00 Closure


On 5 March 2019, the meeting on democracy and disinformation #DisinfoWeek Madrid 2019, organised by the Fundación Rafael del Pino, the Atlantic Council, the US Embassy and the United States Mission to the European Union, was held with the participation of Ana de Palacio, strategic advisor to the Albright Stonebridge Group and director of the Atlantic Council; Alexandre Alaphilippe, Executive Director of EU DisinfoLab; Daniel Fried, Senior Research Fellow at the Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council; Nicolás de Pedro, Research Fellow at The Institute for Statecraft; Kadri Kaska, Legal Researcher at the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence; and David Alandete, journalist at ABC. The event began with a speech by Ana de Palacio, who pointed out that democratic values in this era of disinformation are based on citizens being able to make informed decisions. If disinformation hides the truth, this fundamental requirement of democracy cannot be fulfilled, nor does it allow society to function properly. On the contrary, disinformation increases divisions within society. It is therefore an existential threat, eating away at democracy from within, and it must be addressed. In this respect, there are some very interesting initiatives taking place in Europe. The problem with these initiatives is that they are more words than deeds. We have codes, documents, the task force, a European Union website, but these are only the first steps. And what we need to do is to inoculate ourselves against disinformation. We are only at the beginning of the disinformation war. Rumours and propaganda have always existed, but now, with the new information and communication technologies, we have a new aspect, a new front. After the information manipulations we saw in 2016, decision-makers started to realise the challenge we face. NATO will therefore remain crucial, given the link between disinformation and security, but this is something we need to be very clear about. Disinformation is a symptom of a much broader disease that is affecting society. That is why responding to the creators of fake news in Russia is necessary, but not sufficient, to meet this challenge. When faced with an anonymous danger, the first reaction is to act in the short term, visibly, by rooting out the sources. These are good policies, acting on the supply side. But if we don't do something on the demand side as well, we are going to be plunged into an endless war. But attacking the demand side is much more difficult, because it requires education. Italy is a good example. They are introducing media literacy courses there. There is also a need to establish a better relationship between the politician and the citizen, who has been sidelined, because the lack of such a relationship reduces the sense of responsibility. When people feel disempowered, that society becomes a fertile ground for misinformation to spread, and they end up moving towards the alternative realities presented by new technologies. In the same way, new narratives need to be created, as the ones we had before have ceased to serve. Prosperity is no longer the main narrative in Europe, after all that has happened in relation to the crisis. This is combined with demographic decline and its consequences, with a shrinking population. The result of all this is that we end up adrift, in an environment that we no longer control and in which we feel lost. From this perspective, we have to be aware that we are facing increasingly tough challenges as we try to cope with the demands of society. We are living in a world that is changing at breakneck speed. We are coming to the end of a period of two hundred years in which the idea of enlightenment and the importance of the individual were fundamental. Today, those ideas are in retreat and the collective is being prioritised over the individual. If we are to meet these challenges, we have to put our house in order and maintain a society that is capable of resisting. The important thing is to maintain resilience, which depends on the degree to which the United States remains a country that knows what it wants, that knows how to deal with domestic problems and that has a moral high ground in keeping with its best traditions. That is the challenge we see today on both sides of the Atlantic, to live up to our best traditions. That is why we must not forget the challenges within ourselves either. Alexandre Alaphillippe focused his speech on the techniques being used for disinformation. With Artificial Intelligence you can create people who do not exist, you can create snapshots of people. The question is to what extent what surrounds us is false. 60% of web traffic is, because they are pages designed for algorithms to learn. The problem with all this is that now, with a robot, it is very easy to see a person's behaviour and create scripts that mimic what they do. Because of this, it is harder to perceive that this is fake, that there is no real person behind it. With technology, it is very easy to create a story about all sorts of things, with personal data that you get from the web. You can invent a story and a personality online and you have the ability to make people think that this is true. This is possible because we have a new paradigm: we now live in the world of psychological tension. And that is that platforms are designed to make you stay as long as possible and learn more about you. They link that information with all the information they have inside and outside the system. They want you to stay because they will make more money. Add in the brain's ability to not think when we have something that makes us angry, and it gets even worse, because emotions are everything. They want us to react, but if you run that image through a tool, you realise that there are things that weren't there to begin with, that have been added. When you stand there for 30 seconds just looking at it, your reaction changes and you think about whether this is true. Emotions easily hijack our rational brain, because that is how we survive. Disinformation uses images linked to a concept, images that are not always true or do not belong to the events they are intended to criticise. All this information is not limited to our country, but circulates around the world, because it is new content for people who have not seen it. Polarised groups arise because we tend to be friends with people who are like us. It's people who have a particular way of looking at the world. If you're just watching the same content all the time, it becomes true and we're going to tend to follow what we think is what the majority thinks. The less we trust our institutions, the more we fall into being with people who think like us, which can be manipulated because you know what you want to see and that's what they're going to show you. Before, to talk, you went to a bar. Then we moved on to internet debate. Now we are shouting at each other, but without debating, which is the end of discussion and democracy. We can know how people behave thanks to artificial intelligence. The problem is why we have these kinds of problems, not the technology itself. We used to have representative democracy, which is fine. We had time for deliberation, leaders, a consensus. On the internet it's very different, it's based on polarisation. We have to find a new model and reform what was our system of good governance. Disinformation is an interesting time to debate, because we have to decide what we want to do with democracy. Elections are important, so we have to have time to know what we are going to vote for and have the tools to help us, not to control us. It is also important that there are elements to balance, because otherwise we will have an imbalance. This was followed by a dialogue between Daniel Fried, Nicolás de Pedro, Kadri Kaska and David Alandete. Daniel Fried commented that disinformation is nothing new. In this regard, he recalled that the Soviet Union launched the rumour that the CIA had invented AIDS. The way they did it was to target African newspapers, which picked up the story, which was then picked up by the European media and passed on to governments. The rumour was believed. The KGB, which ran the operation, invented the useful idiots. Now, with the internet, that process can be done in minutes and get the story spread quickly. The printing press created not only the Bible, but also "My Struggle". Centuries ago there were also pamphlets. In other words, technology has always been used for propaganda purposes, but now it is faster and more difficult to find the source of that propaganda. For David Alandete, the problem today is that when competing in the online world, the playing field is the same for everyone and journalists have to compete with people who act as journalists without being journalists. Journalists exercise a right that belongs to society as a whole to be able to vote in an informed manner. Disinformation kills the journalist and tries to go over the journalist's head to make it easier for politicians to talk directly to citizens, especially in dictatorships. In Syria you could see how the Russian media portrayed the West as corrupt, and so on. For them there were no chemical attacks. That bubble grew and grew and grew and grew into other areas of attack. Now we are in an environment where Russian media operating in all languages are implying that there is a different, alternative reality. When you don't have strong fact-checking media, everything fails and we are in a situation where anything is possible in Europe because everything goes viral. Nicolas de Pedro pointed out that people like him who have been following Russia for a long time knew that the Russians have long since decided to undermine the West in order to protect themselves. Everything they do is to defend themselves. At least, they think so. What the Kremlin is doing is providing a platform to multiply the effects of our crisis: the crisis of our liberal democracies, the lack of prosperity and the legitimacy of our system. There is also the crisis of traditional models. The solution to all this is related to education, to media literacy. Russia has rightly identified that it can exploit the legitimacy of the West, which is at a low ebb. The question is whether we work together to stop it, because they are using freedom of expression to attack us. What we have to do is connect all the dots. When we talk about the Kremlin, this is part of a very important structure, ranging from nuclear disintermediation to the use of dirty money. They are financing extreme right and extreme left parties, but we could do something with legislation so that this is not allowed. Kadri Kaska commented that, in Estonia, they had to see that security is not only about securing information and voting systems, but also our increasingly digital societies. As soon as they started talking about online elections, they realised that there were a lot of dangers involved. It is not only the elections, but also the resilience of their digital ecosystem, the normal functioning of our societies. The cyber threats we have seen in the last five years are that misinformation is amplified, conflicts of values are exacerbated by the means we use to solve our problems. There is too little incentive to collaborate. We do not appreciate how we can harness connectivity to fight together. These patterns are bound to take hold in nations because of their importance, but it is not an attack on elections, it is an attack on our way of life. Cybersecurity in elections has to be seen as an integrated whole. Not just securing the way we vote and the ballot box, but looking at where the threats to our critical infrastructure are. In the EU we have a directive on information security. It is a very important tool, because it creates a very consistent view of what services we consider essential to our society, but it also creates a risk management mechanism to be aware of the threats and vulnerabilities we have. There are different levels of criticality and there are services and infrastructures that can affect public functions, for example, the media, social networks, political parties, NGOs. If we think about the ecosystem, cyber risk management also has to do with the digital literacy of political parties, trade unions and voters. It's not just about cyber hygiene. Daniel Fried added that, when attacking any problem, you have to slice and dice it, not look at it at the aggregate level. You also have to work within democratic norms, you don't have to break them down to fight disinformation because it doesn't work. Then you have to separate foreign from domestic. Our change of manoeuvre is more applicable to foreign actors. There are things we can do to limit foreign presence in the digital space, and that can also be done with domestic actors. We have to use principles of transparency and integrity to filter foreign disinformation to see who is doing those blogs and see that they are not fake people. People have to know that it is Ivan from St Petersburg. There are a lot of technical capabilities to do that. Another area to look at is algorithmic bias, because it is profitable. Before, TV channels had to cover both sides of the story. That would allow us to require existing companies to do it now. It can be done through regulation. It can also be done through service standards. You have to get the bots out of your systems because the technical solutions exist. Focus on the solutions. They may not solve the problem of disinformation, but they can limit it.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.