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Last updated: Version 2.3 (Updated May 15, 2018).

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Wednesday, May 16 • 10:30 - 11:45
Bot Battles: Disinformation, Computational Propaganda and Speech Regulation – Digital Rights and Press Freedom

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This session will bring together academics, program implementers, lawyers, technologists, and journalists who work on various aspects of responses aimed at countering threats posed by propaganda, especially computational propaganda, disinformation, hate speech, trolling and other negative forms of content spread in social and traditional media. Current challenges posed by information warfare have forced promoters of democratic values to re-think long held international norms and best practices that support freedom of speech, press and expression, and access to information, while at the same time responding to the very real and threatening challenges posed by disinformation and propaganda, often driven by automated, online systems.
The uncertainty about how to best respond to threats posed by disinformation and propaganda is acutely felt by media development organizations (donors, implementers, media outlets) in countries like Ukraine and Georgia as well as throughout Eastern and Southeastern Europe, where for years media assistance support has been directed at supporting “the legal enabling environment for free and independent media” – a term that broadly encompasses efforts to support rule of law designed to promote freedom of the press, access to information and a democratic media environment. These efforts, however, are under threat not only from information warfare tactics including disinformation and computational propaganda campaigns; they are also tied to and part of the spread of illiberal democracy.
As such, during this session, we will invite presenters to comment on how to define propaganda, misinformation and disinformation; whether to even attempt to regulate it; and how and why our current "international standards and best practices" that support freedom of expression are so challenged, and perhaps in need of some critical re-thinking in light of new communications technologies and the weaponization of information.
To help set up the discussion and debate, the group will then turn to short presentations on research that explores the use on computational propaganda during elections to promote disinformation, misinformation, and other forms of propaganda – case studies will include research from Canada, Georgia, and Ukraine. We will discuss methods of responding to computational propaganda and disinformation in political systems, through their integration in elections observation missions, the development of ongoing projects to identify bot networks such as OII’s Comprop Project, or by combating disinformation directly, with the example of StopFake’s work in Ukraine.
Following the framing of the problems and challenges free speech and digital rights in an age of computational propaganda and deliberate acts to misinform and spread fake news, the session will engage in a debate and encourage audience participation and feedback on the issues at hand. Outcomes include:
-Ideas to integrate teams of media, technology and social sciences researchers, to identify networks quickly, analyze what they are promoting or attacking, and how they are connected. This roundtable would provide a forum for these diverse groups and perspectives to connect.
-Building collaboration between governments, technology companies, media, and civil society on promoting democratic norms and networks.
-Defining norms and methods of engaging with political parties and campaigns, in particular, to commit to the non-use of computational propaganda techniques and their disavowal when used by others, would represent a major step forward.
-Constructing a larger picture for the RightsCon community describing how these techniques are used internationally, as well as active and potential responses, would be a major contribution to the development of stronger online democratic systems all over the world.
-Jump starting a research initiative that will be a partnership between GFMD, media and digital rights lawyers, and university-based researchers, together with involvement of CIMA. This area of law and policy requires cross-cultural collaboration and a multi-country perspective.

avatar for Susan Abbott

Susan Abbott

Director, crosspollinate consulting
Susan Abbott is an independent consultant who specializes in working with non-profit organizations, universities, and donors in the areas of media development, civil society assistance, and digital rights. Abbott provides consulting services in the areas of fundraising and grant... Read More →
avatar for Daniel Arnaudo

Daniel Arnaudo

Senior Program Manager, National Democratic Institute
Daniel Arnaudo is a senior program manager at NDI for governance, covering the intersection of democracy and technology with a special responsibility to develop projects tracking and countering disinformation worldwide. Concurrently, he is a Research Fellow with the Igarapé Institute... Read More →

avatar for Elizabeth Dubois

Elizabeth Dubois

Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa
avatar for Caroline Giraud

Caroline Giraud

Freedom of Expression/Media and Advocacy Advisor, Media4Democracy.EU
Caroline Giraud works on human rights, freedom of expression and media development since 2000. She has been with Internews, Reporters Without Borders, the Global Forum for Media Development, the Global Investigative Journalism Network. Currently an independent consultant, her main... Read More →
avatar for Dr. Courtney Radsch

Dr. Courtney Radsch

Advocacy Director, Committee to Protect Journalists
Dr. Courtney Radsch is the Advocacy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). As a journalist, author, and freedom of expression advocate, she writes and speaks frequently on the nexus of technology, journalism, and rights. She is the author of Cyberactivism and Citizen... Read More →

Wednesday May 16, 2018 10:30 - 11:45 EDT