21st Century Information Wars
Information manipulation obstructs democracy and endangers peace. Freedom House has documented 15 consecutive years of global freedom decline, a period correlating with the rise of social media, and President Biden calls it a defining challenge of our time.
Russia fabricated provocations to deceive civilians and build a pretext to invade Ukraine. Over a thousand Ukrainian civilians have been killed as a result of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion, and now the Kremlin restricts Internet access and detains journalists for using the words “invasion” or “war.” The United States needs to spearhead the development of democratic norms and standards for the Internet, working in unison with the EU, G7, and private companies. These are the steps necessary to restore the global trend of freedom.
Information liberates and empowers. Autocracies understand the power of information. That is why they restrict it, that is why they manipulate it, and that is why we must address it. Disinformation is a threat to humanity. We have learned that many Russian troops were misled into the war with Ukraine. The truth they discovered on the battlefield has led them to self-sabotage, or in some cases, surrender. Truth liberates civilians from propaganda and empowers the resistance to Russian oppression.
To strengthen information integrity, three steps are vital.
First, Washington ought to develop coherent democratic norms and standards framework for the online information space. Any digital policy must promote a fair and free Internet. Data governance must incorporate concepts of human rights and democracy and include oversight measures to protect them. A democratic framework is foundational for a global solution to information manipulation.
Second, the European Union ought to be a primary partner. A strong EU-U.S. alignment can broker a path for adoption across all G7 states. The EU, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the UK, and the U.S. share values for an open and democratic world. A G7 alliance signals to the world a serious intent to address information manipulation. President Biden can build on his Summit for Democracy and its vision for a democratic digital policy to promote priorities at the United Nations and beyond.
Third, governments and media platforms must break the link between profits and disinformation. Newsfeed algorithms are significant contributors to disseminating disinformation. Addressing the transparency of algorithms built on engagement and polarization is a step in the right direction. Supplementing user content with truthful information is another. Media platforms bear minimal upfront costs and have an opportunity to reimagine their brand in the face of information integrity before it’s too late. Addressing a fit between national goals and commercial potential must be found.
Information integrity releases individuals from the shackles of oppression. It liberates and empowers. With truthful information, Russians and Ukrainians can overcome oppression and authoritarian tyranny. We have always addressed the challenges that matter most. Overcoming information manipulation will define the 21st century. Together, we can safeguard the freedoms and liberties cherished by Americans and restore the global trend of freedom.