I wasn’t quite sure what to focus on for this week’s newsletter given just how many different stories are happening and how fast things are changing. So, rather than focusing on just one thing, I thought I’d offer up a sampling of what’s on top of mind for me with the hopes that I can dig into them all more in the future when I’ve had more time to think about them.
First, I hope everyone who is working non-stop around things in Ukraine is taking care of themselves. I’m nowhere near close to the front lines and I’m utterly exhausted. It is amazing though to see the work coming out of the journalists, researchers, civil society, and others doing what they can to help tell this story and help the people in Ukraine.
We need to rethink how we do democracy-building in the digital age. According to V-Dem’s new report out this week we are back to 1989 levels and 30 years of democracy-building has been wiped out. They write, “Liberal democracies peaked in 2012 with 42 countries and are now down to the lowest levels in over 25 years – 34 nations home to only 13% of the world population. The democratic decline is especially evident in AsiaPacific, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, as well as in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.” Much of this decline came in the last ten years when the use of social media and the internet exploded. However, many of the traditional organizations that do democracy-building are still at the early stages of incorporating digital into their programming. I hope to help accelerate that.
Don’t forget about the rest of the world - especially India. Part of what I was learning about this week was the influence of outlets like Russia Today in Latin America and other parts of the world. It corresponds with many of the countries in that V-Dem report about where we’ve seen a decline. Mark Scott of Politico has a great thread about this. So while we are rightfully focused on Ukraine we shouldn’t lose sight of the other countries where disinformation about the invasion could have lasting impacts. I also worry that there is little to no discussion about how India is responding to what Russia is doing. They abstained from the UN vote and I think it’s worth digging more into the influence Russia and China have had on the country.
We can be proactive in fighting disinformation. For what feels like the first time, the world wasn’t caught flat-footed by disinformation being pushed by Russia. Thanks to the U.S. government being transparent in the lead up to the invasion as well as the unifying factor of a common enemy to fight the government, tech companies, civil society, researchers, the media, academics, and others are working together and succeeding in pushing back. Alex Kantrowitz writes about it in his newsletter this week. This is the type of symbiotic relationship I think we want these entities to have in mitigating bad actors and activity on the internet rather than everyone playing the blame game.
Fighting foreign disinformation is always easier than fighting domestic actors doing the same. I think there will be a lot of lessons learned from watching what’s been unfolding online regarding Ukraine, but I also think we have to recognize that in some ways this is easier because pretty much everyone agrees what Russia is doing is wrong. Usually, this is not as clear as the debates over the last five years or so have shown us. I hope this is a good reset to help us all come together to find solutions to these problems, but we should recognize they will be more difficult convos.
Having ICANN take any action would be a bad idea. Last week I mused whether or not ICANN should take any measures to limit Russia’s ability to access the internet. Since then Ukraine actually did make this request and many people - including ICANN - have rightfully pointed out why that would be a bad idea in maintaining an open internet.
Forgive me for the short newsletter this week. I’ve been so swamped with work that my brain is fried. Next week I’m at SXSW and will be speaking on Friday morning about tech and elections. If you’ll be in Austin I hope to see you there!
What I’m Reading
New York Times: We Have Never Been Here Before
Discord: Important Policy Updates
Twitter: Building a better Birdwatch
New York Times: Twitch Says It Will Bar Chronic Spreaders of Misinformation
Topics to keep an eye on that have a general timeframe of the first half of the year:
EU Passage of DSA and DMA
Facebook 2020 election research
Oversight Board opinion on cross-check
Senate & House hearings, markups, and potential votes
March: UK Online Safety Bill
March: EU Signatories Finalize Code of Practice on Disinformation
March 9 - South Korea elections
March 11 - 20: SXSW, Austin, Texas
March 19 - Timor-Leste elections
March 26 - Zimbabwe Elections
March 27 - Hong Kong & Lebanon Elections
April: The Gambia elections
April 3 - Hungary, Serbia, Belgrade City Assembly elections
April 10 and 24 - France elections
May 3 - Ohio Primary (Open Senate race)
May 9 - Philippines elections
May 17 - North Carolina and Pennsylvania Primaries (Open Senate races)
May 21 (On or before) - Australia elections
May 23 (tentative): World Economic Forum, Davos
May 24 - Alabama and Georgia Primaries (AL open Senate race, GA Warnock defending seat)
May 29 - Colombia elections
June 6 (week of): Summit of the Americas, Los Angeles, CA
June 6-10: RightsCon, Online
June 6 - 7: Atlantic Council 360/Open Summit
June 9 - 10: Copenhagen Democracy Summit, Copenhagen, Denmark
June 25 - July 1: Aspen Ideas Festival, Aspen, Colorado
June 14 - Nevada Primary (Cortez Masto defending Senate seat)
August: Angola elections
August 2 - Arizona and Missouri Primaries (AZ Kelly defending Senate seat, MO open Senate race)
August 9 - Wisconsin Primary (Ron Johnson defending Senate seat)
August 9 - Kenya elections
September 11 - Sweden elections
September 13 - New Hampshire Primary (Hassan defending Senate seat)
October 2 and 30 - Brazil
November 8 - United States Midterms