Information Ecology and 19th-Century Naturalism at Verify 2024

TexHosted by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Cyber Initiative and Aspen Digital, Verify 2024 brings together journalists and cyber and tech policy experts to discuss critical issues in cybersecurity. For this live recording of the Lawfare Podcast, Lawfare Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Wittes sat down at Verify 2024 to talk about information ecology and 19th-century naturalism with Alicia Wanless, the Director of the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Chinmayi Sharma, an Associate Professor at Fordham Law School.

OECD: Strengthening information integrity through whole-of-society partnerships – lessons to drive positive change

Governments cannot respond to threats posed by disinformation alone. New governance models designed to build the resilience of societies are needed. The focus of this panel will be to illustrate how governments can work more systematically and efficiently with non-governmental partners, researchers, and media organisations to design and implement effective policies to promote information integrity.

Information Animals Fighting Information Wars

Alicia Wanless (Carnegie Endowment) joins the show to discuss the links between information and technology, information competition through history, the need for a better understanding of information ecosystems, whether we’re in an information “civil war,” and much else besides.

Moving Beyond Disinformation with Dr. Alicia Wanless

Information is complex. The lines between fact and fiction have become easier to blur as new technologies create wild ecosystems of data. In this episode, Dr. Alicia Wanless from Carnegie’s Partnership for Countering Influence Operations, talks about whether disinformation is something we can even fight, and why it may end up costing us our heads.

Chatter: Information Ecology with Alicia Wanless

Alicia Wanless is one of the pioneers of the idea of information ecology, the notion that we should think about information and disinformation as part of a complex ecosystem, the management of which she analogizes to environmental policy. Wanless has been complaining for several years that the war on “disinformation” skates over important question: What are the collateral effects of anti-disinformation policies? How do interventions against information pollution operate in the real world? 

In her conversation with Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare’s editor in chief and this week’s Chatter guest host, Wanless talks about how she became interested in information management, what’s wrong with the discussion of disinformation, what a more environmentalist approach to information spaces might look like, and what a useful research agenda for the nascent field would focus on. 

Among the works mentioned in this episode:

21st Century Propaganda: Understanding Today’s Threats

Threat actors’ toolkits have evolved in the digital age. How can we respond effectively to manipulative messaging and the data that drives it? In this RUSI Journal Radio episode, hosts Demi, Emma and Ed are joined by David Gioe, Alicia Wanless and Daniel Dobrowolski to discuss the challenges facing the information environment and the measures that might protect it.

The Lawfare Podcast: Alicia Wanless on What’s Wrong with the Discussion of Influence Operations

Alicia Wanless is the director of the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and she has a beef with the current debate over influence operations. Put simply, we don’t really know what works in countering them, and the studies of the subject all seem to be case studies using different methodologies and examining different things. Benjamin Wittes spoke with her about how we might improve our knowledge base on this subject, what kind of information we would need to study whether influence operations work and what works to counter them. They talked about transparency reporting requirements for the big tech companies, data sharing between companies and scholars, what a massive effort at research in this space would look like and whether it has any possibility of coming to be.

At the Vanguard: How Women Lead the Charge in Researching Influence Operations

Women lead the way in researching influence operations, but their leadership comes at a cost. Often identifying and exposing nefarious campaigns that seek to discredit others, influence operations researchers frequently become targets of the operations themselves. Join us for a conversation with Maria Ressa, Shireen Mitchell, and Luiza Bandeira, moderated by Alicia Wanless, on the experiences of some of those women leading the charge to understand and counter influence operations. What drew them to the field? What are some of the challenges they face? And how can women be better protected online?

The De-Weaponization of Digital Information: What Have We Learned from the Last Year?

This event was co-hosted by the Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) and FHI 360 to foster a rich discussion on the impact of online hate speech and disinformation on peace and stability in the US and across the globe. The forum provided a platform for practitioners and thought leaders to share lessons they have learned, and to make recommendations for how best to respond to overt digital influence operations by state and non-state actors.

Platform Bans and Free Speech on Conversations with the Future

The Center for the Governance of Change at IE University and Oscar Jonsson host Mark Scott, Chief Technology Correspondent, Politico and Alicia Wanless, Director, Partnership for Countering Influence Operations, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to discuss social media platform bans and free speech.

The Information Environment in a Digital Age on Diplomatic Immunity

Kelly McFarland and Alistair Somerville, talk to Alicia Wanless, director of the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations (PCIO) at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on how to understand and tackle problems in the information environment.

Disinformation in 2020: Actors, Threats, Solutions

A panel talk hosted by the Institute for National Security Studies:

The Future of Data and Democracy

A panel session hosted by Aspen UK on 22 October 2020:

Russian Disinformation and the Media: One Journalist’s Story

Speaking to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s The World Unpacked on: What are influence operations? How do malign foreign actors choose targets to help spread disinformation? And what does it feel like to be an unwitting pawn in a foreign government’s campaign to sow division?

Zero Hour Podcast Interview #2

Discussing my role at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and research related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Is Digital Propaganda Turning us into Propagandists?

Propaganda has traditionally followed a very top-down communication model. The propagandist issues persuasive messaging aimed at achieving a specific outcome among the target audience. As such, it’s been rather one way – like most mass media. With the internet and social media, however, the audience can in fact become coopted to propagate persuasive messaging too. This talk at Ryerson University’s Social Media Lab explores how persuasive communications are changing online through the example of Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, putting forward a model for participatory propaganda.

Talk Delivered 31 March 2017 in Toronto, Canada

Stop and Think – Before Falling Down the Digital Rabbit Hole

This TED Talk was presented at Whitehall in London. The event, Tedx Whitehall Women, was hosted by the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The theme of the overall TEDx event was “Time”. This talk posits that we should take the time to stop and think before falling down the digital rabbit hole, and covers issues such as online bullying, disinformation, complaining, and narcissism – but also suggests ways in which each of us can improve our information space for the better. 

The animations were created by Jesus Rivera. A full transcript of the talk is available here.