Around the Institute

Digital Ambition

July 1, 2020  • Institute Staff

Give NowThe Aspen Digital program addresses the critical societal transformation happening in technology and media. For 2020, the team had planned a year’s worth of roundtables, conferences, fellowships, and the like. Then the world locked down. So Aspen Digital’s group of journalists, academics, and policy experts asked themselves: what can we can do—immediately—to shed light on a time of great uncertainty?

They shifted gears and focused on challenges directly linked to the current climate, offering experts and expertise in three complex areas: technology, cybersecurity, and news media. Adapting quickly required a keen, real-time understanding of society’s big questions; strong relationships with the people who know how to answer them; and a newfound mastery of Zoom.

The inaugural event in mid-March on the “infodemic” brought in experts to discuss rampant mis- and disinformation in America during the pandemic, and the threats false information poses to human life. Experts explained how half-truths and flat-out lies spread, and they offered solutions for what newsrooms, social media platforms, businesses, and health authorities should do to respond. It was a hit. Thouands watched live and after-the-fact.

By the end of June, Aspen Digital had hosted more than a dozen virtual conversations, garnering over 12,000 views. Topics ranged from intimacy during isolation to the spike in cybercrime to America’s digital divide. The team partnered with leading organizations, like the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Knight Foundation, to host influential speakers, like the FBI’s Tonya Ugoretz and the Federal Communications Commission’s Geoffrey Starks, to help keep the public informed. Top news outlets such as Reuters and Politico paid attention. Government and industry leaders, including high-ranking executives from Salesforce and Twitter, tuned in.

Aspen Digital’s strategy in a time of crisis was simple: use expertise to shed more light than heat.