Katie Couric, Chris Krebs, and Rashad Robinson to co-chair six-month study on combating America’s urgent mis- and disinformation challenge alongside high-level government, civil society, and technology experts
Contact: Carner Derron
Marketing and Communications Manager, Aspen Digital
Washington, DC, March 24, 2021 — Amid rising challenges to truth, journalism, and democracy, the Aspen Institute will host an intensive, six-month commission bringing together experts and vital perspectives from government, media, civil society, and the private sector to deliver recommendations for how the country can respond to this modern-day crisis of faith in key institutions. Developed and hosted by the Aspen Digital program, the “Commission on Information Disorder” will be co-chaired by three leading public figures, each with unique perspectives on society’s urgent mis- and disinformation challenge: renowned journalist Katie Couric; cybersecurity expert Chris Krebs, the founding director of DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA); and racial equity leader Rashad Robinson, the president of Color Of Change.
The three co-chairs will be joined by 15 commissioners from across the political spectrum, including national security leader Sue Gordon, the former principal deputy director of national intelligence; elected officials Aaron Ford, Nevada’s attorney general, and former Texas congressman Will Hurd; threat researchers and academics Yasmin Green of Jigsaw, Herb Lin of Stanford University, and Kate Starbird of the University of Washington; technology thinkers Safiya Umoja Noble of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, Deb Roy of the MIT Center for Constructive Communication and Cortico, and Alex Stamos of the Stanford Internet Observatory; civil society and media leaders Jameel Jaffer of Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, Garry Kasparov of Renew Democracy Initiative, and Amanda Zamora of The 19th; as well as philanthropic leaders Marla Blow, incoming president of the Skoll Foundation, Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, co-founder of Archewell, and Kathryn Murdoch, co-founder and president of Quadrivium.
Short biographies of the commission members are included below.
“In today’s media landscape, consumers face a constant barrage of content that reinforces their established viewpoints. Powered by algorithms and shared ideologies, people often get affirmation instead of information, where facts are manipulated if not completely ignored,” Couric says. “This ‘truth decay’ is a tremendous threat, not only to a well informed electorate, but to democracy itself. With commentary increasingly replacing reporting, polarization has deepened and trust in media has declined. It’s critically important that we figure out how our industry can be part of the solution, and I hope to bring that perspective as co-chair of the Aspen Commission on Information Disorder.”
Through its work, the Commission will wrestle with the impact and problem of mis- and disinformation across all aspects of modern society, from the 2020 election and vaccine safety, to the ongoing risk to communities of color, to threats from state and non-state actors. The effort grew out of a need identified by the Aspen Cybersecurity Group, the institute’s public-private forum on technology threats. Representing the Cyber Group on the Commission will be Gordon, Green, Hurd, Krebs, Lin, and Stamos. The Commission is fully funded by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the giving organization of the founder of craigslist, who is also a member of the Cyber Group.
Starting in April, the Commission will meet regularly over the next six months. It will also host a series of briefings from a range of experts to understand the scope of the problem and identify the gaps that exist in the ability of government, the tech platforms, and civil society to address what First Draft Co-Founder Claire Wardle has termed “information disorder.” These briefings will cover the history, rise, and current threat of disinformation; the intersection of disinformation and marginalized communities; the challenge of civic education and literacy; the societal decline of trust in institutions; the First Amendment and the effects of Section 230; and the growing challenge of mis- and disinformation campaigns against private industry and companies; among other core topics. The expert briefings will be recorded and made available to the public through the Commission website, along with the reading materials provided to commissioners.
In addition, the Commission will establish a Technology Advisory Committee to provide expert advice and consultation to members over the course of their deliberations.
“The information crisis is a racial justice issue and addressing it requires not only an understanding of how it impacts marginalized communities, but a commitment to systemic change and rewriting the rules that have harmed our communities for far too long,” Robinson says. “Disinformation and the proliferation of online hate groups not only harms Black people and communities of color as we’ve seen from the 2020 election, COVID-19, and the fight for safety and justice in communities around the country — it impacts our democracy and threatens everyone. We need corporations, government, and regulatory agencies to protect civil rights on all the major tech platforms, and make the digital landscape a safer place for all communities.”
Approximately 60 days after its inaugural meeting, the Commission will publish an interim report that surveys and frames the information disorder problem, and prioritizes the most critical and urgent issues that must be addressed. It will then participate in a series of working groups and structured conversations to determine:
- The most effective policy solutions and stakeholders to address those most damaging near-term disinformation threats
- The lawful and ethical means by which the federal government can promote fact-based information to counter the most dangerous disinformation campaigns
- How government, private industry, and civil society can work together in the short term to help protect underrepresented groups, and engage disaffected populations who have lost faith in evidence-based reality
- The longer-term, more foundational challenges that will require deeper societal engagement to address
“This information crisis undermines confidence in our democratic institutions and strikes right at the foundation of society. State and non-state actors alike are driving wedges into what are otherwise normal differences of opinion and creating destabilizing chasms in public trust. It’s going to require a multi-pronged whole-of-society approach to both disrupt the supply of toxic information, while understanding and addressing the factors that are driving demand for mis- and disinformation,” Krebs says. “Everyone has a role to play, from elected officials and civic leaders to academic researchers and corporate executives. Our co-chairs and commissioners bring a diversity of viewpoints, matched with an unwavering commitment to truth and finding tangible solutions to help stop the spread of disinformation in a meaningful and equitable way.”
At the conclusion of its work in the fall, the Commission will publish a set of actionable solutions to the pressing issues it previously identified, as well as a set of recommendations for the longer term.
Those interested in learning more about the Commission on Information Disorder are invited to visit its website at AspenInfoCommission.org.
Katie Couric is an award-winning journalist, New York Times best-selling author and a co-founder of Stand Up To Cancer. She was the first woman to solo anchor a network evening newscast, serving as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News from 2006 to 2011 following fifteen years as co-anchor of NBC’s Today show. Couric is the Founder of Katie Couric Media (KCM), which collaborates with global brands to create premium content such as Wake-Up Call (a daily newsletter), documentaries, digital series and podcasts on important social and cultural issues.
Chris Krebs served as the Senate-confirmed founding director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, where he oversaw the security of our nation’s elections and led ground-breaking work combating election-related disinformation. Today, as senior Newmark fellow in cybersecurity policy at Aspen Digital and founding partner of the Krebs Stamos Group, Krebs maintains a focus on finding solutions to disinformation and critical security challenges.
Rashad Robinson is a celebrated racial justice leader with wide influence over corporate accountability, media and tech reform, and culture change. As the president of Color Of Change, Robinson employs innovative strategies to bring about systemic change in the industries that affect the lives of Black individuals. Under his leadership, the organization has moved tech platforms to implement anti-racist initiatives; forced over 100 corporations to abandon the American Legislative Exchange Council; and held local prosecutors accountable to end mass incarceration, police violence, and financial exploitation across the justice system.
Marla Blow has dedicated her career to helping bring underrepresented communities into the American economy. As incoming president and chief operating officer of the Skoll Foundation, Blow will focus on shaping the organization’s strategy and deepening its impact in social entrepreneurship. In her previous role, she helped to advance the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth’s efforts to promote financial security, foster a more inclusive economy, and support data equity.
Dr. Aaron Ford has served in state and local government for nearly 10 years. As Nevada Attorney General, Ford pushed back against disinformation on the state’s 2020 election integrity and the safety of COVID-19 vaccinations. Before being elected attorney general, he served five years in the state senate, including as Democratic majority leader, minority leader, and assistant majority whip. A first-generation college graduate with a Ph.D in educational administration, he is a lawyer and former math teacher.
Sue Gordon, a respected national security leader and thirty-year CIA officer specializing in science and technology, served as the U.S.’s top career intelligence officer as the fifth principal deputy director of national intelligence. Earlier in her career, she served as the deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the director of the CIA’s Information Operations Center, and the CIA director’s senior advisor on cyber issues, among other leadership roles. As the Senate-confirmed PDDNI, Gordon was a key advisor to President Trump and the National Security Council, and helped lead the 17-member intelligence community.
Yasmin Green has built her career in pioneering new approaches to addressing the information disorder crisis and countering online radicalization. In her role as Jigsaw’s director of research and development, Green leads an interdisciplinary team to forecast threats and validate technology interventions, with a particular interest in countering violent extremism and state-sponsored disinformation.
Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, is a humanitarian, military veteran, mental wellness advocate, and environmentalist. As co-founder of Archewell, he is focused on raising awareness around the root causes of some of the world’s most pressing challenges, including across the online world, and is equally dedicated to pursuing collaborative and substantive solutions to address them. The mission at Archewell—which currently includes Archewell’s Foundation, Productions, and Audio—is united behind the deeply held belief that compassion is the defining cultural force of the 21st century.
Will Hurd recently stepped down after six years as a US congressman, where much of his work and policy-making as the Republican representative for Texas’s 23rd District focused on cybersecurity and the looming impact of emerging technologies. A former clandestine operations officer for the CIA, Hurd is founding co-chair of the Aspen Cybersecurity Group, and served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Jameel Jaffer is an expert in free speech, privacy, and national security. As inaugural executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, Jaffer helps to promote the freedoms of speech and the press through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Before joining the Knight Institute, he was deputy legal director of the ACLU.
Garry Kasparov is deeply and geopolitically engaged in issues related to propaganda and authoritarian regimes. Today, through his writing and advocacy, including as founder of the Renew Democracy Initiative, Kasparov—best known as a former world chess champion—works to advance the principles of democracy and protect freedom of expression.
Dr. Herb Lin specializes in the national security dimensions of information warfare and influence operations. In his role as senior research scholar for cyber policy and security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, his work spans the policy-related dimensions of cybersecurity and cyberspace.
Kathryn Murdoch’s work as a philanthropy executive focuses on efforts related to democracy and the intersection of technology and society, among other areas. Co-founder and president of Quadrivium, she supports initiatives that address the root causes of problems where single actions can create multiple positive outcomes.
Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble centers her academic research on the design of digital media platforms and their impact on society. Co-founder and co-director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, Noble is the author of a best-selling book on racist and sexist algorithmic bias in commercial search engines, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press).
Prof. Deb Roy specializes in applied machine learning and human-machine interaction design. As founding director of the MIT Center for Constructive Communication, he leads research in analyzing media ecosystems and designing prosocial communication tools and platforms. He co-founded and chairs Cortico, a nonprofit that develops and deploys scalable systems to foster constructive dialogue. He was formerly chief media scientist for Twitter.
Alex Stamos, an accomplished hacker and tech security pioneer, works to improve the security and safety of the internet. Today, in his role as founder of the Stanford Internet Observatory, Stamos leads a cross-disciplinary program to study the abuse of the internet in real time, develop a novel curriculum on trust and safety, and translate research discoveries into training and policy innovations. He was formerly chief security officer at Facebook, where he helped lead the tech platform’s response to Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election, and at Yahoo.
Dr. Kate Starbird studies questions on the intersection of technology and society. As associate professor in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington, her research focuses on the use of information-communication technologies during crisis events, with a particular interest in the spread of disinformation in this context.
Amanda Zamora is a news executive with two decades of experience in reporting, editing, production, strategy, and fundraising. As co-founder and publisher of The 19th, Zamora leads editorial, product, and business operations in pursuit of the nonprofit’s mission to empower women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community with the information, resources, and community they need to be equal participants in American democracy. She previously served in roles at the Texas Tribune, ProPublica, and the Washington Post.
Aspen Digital empowers policy-makers, civic organizations, companies, and the public to be responsible stewards of technology and media in the service of an informed, just, and equitable world. A program of the Aspen Institute, we shine a light on urgent global issues across cybersecurity, the information ecosystem, emerging technology, the industry talent pipeline, tech and communications policy, and urban innovation. We then turn ideas to action and develop human solutions to these digital challenges.
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