Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder Announces Expert Survey Results, Adds Staff and Technical Advisors

April 20, 2021

Query of mis- and disinformation industry received responses from over 100 experts on their suggested priorities, with trust listed at the top; Six-month study on combating America’s urgent mis- and disinformation challenge invites further input via written submissions from broad range of stakeholders

Contact: Carner Derron
Marketing & Communications Manager, Aspen Digital
The Aspen Institute
[email protected]

Washington, DC, April 20, 2021 – The Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder publishes the results of its survey of experts, which finds trust as the most widely held concern in combatting America’s mis- and disinformation challenge. In conjunction, the initiative is inviting input from a broad range of stakeholders to aid commissioners in their understanding and consideration of key issues and opportunities. 

To inform the Commission’s early work, the Aspen Digital program queried the broader “information disorder” sector for their suggestions on the priorities the six-month study should set. It received feedback from over 100 experts, including leading figures in academia, civil society, private industry, and government.

While “social media,” “government,” “algorithms,” and “extremism” were mentioned approximately one dozen times when experts were asked about the biggest mis- and disinformation challenges, “trust” appeared twice as frequently. As one participant from the media industry said, “Americans no longer trust media organisations to provide any balance—broadcasters demonstrate bias, while the advent of clickbait journalism has destroyed the revenue models for well-researched print journalism. This creates space for disinformation to thrive.”

The experts weighed in on how the government should respond to disinformation, the role tech platforms should play in setting regulation policy, the impact of disinformation outside the United States, and more. The complete, anonymized results, along with further details, can be found here.

In addition, Aspen Digital is excited to announce three new staffers who will lead and drive forward the initiative: Ryan Merkley, Commission Director; Sara Sendek, Commission Manager; and Diara J. Townes, Manager of Research.

Throughout the preparation and planning process, Aspen Digital is engaging a variety of individuals who have technical expertise and experience with the platforms. As Technical Advisors, their primary role is to be on-hand to provide the Commission with enhanced understanding of the issues it’s considering, and to provide advice as requested on potential solutions it might recommend.

The Technical Advisors include researchers danah boyd of Microsoft Research, Renée DiResta of Stanford Internet Observatory, Joan Donovan of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Evelyn Douek of Knight First Amendment Institute and Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, and Thomas Rid of Johns Hopkins University; civil society leaders Emily Frye, Director of Cyber Integration at MITRE, Deborah Rajii, Fellow at Mozilla, and Alicia Wanless, Director of the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and platform representatives Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook, Yoel Roth, Head of Site Integrity at Twitter, and Clement Wolf, Global Public Policy Lead for Information Integrity at Google.

Short biographies of the new Aspen Digital staffers as well as the Technical Advisors are included below.

To inform the Commission’s work, Aspen Digital is hosting a series of expert briefings around a broad range of essential topics related to disinformation. Examples include Section 230, conspiracy theories and radicalization, impacts on marginalized communities, and algorithmic bias. These briefings will be recorded and made available to commissioners and the public. For the initial round of experts, Renee DiResta will discuss conspiracy theories and coordinated campaigns; danah boyd will share insights on the fundamentals of disinformation; and Thomas Rid will review the history of Russian tactics and its influence in the US. Further details and initial recordings will be shared in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the Commission—co-chaired by renowned journalist Katie Couric; cybersecurity expert Chris Krebs, the founding director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA); and racial equity leader Rashad Robinson, the president of Color Of Change—is inviting further input via written submissions by May 30, 2021. It asks respondents to scope their submissions to one or more of these areas:

  1. The most effective policy solutions and stakeholders to address the most damaging near-term disinformation threats
  2. The lawful and ethical means by which the federal government can promote fact-based information to counter the most dangerous disinformation campaigns
  3. 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
  4. The longer-term, more foundational challenges that will require deeper societal engagement to address

The Commission may choose to post selected submissions publicly on the Aspen Institute website, at the Commission’s sole discretion, with attribution. More information on the call for submissions can be found here. 

The Commission recently came together for its first meeting, where it determined its mechanics and scope, and set the agenda for its first 60 days. Meeting twice per month, the co-chairs and commissioners will cover the following focus areas in this initial phase: Real World Impacts of Information Disorder; Government Actions and Responsibilities; Private Sector Actions and Responsibilities; and Civil Society Actions and Responsibilities. A variety of materials and resources that are being prepared to support this work will be made available to the public.  

Those interested in learning more about the Commission on Information Disorder are invited to visit its website at AspenInfoCommission.org. 


Staff Biographies

Ryan Merkley, Commission Director, was most recently Chief of Staff at the Wikimedia Foundation, focusing on operations and strategy, including the organization’s defense and response to disinformation, and its 10-year movement strategy. He is an affiliate of the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Previously, Ryan served for five years as Chief Executive Officer at Creative Commons, was Chief Operating Officer of Mozilla, served as Director of Corporate Communications for the City of Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games, and was a Senior Advisor to Mayor David Miller in Toronto, where he led the Mayor’s budget policy and initiated Toronto’s Open Data project. 

Sara Sendek, Commission Manager, has 15 years experience in public affairs and media relations in government, political campaigns, and the private sector. She previously served as Director of Public Affairs at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)—the newest agency in the federal government charged with defending our critical infrastructure from threats both cyber and physical. In this role, Sara oversaw CISA’s media relations operation, played a key role in the 2020 election security efforts, and was part of the federal government response efforts to the major and ongoing SolarWinds-related cybersecurity compromise.

Diara J. Townes, Manager of Research, was an investigative researcher and the community engagement lead for the nonprofit misinformation research organization First Draft. In addition to researching disinformation around US election issues, breaking news events, public health and climate science, she led First Draft’s partnership with ProPublica’s 2020 Electionland project and the US 2020 Student Network, an all-volunteer college student collaborative that built monitoring, verifying, and reporting skills for over 50 emerging journalists. Diara also serves as program manager for Aspen Digital.

 

Technical Advisor Biographies

danah boyd is a Partner Researcher at Microsoft Research, the founder and president of Data & Society, and a Visiting Professor at New York University. Her research is focused on addressing social and cultural inequities by understanding the relationship between technology and society. Her most recent books—It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens and Participatory Culture in a Networked Age—examine the intersection of everyday practices and social media. She is a 2011 Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Director of both Crisis Text Line and Social Science Research Council, and a Trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian. She received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brown University, a master’s degree from the MIT Media Lab, and a Ph.D in Information from the University of California, Berkeley.

Renée DiResta is the Technical Research Manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory. She investigates the spread of malign narratives across social and other media networks. Renee’s areas of research include disinformation and propaganda by state-sponsored actors, and health misinformation and conspiracy theories. Renee has advised Congress, the State Department, and other academic, civic, and business organizations, and has studied disinformation and computational propaganda in the context of pseudoscience conspiracies, terrorism, and statesponsored information warfare. Renée regularly writes and speaks about the role that tech platforms and curatorial algorithms play in the proliferation of disinformation and conspiracy theories. She is an Ideas contributor at Wired and The Atlantic. She is a 2019 Truman National Security Project security fellow, a 2019 Mozilla Fellow in Media, Misinformation, and Trust, and a Council on Foreign Relations term member. Renée is a co-author of The Hardware Startup: Building your Product, Business, and Brand, published by O’Reilly Media.

Dr. Joan Donovan is a leading public scholar and disinformation researcher, specializing in media manipulation, political movements, and extremism. As the Research Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy and Director of the Technology and Social Change project, Dr. Donovan is a thought leader, and sought-after social scientist whose expertise is in internet and technology studies, online extremism, media manipulation, and disinformation campaigns. Dr. Donovan has coined many of the terms that the disinformation field and mainstream media use to understand technologies’ impact on society. Her conceptualizations of strategic silence, meme wars, and media manipulation campaigns provide crucial frameworks for understanding how the US got to this point. Dr. Donovan has testified in front of Congress about the trust costs of misinformation, as well as internet conspiracy theories, and helps policymakers understand how regulation could help society adapt to and defend against disinformation. She also discusses the implications of her research with major technology companies and start-ups, and government defense agencies such as DARPA, the DOD, and ISAT. Dr. Donovan is a co-creator of the beaver emoji.

Evelyn Douek is a Lecturer on Law and S.J.D. candidate at Harvard Law School, Associate Research Scholar at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. She studies online speech regulation and platform governance. Before coming to Harvard to complete a Master of Laws, Evelyn clerked for the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Hon. Justice Susan Kiefel, and worked as a corporate litigator. She received her LL.B. from UNSW Sydney, where she was Executive Editor of the UNSW Law Journal.

Emily Frye is Director for Cyber Integration for the civilian enterprise at The MITRE Corporation. The Cyber Integration group identifies cyber needs and demands across the civilian sponsor arena and serves as the connective tissue between MITRE offerings and sponsor priorities. This organization is also responsible for driving corporate efforts to press forward in developing leading-edge solutions to address emerging cybersecurity challenges that our sponsors face. Ms. Frye also serves as CoDirector of ElectionIntegri[email protected], best known for pioneering the nationwide SQUINT program for misinformation. Ms. Frye previously served as the Director of National Protection and Resilience within the HSSEDI FFRDC. Ms. Frye has practiced law, moved a startup through three rounds of venture funding, served as the Director of Research for a think tank, and consulted extensively across technical and policy issues in both the public and private sectors.

Nathaniel Gleicher is an engineer and a lawyer, and works at the intersection of technology, policy, and law. He has taught computer programming, built and secured computer networks, prosecuted cybercrime at the U.S. Department of Justice, and served as Director for Cybersecurity Policy at the National Security Council (NSC) in the White House. At the NSC, he developed U.S. government policy on key technology and cybersecurity challenges, including encryption, cyber deterrence, internet governance, and network security. Since leaving government, Nathaniel served as head of cybersecurity strategy at Illumio, and is currently the Head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook.

Deborah Rajii is a Mozilla fellow, interested in algorithmic auditing. She has worked closely with the Algorithmic Justice League initiative, founded by Joy Buolamwini of the MIT Media Lab, on several award-winning projects to highlight cases of bias in facial recognition. She was a mentee in Google AI’s flagship research mentorship cohort, working with their Ethical AI team on various projects to operationalize ethical considerations in ML practice, including the Model Cards documentation project, and SMACTR internal auditing framework. She was also recently a research fellow at the Partnership on AI, working on formalizing documentation practice in Machine Learning through their ABOUT ML initiative, as well as at the AI Now Institute at New York University pushing forward benchmarking and model evaluation norms. She was recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and MIT Tech Review 35 Under 35 Innovators.

Thomas Rid is Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Rid’s most recent book, Active Measures, tells a startling history of disinformation. His book, Rise of the Machines (2016), tells the sweeping story of how cybernetics, a late-1940s theory of machines, came to incite anarchy and war (also in Chinese, Russian, German, Japanese, Turkish). His 2015 article “Attributing Cyber Attacks” was designed to explain, guide, and improve the identification of network breaches (Journal of Strategic Studies 2015). In 2013 he published the widely-read book Cyber War Will Not Take Place. Rid testified on information security in front of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as well as in the German Bundestag and the UK Parliament. From 2011 to 2016, Rid was a professor in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Between 2003 and 2010, he worked at major think tanks in Berlin, Paris, Jerusalem, and Washington, DC. Rid holds a PhD from Humboldt University in Berlin.

Yoel Roth is the Global Head of Site Integrity and Director of Trust & Safety at Twitter. He leads the teams responsible for detecting and mitigating threats to the Twitter platform and people on Twitter, including platform manipulation, spam, misinformation, and state-backed disinformation. Before joining Twitter, Yoel received his PhD from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. His research and teaching focused on the intersecting dynamics of privacy, safety, and self-expression on social networking services, with a particular focus on mobile dating applications. 

Alicia Wanless is the director of the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Alicia researches how people shape—and are shaped—by a changing information space. With over a decade of experience in researching and analyzing the information environment, focusing on propaganda and information warfare, Wanless applies this learning to support government, military, and major tech companies to develop policies and integrate information activities into training programs that better reflect how the information environment is manipulated. Wanless is currently a PhD Researcher at King’s College London, exploring alternative frameworks for understanding the information environment.

Clement Wolf is a technology policy and communications expert with over ten years of experience addressing online content issues. As Google’s global public policy lead for information integrity, he helps develop policies, products, and initiatives across Google and YouTube to address misinformation; combat influence operations; and develop further dialogue with experts across civil society, academia, and government. Prior to this position, he advised Google’s Search and News teams on product and policy development and worked in communications at Google France. He was also a 2020 Assembly fellow with Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Clement is a graduate of Pantheon-Sorbonne University (BA, Law), Sciences Po Paris (MA, International Affairs / Security), ESSEC Business School (MA, Management).

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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 innovation. We then turn ideas to action and develop human solutions to these digital challenges. 

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.

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