Vera Zakem is Senior Technology and Policy Advisor at Institute for Security and Technology where she leads democracy and technology efforts and is the founder of Zakem Global Strategies. From 2020-2021 she was a member of non-partisan task force on the US strategy in support of democracy and the fight against authoritarianism.
the TechCrunch Global Affairs project explores the increasingly intertwined relationship between the technology sector and world politics.
This week, President Biden will make executives over 100 countries to attend its long-promised virtual summit for democracy. After a year Advice, coordination and action, these heads of state and government will meet again for a second summit to report on the progress made on the first protection commitments Human rights, counter-authoritarianism and corruption.
Since I was born in the former Soviet Union, I can’t help but be optimistic about the summit. Even as a very young child I felt the coldness that came from living in a place that restricted freedom of expression and expression and where information and almost every aspect of life was heavily controlled by the state or a few rulers. My personal experiences make me grateful to be an American citizen. But, having lived under an authoritarian regime, I am very sensitive to the reason why this summit is taking place: the democratic recession that is taking place around the world.
No area is as critical in this democratic competition as technology. If leaders hope to make progress on the three core principles of the summit, they must ensure that technology serves democracy and human rights. These include facilitating investment in the open internet and critical infrastructures to counter digital authoritarianism, counter disinformation, strengthen society’s resilience, and make greater investments in new technologies and technological entrepreneurship that are compatible with democratic values and diversity.
reporting indicates that we are likely to see commitments to strengthen the Internet, increase funding for media literacy and civics, and enforce export controls on dual-use technologies, among other things. These are all useful steps. But if they are to last beyond the summit, they need public-private-civic partnerships to really implement and scale them. Here are three areas that deserve our collective attention:
First, digital authoritarianism, the use of technology to suppress domestic citizens through regulation, censorship and export of technology, has become a pervasive global problem. We don’t have to look much further than China and its pioneering work state controlled internet or Russia and its ever-Tightening control about internet infrastructure, online content and data protection. In addition, by exporting this form of authoritarianism to other regions of the world, including Africa and Latin America, these countries help promote the “System rivalry” between democracies and authoritarian regimes.
The private sector, civil society and governments can do much together to address this evolving threat. This includes working together to build critical infrastructures in emerging countries while tightening export controls on repressive technologies. At the sub-national level, the US and its allies should work to improve internet access and promote internet freedom, with a special focus on marginalized communities. Civil society in particular should use its voice to advocate local rules and practices to hold both governments and the private sector accountable. Multinational corporations should also use their power for good by conducting human rights assessments in the countries in which they operate to ensure that they do not commit human rights abuses or inadvertently support authoritarian regimes in their business practices.
Second, disinformation, the deliberate spread of falsehoods and half-truths, continues to pose a serious threat to democracies around the world. In the past few years, we’ve seen election and COVID-related disinformation spread like wildfire across the United States and around the world on social media platforms, mainstream media, and through our trusted networks. Russia, China, Iran and local actors Waged disinformation campaigns not only to cause chaos and confusion, but as we did during the Sept. cause serious damage. In addition, these disinformation campaigns have turned into hateful rhetoric against marginalized groups such as women and girls, the LGBTQ + community and journalists. This is an area where governments, the private sector and civil society should and must meet their commitments in the coming year. Otherwise, democracies will simply not be able to keep up with information pollution – online or offline.
There are a number of ways you can do this. The bipartisan Task Force on the US Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarism, of which I was a member, suggested setting up one Global Task Force on Information Integrity and Resilience to build trust in the information environment. Our proposal was based on the belief that while this task force can be led by leaders from like-minded countries, both the private sector and civil society should have strong participation to work together and share information on disinformation, hate and harassment online to do so to anticipate, anticipate and counteract these threats. Ultimately, the goal should be to build social resilience over the long term.
Third, the private sector and civil society need to invest and develop partnerships with governments to implement digital, media literacy and civics initiatives in existing and emerging democracies and to reach citizens beyond capital cities. At the same time, the private sector, especially digital platforms and mainstream media, must increasingly provide credible and high quality information to citizens in the coming year, as our lives depend on it, to put it simply. There were a number of suggestions to increase the transparency and accountability of digital platforms in order to prevent algorithmic bias, misuse of data and the spread of harmful content. Ultimately, as we strive to build the best information ecosystem possible, these principles are about building trust – between citizens, content providers, governments and industry.
We won’t be able to combat these threats without investing deeply in new technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. Investing in identifying and detecting these threats – and understanding their effects – should not be limited to the US or Europe alone. As startups develop these technologies, they should ensure that their products can be safely scaled into emerging markets.
Fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging economies is the last area where the private sector and civil society have meaningful opportunities to work with governments. research shows that innovation and entrepreneurship create economic growth, and so does the technology sector. The surest way to vaccinate developing countries against authoritarian technology is to invest in the next generation of talent, especially young people, women and girls and other marginalized communities. Developing credible local voices, entrepreneurs, and innovators who can use new technology to counter the authoritarian threats to their countries can be the best way to get the results you want.
When it comes to technology, we compete for influence between democratic values and an authoritarian way of life. This year’s summit paves the way for a meaningful democratic revival. But as we enter a year of action and consultation, it is public-private-civic partnerships that enable the scale and delivery needed for a technological agenda serving democracy.