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Nico Lange talked to Francis Fukuyama at Stanford University during #disinfoweek about propaganda, enemies of democracy and responsibilities of digital platforms.

Francis Fukuyama on fake news

Francis Fukuyama on fake news: Rebuilding trust is much harder than shooting down a false story Nico Lange talked to Francis Fukuyama at Stanford Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL)during #disinfoweek about propaganda, enemies of democracy and responsibilities of digital platforms Nico Lange: We are here outside of Stanford University with Francis Fukuyama, in front of his building, and professor Fukuyama together with other partners, among them the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, is one of the initiators of the #disinfoweek. And, together with NDI the Stanford University is hosting the Disinformation Forum today. We had some discussions on disinformation already today. We had a discussion just before lunch on Russian influence. We found out the analysis of the problem is not so easy. That is why the whole day is devoted to understanding the problem. Do you have the impression we understood the problem of disinformation already, better, today? Francis Fukuyama: I think we’ve made some progress. I think that one issue is that what’s going on right now is both similar and different from what’s happened historically. So, there has been plenty of disinformation. Countries have always used disinformation as a weapon in their foreign policy, and I think that the Russians have been doing this, but other countries, you know, China as well. People use this in democratic politics. We’ve seen this in the politics of our presidential election. The enemies of democracy figured out how to use technology What’s different though is the internet. I think of the 1990s when the world wide web first got going, people thought that the information revolution would be tremendously beneficial for democracy because information is power and if you give more people access to power they will be able to organize, to hold governments accountable, and the like. I think what they didn’t count on was the fact that the enemies of democracy would also figure out how to make use of this new technology and to shape it for their own purposes. And, I think one thing that came out of the session today was, for example, the fact that the Russians do not want to necessarily convince people that their system is great. They don’t want to prove anything positive, they simply want to dissolve the trust that is necessary, I think, as an underpinning for democracy in successful democratic countries. So, this is something, I think, we have to take into account and rebuilding trust, I think, is much harder than shooting down an obviously false story. You know, the Russians, for example, said that aids had been started as a secret CIA plot. That could be countered very specifically, but what we are seeing now, I think, is quite different. Nico Lange: Some observers of the debate in Germany and Europe, they are arguing that the tech companies here in Silicon Valley, they delivered the weapons to Russians and others to undermine democratic processes in the West. Do you think the industry here has some role to play? Tech companies have a commercial self interest in viral tweets and conspiracy theories Francis Fukuyama: Oh absolutely, I think in fact this is one of the issues my center is working on, that, in a certain sense the digital platforms have a commercial self interest in viral, you know, tweets and, you know, bad information, conspiracy theories. And, I think that they are waking up to the fact that they have actually played a negative role. I think their own employees were the first people to say that we didn’t sign up to, you know, do this sort of thing. But, I think that they’re also being driven, you know, to take a much more responsible position. And so, that’s one of the reasons, I think, a forum like this is important we have a lot of people from Facebook, Google, and you know, the other big internet platforms and I think we need to work with them to figure out how to solve this problem. Nico Lange: Thank you very much, professor Fukuyama. Francis Fukuyama: Ok, thank you very much.

Posted by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung USA on Dienstag, 1. August 2017

Nico Lange: We are here outside of Stanford University with Francis Fukuyama, in front of his building, and professor Fukuyama together with other partners, among them the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, is one of the initiators of the #disinfoweek. And, together with NDI the Stanford University is hosting the Disinformation Forum today.

We had some discussions on disinformation already today. We had a discussion just before lunch on Russian influence. We found out the analysis of the problem is not so easy. That is why the whole day is devoted to understanding the problem. Do you have the impression we understood the problem of disinformation already, better, today?

Francis Fukuyama: I think we’ve made some progress. I think that one issue is that what’s going on right now is both similar and different from what’s happened historically. So, there has been plenty of disinformation. Countries have always used disinformation as a weapon in their foreign policy, and I think that the Russians have been doing this, but other countries, you know, China as well. People use this in democratic politics. We’ve seen this in the politics of our presidential election.

The enemies of democracy figured out how to use technology

What’s different though is the internet. I think of the 1990s when the world wide web first got going, people thought that the information revolution would be tremendously beneficial for democracy because information is power and if you give more people access to power they will be able to organize, to hold governments accountable, and the like. I think what they didn’t count on was the fact that the enemies of democracy would also figure out how to make use of this new technology and to shape it for their own purposes.

And, I think one thing that came out of the session today was, for example, the fact that the Russians do not want to necessarily convince people that their system is great. They don’t want to prove anything positive, they simply want to dissolve the trust that is necessary, I think, as an underpinning for democracy in successful democratic countries. So, this is something, I think, we have to take into account and rebuilding trust, I think, is much harder than shooting down an obviously false story. You know, the Russians, for example, said that aids had been started as a secret CIA plot. That could be countered very specifically, but what we are seeing now, I think, is quite different.

Nico Lange: Some observers of the debate in Germany and Europe, they are arguing that the tech companies here in Silicon Valley, they delivered the weapons to Russians and others to undermine democratic processes in the West. Do you think the industry here has some role to play?

Tech companies have a commercial self interest in viral tweets and conspiracy theories

Francis Fukuyama: Oh absolutely, I think in fact this is one of the issues my center is working on, that, in a certain sense the digital platforms have a commercial self interest in viral, you know, tweets and, you know, bad information, conspiracy theories. And, I think that they are waking up to the fact that they have actually played a negative role. I think their own employees were the first people to say that we didn’t sign up to, you know, do this sort of thing. But, I think that they’re also being driven, you know, to take a much more responsible position.

And so, that’s one of the reasons, I think, a forum like this is important we have a lot of people from Facebook, Google, and you know, the other big internet platforms and I think we need to work with them to figure out how to solve this problem.

Nico Lange: Thank you very much, professor Fukuyama.

Francis Fukuyama: Ok, thank you very much.

About this Serial

The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung is represented with its own office in around 70 countries on five continents. The foreign employees can give first-hand reports on current happenings and long-term developments in their respective countries. Their "country reports" offer visitors to the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung exclusive evaluations, background information and forecasts.


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