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Tuesday, December 19 • 15:00 - 16:00
Fake News, AI Trolls & Disinformation: How Can the Internet Community Deal with Poison in the System (WS68)

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Proposer's Name: Ms. Sarah Moulton
Proposer's Organization: National Democratic Institute
Co-Proposer's Name: Mr. Chris Doten
Co-Proposer's Organization: National Democratic Institute
Mr.,Chris,DOTEN,Civil Society,National Democratic Institute
Ms.,Sarah,MOULTON,Civil Society,National Democratic Institute

Session Format: Birds of a Feather - 60 Min

Country: United States
Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Country: United States
Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Speaker: Matt Chessen
Speaker: Alina Polyakova
Speaker: Samuel Woolley
Speaker: Donatien Niyongendako

Content of the Session:
While this is designed to be a free-flowing conversation, the discussion leader will ensure that the group touches on three core points about shaping a better internet for the future: how to deal with trolling and online harassment, particularly via AI bots, without infringing on free speech; how social platforms and content algorithms can be manipulated to surface hatred or false information, and what, if anything, can be done about it; and the role of governmental policymakers in writing legal frameworks to support an open but inclusive online dialogue. Given the range of experiences of our participants, as well as the other diverse voices we expect will participate in the conversation, we expect a vibrant discussion.

Relevance of the Session:
At the same time that the internet is becoming the indispensable communications medium of a majority of citizens around the world, the online space increasingly seems to be warping into a hostile environment for civil dialogue. The openness that makes the internet the greatest communication platform in human history is being misshapen by forces who attempt to drown out speech with hatred, misinform with biased propaganda, and craft realities grounded in alternative sets of facts. Critical questions will be answered - or ignored - in the next years that will shape the role of the internet in our lives: the obligations of policymakers to reign in online hatred vs. protecting free speech; of social platforms to build content algorithms that do not reflect unconscious bias or can be easily manipulated; and the role of civil society in pushing back against the internet deluge of falsehood and fake news, sometimes pushed by nation-states. How can decisions or policies enacted by the wider internet governance community help or hinder the outcomes take by these different stakeholders?

Tag 1: Freedom of Expression Online
Tag 2: Disinformation
Tag 3: 

While the Birds of a Feather session will not have formal presentations, key topic leaders have been identified who will further guide conversation around key discussion questions posed to the session participants, based on their diverse expertise. Alina Polyakova of the Brookings Institution (confirmed) focuses on the uses of the internet by nation-states to manipulate public opinion, while Matt Chessen (confirmed) as a Digital Diplomacy team member from the US State Department will articulate a governmental perspective on mass communication. Oxford’s Samuel Woolley (confirmed) will share a perspective advanced research on the ways in which computational propaganda is being distributed by AI-powered bots, while Donatien Niyongendako of DefendingDefenders (confirmed) can discuss the impacts his civic organization has seen on the suppression of public communication in the Horn of Africa.

This Birds of a Feather session will have lead speakers representing a variety of stakeholder groups, including government, academia, civil society, and technology specialists. No suggested members have been participants in an IGF event in the past, and each of the confirmed speakers represents differing areas of subject matter expertise and geographic focus. Additional speakers to be confirmed will include representatives from the Global South, as well as those who have direct experience encountering online harassment and trolling - particularly women. We intend to use the online discussion capabilities to further diversify the types of participants in the discussion.

Onsite Moderator: Chris Doten 
Online Moderator: Sarah Moulton
Rapporteur: Amanda Domingues

Online Participation:
The livestream for this event will be promoted in advance through the social networks of the organizer, as well as by discussants. Responses to the session’s key discussion topics will be solicited in advance from community members who will not be able to participate in the live discussion, such as those located in time zones not conducive to viewing the livestream. Questions and comments received will be shared with the Onsite Moderator for incorporation into the live discussion. During the live session, the Online Moderator will coordinate with remote participants to facilitate live audio participation in the discussion if technical media permit. In addition, non-audio based comments and questions received through social media or chat discussions in the virtual meeting space will be integrated into the discussion directly by the Online Moderator. 

Discussion facilitation:
As a birds of a feather session, we hope for a lively, perhaps confrontational discussion as our speakers engage as peers with the other participants around the table. The facilitator will sharpen contrasts between points of view, request examples from everyone in the room, and note points of disagreement. The goal of this session is not necessarily to reach consensus on the nature of the problem or potential mitigations, but rather to elucidate a variety of frank points of view, and perceptions of what key internet stakeholders ought to be doing in response. This is not a panel, and as such all speakers will be looking to engage substantively with the others in the room. Specific conversational prompts may include:
What is the role of internet policy makers in responding to nation-state engagement in online conversations?
What are the economic incentives for creating disinformation flows? Should one remove troll networks?
Does fact checking work? Should communications platforms adopt it? Who checks the checkers?”
With accelerating AI behind sock-puppet bot accounts, what is the future of civic dialogue online?

Conducted a Workshop in IGF before?: No
Link to Report: 

Background Paper



Introduction to the topic by Moderator (5 mins)

Introduction of Topic Leaders (10 mins)

Open Discussion with Session Participants (40 mins)

The Birds of a Feather session will be driven primarily by interests of in-person and online participants, but guiding questions would include:

  • What is the role of internet policy makers in responding to nation-state engagement in online conversations?
  • What are the economic incentives for creating disinformation flows? Should one remove troll networks?
  • Does fact checking work? Should communications platforms adopt it? Who checks the fact checkers?
  • How can we address the disproportionate impact of trolls on women’s online participation?
  • With accelerating AI behind sock-puppet accounts, what is the future of civic dialogue online?

Concluding remarks (5 mins)


Session Organizers

Sarah Moulton

National Democratic Institute

Tuesday December 19, 2017 15:00 - 16:00 CET
Room XXV - E United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)