Four decades later, did the Iranian revolution fulfill its promises?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF)

 

Four decades later, did the Iranian revolution fulfill its promises?

Ali Fathollah-Nejad

If Iran were to hold a referendum on the Islamic Republic today, over 70% would clearly oppose it—among them the wealthy, academics, clerics, village, and city-dwellers. This remarkable hypothetical was not declared by an exiled Iranian dissident, but by the well-known Tehran political science professor, Sadegh Zibakalam, in an interview during the upheaval that took place in late 2017 and early 2018.

But how is it that even a formerly enthusiastic supporter of the Islamic Revolution has delivered such a devastating verdict? To understand this radical shift and the frustration behind it, we must revisit the promises that the revolution made four decades ago. The 1979 Iranian revolution promised three goals: social justice, freedom and democracy, and independence from great power tutelage.

IRAN’S PARADOXICAL QUEST FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Framed in a Marxist–Islamist mindset, the revolution was made on behalf of the mostazafin—the downtrodden—who were left behind by the monarchy’s uneven development model. In the following four decades, intense controversy has erupted over the Islamic Republic’s socio-economic performance. While some claim that under the Islamist regime remarkable progress has been made, others depict an entire country mired in misery. More nuance and contextualization is needed.

Iran has indeed experienced progress over the last 40 years. Whether these successes have been a result of post-revolutionary policies, societal pressures, or the foundations laid by the shah remains hotly debated.

The shift from the shah’s pro-urban, elite-centered policies to a pro-rural and pro-poor (populist) approach under the Islamic Republic included expanding infrastructure and basic services—such as electricity and clean water—from cities to the countryside. In short, the revolution sought to eliminate the rural-urban divide. In rural Iran, the expansion of health and education led to a clear reduction in poverty: The 1970s poverty rate of 25% dropped to less than 10% in 2014. These social policies, biased in favor of the poor, help explain why Iran’s Human Development Index (HDI) has been relatively positive.

Unlike before the revolution, most Iranians today enjoy access to basic services and infrastructure, while the population has almost doubled and most of the country is urbanized. Other measures of social development have similarly improved. Literacy has more than doubled, especially among women, and now encompasses almost all the population. Meanwhile, female students have outnumbered their male counterparts at universities for more than a decade.

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However, while statistics indicate that absolute poverty has declined sharply, a majority of Iranians continue to suffer from socio-economic precarity. Official sources state that 12 million live below the absolute poverty line and 25 to 30 million below the poverty line. Estimates suggest that one-third of Iranians, as well as 50 to 70% of workers, are in danger of falling into poverty. Fourteen percent of Iranians live in tents, according to the Statistical Center of Iran, and one-third of the urban population lives in slums. The living conditions of what anthropologist Shahram Khosravi calls Iran’s “other half,” or working-class poor, are striking: a 17-fold increase in the number of Iranians living in slums; 50% of the workforce have only irregular employment; approximately 10 to 13 million Iranians “entirely excluded from health, work or unemployment insurance.”

And Iran’s socio-economic challenges cannot be separated from its political economy that favors regime loyalists and is marked by mismanagement, cronyism, nepotism, corruption, and the absence of much-needed structural reforms. Although U.S. sanctions have undoubtedly had negative repercussions, their overall impact on Iran’s economic situation is often overstated. For instance, in the summer of 2018, Hossein Raghfar, an economist at Tehran’s Allameh Tabataba’i University, has suggested that as little as 15% of Iran’s economic problems can be attributed to sanctions. The “illiberal neoliberalization” in various Iranian economic policies since the 1990s, featuring client alistic privatizations and de-regulated labor market, has helped form nouveaux riches on one hand and precarious social strata on the other.

A chief failure of the Islamic Republic has been the lack of job creation, with jobless growth even increasing during oil booms. Unemployment rates remain high, especially among the youth, university graduates, and women. Officially, every eighth Iranian is unemployed. According to the Iranian parliament’s research center, the unemployment rate will reach 16% by 2021 in an optimistic scenario, 26% if conditions are less auspicious. Among the youth, one in four is unemployed (but some estimates go as high as 40%). These figures rank Iran’s youth unemployment rate as among the highest worldwide.

Iran’s Gini index of income inequality has remained consistently high at above 0.40, pointing to the lack of inclusive economic growth. Studying levels of inequality in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani found that inequality in 2002 was about the same as in 1972, adding:

The findings on inequality raise important questions about the nature of the Islamic Revolution. Did it significantly affect the power structure as a social revolution of its magnitude should have? This is particularly relevant in the case of Iran because, in addition to changes in the distribution of productivity, the distribution of access to oil rents also affects inequality. Since access is directly related to political power, inequality may reflect the distribution of power. Thus, the finding that inequality in 2002 was about the same as in 1972 raises questions about the significance of the Islamic Revolution as a social and political revolution.

In other words, the class character of Iranian society has remained unchanged, with one ruling class replaced by another only with another social composition. In political cartoons, this was reflected in pictures of the shah’s crown merely being replaced by the mullahs’ turban. Such continuity led some scholars to interpret the 1979 revolution as merely a “passive revolution, a revolution without change” in class relations. Today, there is a strong public perception of high income inequality, given the ostentatious display of wealth and nepotism by the offspring of regime affiliates, the so-called âghâzâdeh, that Iranians observe on the streets of Tehran or on their smartphones through Instagram accounts like “Rich Kids of Tehran.”

The Islamic Republic’s relative achievements in the fields of rural infrastructure, education, and literacy, along with its failure to create jobs, have produced a socio-economic paradox that is politically explosive. Iran’s job market can simply not absorb the hundreds of thousands of university graduates. This paradox has produced a stratum of “middle-class poor,” as described by sociologist Asef Bayat. Defined as those with middle-class qualifications and aspirations but suffering from socio-economic precarity, this group was considered the social base of the 2017-18 uprising and is widely expected to continue to voice its anger and frustration.

On the situation of Iran’s youth under the Islamic Republic, Bayat explained in a 2016 interview:

The youth not only want a secure future—that is reasonable jobs, a place to live, get married, and form a family in the future—they also want to reclaim their “youthfulness,” a desire to live the life of youth, to pursue their interests, their individuality, free from the watchful eyes of their elders, from moral and political authority. This dimension of young people’s lives adds to the existing social tensions in Iran.

As alluded to before, Iranians face another structural impediment to socio-economic opportunities. Regime “insiders” (khodi) or those with access to state resources and privileges also enjoy privileged access to jobs. These frustrations have led many young Iranians to vote with their feet. Even under the Rouhani administration, Iran has continued to experience world record-breaking levels of brain drain, losing an estimated $150 billion per year.

How the ballooning federal debt threatens U.S. defense

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ORDER FROM CHAOS

How the ballooning federal debt threatens U.S. defense

Dan Keeler 

“American economic might is the indispensable foundation of American military might and the essential element in our ability to project a stabilizing power worldwide.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

On June 18, the Senate passed its version of 2019 defense authorization bill. Continuing the recent trend of raising defense spending, the bill proposes an $82 billion increase from 2017, resulting in an overall total defense budget of $716 billion. In an unusually bipartisan sign of cooperative government, these congressional budgets fully support the president and secretary of defense’s recently released National Defense and Military Strategies. Both of these documents prioritize “great power competition” with Russia and China over other issues, and the new budgets allocate national resources to meet the demands of those documents.

Author

Dan Keeler

Federal Executive Fellow – The Brookings Institution

Commander – U.S. Navy

Unfortunately, neither the strategies nor the budgets account for a looming crisis. Driven primarily by increased mandatory spending, the federal debt threatens to consume all other spending, including defense, in the coming decade. Failure to reform mandatory spending now will ultimately erase any near-term gains in national defense and could result in significantly diminished U.S. global influence. Great power competition might continue, but not with the United States as a player.

APPROACHING A CLIFF

Concerns about mandatory spending are not new. Bean counters within and without the government have warned of a reckoning for decades. The reckoning is getting closer.

The largest programs in the mandatory spending category—Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the national debt—are all in some form of unsustainable crisis. This year, trustees from the Social Security and Medicare funds reported they will begin tapping into reserves in order to meet spending requirements. Trustees indicate that the Medicare fund will run out of dollars in 2026. Social Security is in slightly better shape, and will be solvent until 2034. After that, the federal government will have to find other means to fund those programs or apply draconian cuts to benefits.

Simultaneously, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal debt will continue to grow, and that the debt-to-GDP ratio will be 94.5 percent in 2027. Interest payments on that debt will also continue to grow, nearly doubling from 1.6 percent of GDP in 2018 to 3.1 percent in 2028. In dollars, that means net interest payments will increase from $316 billion in 2018 to $915 billion in 2028.

In other words, mandatory spending is going up, way up. As the CBO report states: “The federal government is on an unsustainable fiscal path. … Federal policymakers face economic, security, and social challenges requiring difficult policy choices, but a long-term fiscal plan is also needed to preserve flexibility to address unforeseen events.”

DEFENSE SPENDING AT RISK

What does this mean for defense spending? Nothing good.

For the U.S. Navy, for instance—where I am a commander—it will be harder to sustain recent shipbuilding and modernization efforts. Based on the requirements of the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, the Navy estimates it needs to increase its current force structure of 280 ships to 355. Using 2017 dollars, the CBO estimates it will cost approximately $27 billion dollars per year, for the next 30 years, to reach a 355-ship Navy. When operating and personnel costs are included, the figure is about $103 billion annually. All of these numbers represent a significant increase from allocations over the last 20 years.

If mandatory spending increases take off and there are no structural changes, Congress will be forced to cut discretionary spending—including for projects like shipbuilding—in the mid-2020s to pay its bills. As it does, ships built in the 1980s and 90s will reach the end of their operating life, and without replacement ships, the nation’s fleet and global influence will shrink. What will happen then? For a current example, look no further than the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. Due to recent austerity measures and budget priorities, the Royal Navy has shrunk to a shadow of its Cold War stature. Just last month, the U.K.’s national security adviser, Mark Sedwill, announced that his nation’s two new aircraft carriers would require allied escorts for wartime operations. Simply put, due to budget cuts, the Royal Navy does not have enough ships to defend its own capital ships. Apply similar scenarios across the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and the fiscal future for defense looks very bleak.

It does not have to be this way. There is still time to avoid the fiscal freight train coming our way. Over the years, experts and elected representatives have proposed numerous reforms to Social Security and Medicare in order to maintain the trusts’ solvency. Similarly, there are solutions for controlling the annual deficits that continue to drive the overall debt higher. Unfortunately, none of the solutions are politically easy. In 2011, a Congressional “super-committee” attempted to find a solution and failed spectacularly. The failure gave birth to the Budget Control Act, commonly known as sequestration. This failure should not preclude another attempt. If the United States wishes to compete on the world stage, it’s time to try again.

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When refugee displacement drags on, is self-reliance the answer?

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When refugee displacement drags on, is self-reliance the answer?

Elizabeth Ferris 

When most people think of today’s global refugee crisis, they probably imagine masses of people trying to cross into a neighboring country or hundreds of tents lined up in refugee camps. But on this World Refugee Day, the reality is that most of the world’s refugees—and most internally displaced people—are not living in organized camps but rather are struggling to eke out a living on the margins of the world’s big cities. And most are living in protracted displacement. Estimates vary, but the average length of time a refugee has been displaced is between 10 years and 26 years. The real refugee crisis we face is that too many refugees have been refugees for far too long, and better solutions are needed.

Author

The three traditional solutions for refugees—return, resettlement, and local integration—are all becoming more elusive. In 2016, less than 3 percent of the world’s refugees found one of those solutions. Only 2.5 percent of refugees (552,000 people) were able to return to their home countries that year and even fewer, 0.8 percent (or 189,300), were resettled through formal resettlement programs. An even smaller percentage (0.001 percent, or 23,000) were naturalized as citizens in 2016.

Prospects for solutions for those displaced in 2017 or 2018 are certainly no better; with the decision by the Trump administration to slash refugee resettlement numbers, we’ll be lucky if we see 100,000 refugees resettled globally.

The third traditional solution—local integration—is also becoming more difficult as host governments are reluctant to allow refugees to remain on a permanent basis. While many countries that neighbor refugee-producing states, in all regions, have accepted refugees as an expression of solidarity, it was usually with an expectation that their presence would be temporary. As the presence of refugees drags on (and international assistance is never enough to cover all of the costs), governments are justifiably worried about the economic, security, social, and political consequences of allowing the refugees to settle in and stay. As in the case of Turkey, the fiction is that refugees are a temporary phenomenon and will soon be returning home. Few governments allow refugees access to work permits, which means that most are unable to work legally in their host countries.

But if the three durable solutions are not proving workable for the vast majority of the world’s refugees and the international community is unable to resolve the conflicts that caused the displacement in the first place, what is to happen? The answer seems to be emerging that they will remain where they are—in conditions short of full local integration—and that somehow they will get by. Increasingly, NGOs are turning to supporting refugees in becoming self-reliant so that they can “graduate” from humanitarian aid. Even when refugees are not legally able to work, many do so in the informal sector and NGOs are increasingly supporting programs of refugee livelihoods. Self-reliance—“the social and economic ability of an individual, household, or community to meet its essential needs in a sustainable manner”—is a worthy objective given the paucity of other solutions.

But how do you know if a refugee is really self-reliant? Refuge Point and the Women’s Refugee Commission (of which I am on the board and a commissioner, respectively) both began developing indicators to determine when refugees achieve self-reliance and are now working with 16 humanitarian actors in a community of practice to refine and pilot these indicators.

It’s tough to sustain yourself as a refugee, particularly when living in a country that really doesn’t want you to stay. And it’s tough when refugees aren’t able to secure work permits, but rather are working in what is euphemistically called the informal sector. A lot goes into supporting refugees to become self-reliant; as the recent meeting in Istanbul of the International Refugee Congress suggested, collaboration between refugees and the communities that host them can provide some suggestions. Today, the Self-Reliance Initiative is seeking to help five million refugees move towards self-reliance in the next five years. This is a worthy initiative. Most refugees want to be independent—after all, it’s never pleasant to depend on hand-outs, which are often erratic and insufficient. And it is clearly in donors’ interests to support self-reliance among refugees

I’m glad that organizations are working with refugees to support their self-reliance. Given the current state of affairs—where solutions are elusive, donor fatigue has set in, and nativist politicians decry the presence of refugees—self-reliance is better than depending on long-term care and maintenance programs. And perhaps they’re right that demonstrating refugees’ ability to contribute to their host countries will help to shift the political conversation in those countries and open up opportunities for formal economic inclusion.

But even refugees who are found to be self-reliant and thus no longer in need of humanitarian aid are living awfully close to the edge of poverty. One medical emergency or one abusive employer or one heavy rainstorm could push them out of self-reliance. And I also can’t help but reflect on how far this is from the three solutions originally envisioned by the founders of the international regime back in the early 1950s, where refugees were expected to return home, start a new life elsewhere through resettlement, or settle into a host country with all the benefits and rights of citizens. Self-reliance is only a partial solution, compared to those—nonetheless, given today’s realities, it is an important tool in helping refugees make the best of a bad situation.

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The West is ill-prepared for the wave of “deep fakes” From AI

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

ORDER FROM CHAOS

The West is ill-prepared for the wave of “deep fakes” that artificial intelligence could unleash

Chris Meserole and Alina Polyakova

Editor’s Note:To get ahead of new problems related to disinformation and technology, policymakers in Europe and the United States should focus on the coming wave of disruptive technologies, write Chris Meserole and Alina Polyakova. Fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and decentralized computing, the next generation of disinformation promises to be even more sophisticated and difficult to detect. This piece originally appeared on ForeignPolicy.com.

Russian disinformation has become a problem for European governments. In the last two years, Kremlin-backed campaigns have spread false stories alleging that French President Emmanuel Macron was backed by the “gay lobby,” fabricated a story of a Russian-German girl raped by Arab migrants, and spread a litany of conspiracy theories about the Catalan independence referendum, among other efforts.

Europe is finally taking action. In January, Germany’s Network Enforcement Act came into effect. Designed to limit hate speech and fake news online, the law prompted both France and Spain to consider counterdisinformation legislation of their own. More important, in April the European Union unveiled a new strategy for tackling online disinformation. The EU plan focuses on several sensible responses: promoting media literacy, funding a third-party fact-checking service, and pushing Facebook and others to highlight news from credible media outlets, among others. Although the plan itself stops short of regulation, EU officials have not been shy about hinting that regulation may be forthcoming. Indeed, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared at an EU hearing this week, lawmakers reminded him of their regulatory power after he appeared to dodge their questions on fake news and extremist content.

The problem is that technology advances far more quickly than government policies.

The recent European actions are important first steps. Ultimately, none of the laws or strategies that have been unveiled so far will be enough. The problem is that technology advances far more quickly than government policies. The EU’s measures are still designed to target the disinformation of yesterday rather than that of tomorrow.

To get ahead of the problem, policymakers in Europe and the United States should focus on the coming wave of disruptive technologies. Fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and decentralized computing, the next generation of disinformation promises to be even more sophisticated and difficult to detect.

To craft effective strategies for the near term, lawmakers should focus on four emerging threats in particular: the democratization of artificial intelligence, the evolution of social networks, the rise of decentralized applications, and the “back end” of disinformation.

Thanks to bigger data, better algorithms, and custom hardware, in the coming years, individuals around the world will increasingly have access to cutting-edge artificial intelligence. From health care to transportation, the democratization of AI holds enormous promise.

Yet as with any dual-use technology, the proliferation of AI also poses significant risks. Among other concerns, it promises to democratize the creation of fake print, audio, and video stories. Although computers have long allowed for the manipulation of digital content, in the past that manipulation has almost always been detectable: A fake image would fail to account for subtle shifts in lighting, or a doctored speech would fail to adequately capture cadence and tone. However, deep learning and generative adversarial networks have made it possible to doctor imagesand video so well that it’s difficult to distinguish manipulated files from authentic ones. And thanks to apps like FakeApp and Lyrebird, these so-called “deep fakes” can now be produced by anyone with a computer or smartphone. Earlier this year, a tool that allowed users to easily swap faces in video produced fake celebrity porn, which went viral on Twitter and Pornhub.

Deep fakes and the democratization of disinformation will prove challenging for governments and civil society to counter effectively. Because the algorithms that generate the fakes continuously learn how to more effectively replicate the appearance of reality, deep fakes cannot easily be detected by other algorithms—indeed, in the case of generative adversarial networks, the algorithm works by getting really good at fooling itself. To address the democratization of disinformation, governments, civil society, and the technology sector therefore cannot rely on algorithms alone, but will instead need to invest in new models of social verification, too.

At the same time as artificial technology and other emerging technologies mature, legacy platforms will continue to play an outsized role in the production and dissemination of information online. For instance, consider the current proliferation of disinformation on Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

A growing cottage industry of search engine optimization (SEO) manipulation provides services to clients looking to rise in the Google rankings. And while for the most part, Google is able to stay ahead of attempts to manipulate its algorithms through continuous tweaks, SEO manipulators are also becoming increasingly savvy at gaming the system so that the desired content, including disinformation, appears at the top of search results.

For example, stories from RT and Sputnik—the Russian government’s propaganda outlets—appeared on the first page of Google searches after the March nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom and the April chemical weapons attack in Syria. Similarly, YouTube (which is owned by Google) has an algorithm that prioritizes the amount of time users spend watching content as the key metric for determining which content appears first in search results. This algorithmic preference results in false, extremist, and unreliable information appearing at the top, which in turn means that this content is viewed more often and is perceived as more reliable by users. Revenue for the SEO manipulation industry is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

On Facebook, disinformation appears in one of two ways: through shared content and through paid advertising. The company has tried to curtail disinformation across each vector, but thus far to no avail. Most famously, Facebook introduced a “Disputed Flag” to signify possible false news—only to discover that the flag made users more likely to engage with the content, rather than less. Less conspicuously, in Canada, the company is experimenting with increasing the transparency of its paid advertisements by making all ads available for review, including those micro-targeted to a small set of users. Yet, the effort is limited: The sponsors of ads are often buried, requiring users to do time-consuming research, and the archive Facebook set up for the ads is not a permanent database but only shows active ads. Facebook’s early efforts do not augur well for a future in which foreign actors can continue to exploit its news feed and ad products to deliver disinformation—including deep fakes produced and targeted at specific individuals or groups.

Although Twitter has taken steps to combat the proliferation of trolls and bots on its platform, it remains deeply vulnerable to disinformation campaigns, since accounts are not verified and its application programming interface, or API, still makes it possible to easily generate and spread false content on the platform. Even if Twitter takes further steps to crack down on abuse, its detection algorithms can be reverse-engineered in much the same way Google’s search algorithm is. Without fundamental changes to its API and interaction design, Twitter will remain rife with disinformation. It’s telling, for example, that when the U.S. military struck Syrian chemical weapons facilities in April—well after Twitter’s latest reforms were put in place—the Pentagon reported a massive surge in Russian disinformation in the hours immediately following the attack. The tweets appeared to come from legitimate accounts, and there was no way to report them as misinformation.

Blockchain technologies and other distributed ledgers are best known for powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum. Yet their biggest impact may lie in transforming how the internet works. As more and more decentralized applications come online, the web will increasingly be powered by services and protocols that are designed from the ground up to resist the kind of centralized control that Facebook and others enjoy. For instance, users can already browse videos on DTube rather than YouTube, surf the web on the Blockstack browser rather than Safari, and store files using IPFS, a peer-to-peer file system, rather than Dropbox or Google Docs. To be sure, the decentralized application ecosystem is still a niche area that will take time to mature and work out the glitches. But as security improves over time with fixes to the underlying network architecture, distributed ledger technologies promise to make for a web that is both more secure and outside the control of major corporations and states.

If and when online activity migrates onto decentralized applications, the security and decentralization they provide will be a boon for privacy advocates and human rights dissidents. But it will also be a godsend for malicious actors. Most of these services have anonymity and public-key cryptography baked in, making accounts difficult to track back to real-life individuals or organizations. Moreover, once information is submitted to a decentralized application, it can be nearly impossible to take down. For instance, the IPFS protocol has no method for deletion—users can only add content, they cannot remove it.

For governments, civil society, and private actors, decentralized applications will thus pose an unprecedented challenge, as the current methods for responding to and disrupting disinformation campaigns will no longer apply. Whereas governments and civil society can ultimately appeal to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey if they want to block or remove a malicious user or problematic content on Twitter, with decentralized applications, there won’t always be someone to turn to. If the Manchester bomber had viewed bomb-making instructions on a decentralized app rather than on YouTube, it’s not clear who authorities should or could approach about blocking the content.

Over the last three years, renewed attention to Russian disinformation efforts has sparked research and activities among a growing number of nonprofit organizations, governments, journalists, and activists. So far, these efforts have focused on documenting the mechanisms and actors involved in disinformation campaigns—tracking bot networks, identifying troll accounts, monitoring media narratives, and tracing the diffusion of disinformation content. They’ve also included governmental efforts to implement data protection and privacy policies, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, and legislative proposals to introduce more transparency and accountability into the online advertising space.

While these efforts are certainly valuable for raising awareness among the public and policymakers, by focusing on the end product (the content), they rarely delve into the underlying infrastructure and advertising marketsdriving disinformation campaigns. Doing so requires a deeper examination and assessment of the “back end” of disinformation. In other words, the algorithms and industries—the online advertising market, the SEO manipulation market, and data brokers—behind the end product. Increased automation paired with machine learning will transform this space as well.

To get ahead of these emerging threats, Europe and the United States should consider several policy responses.

First, the EU and the United States should commit significant funding to research and development at the intersection of AI and information warfare. In April, the European Commission called for at least 20 billion euros (about $23 billion) to be spent on research on AI by 2020, prioritizing the health, agriculture, and transportation sectors. None of the funds are earmarked for research and development specifically on disinformation. At the same time, current European initiatives to counter disinformation prioritize education and fact-checking while leaving out AI and other new technologies.

As long as tech research and counterdisinformation efforts run on parallel, disconnected tracks, little progress will be made in getting ahead of emerging threats.

As long as tech research and counterdisinformation efforts run on parallel, disconnected tracks, little progress will be made in getting ahead of emerging threats. In the United States, the government has been reluctant to step in to push forward tech research as Silicon Valley drives innovation with little oversight. The 2016 Obama administration report on the future of AI did not allocate funding, and the Trump administration has yet to release its own strategy. As revelations of Russian manipulation of digital platforms continue, it is becoming increasingly clear that governments will need to work together with private sector firms to identify vulnerabilities and national security threats.

Furthermore, the EU and the U.S. government should also move quickly to prevent the rise of misinformation on decentralized applications. The emergence of decentralized applications presents policymakers with a rare second chance: When social networks were being built a decade ago, lawmakers failed to anticipate the way in which they could be exploited by malicious actors. With such applications still a niche market, policymakers can respond before the decentralized web reaches global scale. Governments should form new public-private partnerships to help developers ensure that the next generation of the web isn’t as ripe for misinformation campaigns. A model could be the United Nations’ Tech Against Terrorism project, which works closely with small tech companies to help them design their platforms from the ground up to guard against terrorist exploitation.

Finally, legislators should continue to push for reforms in the digital advertising industry. As AI continues to transform the industry, disinformation content will become more precise and micro-targeted to specific audiences. AI will make it far easier for malicious actors and legitimate advertisers alike to track user behavior online, identify potential new users to target, and collect information about users’ attitudes, beliefs, and preferences.

In 2014, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission released a report calling for transparency and accountability in the data broker industry. The report called on Congress to consider legislation that would shine light on these firms’ activities by giving individuals access and information about how their data is collected and used online. The EU’s protection regulation goes a long way in giving users control over their data and limits how social media platforms process users’ data for ad-targeting purposes. Facebook is also experimenting with blocking foreign ad sales ahead of contentious votes. Still, the digital ads industry as a whole remains a black box to policymakers, and much more can still be done to limit data mining and regulate political ads online.

Effectively tracking and targeting each of the areas above won’t be easy. Yet policymakers need to start focusing on them now. If the EU’s new anti-disinformation effort and other related policies fail to track evolving technologies, they risk being antiquated before they’re even introduced.

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