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House Intelligence Committee to Hold Virtual Open Hearing on Misinformation and Conspiracy Theories Online

Washington, October 13, 2020

Washington, DC – On Thursday, October 15, 2020 at 1:30 pm ET, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) will convene a virtual unclassified hearing entitled, “Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories, and ‘Infodemics’: Stopping the Spread Online.”

Conspiracy theories and misinformation narratives that prey on individuals’ fears and uncertainties continue to mar the online landscape. Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, an economy in turmoil, and a tumultuous presidential campaign, there is ample terrain for malicious actors at home or malign foreign operatives and governments abroad to exploit such tensions by stoking chaos and dangerous, even life-threatening, untruths. Recent trends in the spread and reach of misleading or unfounded claims online have the unsettling potential to come to a head after Election Day – particularly if the certified outcome is unknown or contested in the ensuing days and weeks.

Although the seeds for many conspiracies and misinformation narratives – ranging from baseless QAnon posts, to dangerous coronavirus skepticism and denialism, to falsehoods about mail-in ballots – are often homegrown and amplified by American voices, the propaganda and covert influence machines of foreign adversaries have nonetheless repeated and amplified them in the service of strategic interests.

In the hearing, the Committee will examine:

  • the intersection of and divergences between different online conspiracy and misinformation narratives;
  • the role of social media platforms in the proliferation and deceleration of such content;
  • how foreign actors are taking advantage of misinformation circulating U.S. online communities;
  • steps that the US government and private sector need to take in response; and
  • the implications for our social and political discourse beyond Election Day 2020.

WHO:           

Dr. Joan Donovan, Research Director, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Ms. Nina Jankowicz, Disinformation Fellow, the Wilson Center

Ms. Cindy Otis, Vice President, Alethea Group

Ms. Melanie Smith, Head of Analysis, Graphika Inc.

 

WHAT:
House Intelligence Committee Open Virtual Hearing: “Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories, and ‘Infodemics’: Stopping the Spread Online”

 

WHEN:         
Thursday, October 15, 2020 at 1:30 pm ET

 

WHERE:      
The Committee will livestream the hearing for the public and press here.

 

Witness Biographies:

 

Dr. Joan Donovan – Research Director, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Dr. Joan Donovan is the Research Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Dr. Donovan leads the field in examining internet and technology studies, online extremism, media manipulation, and disinformation campaigns. Dr. Donovan leads The Technology and Social Change Project (TaSC). TaSC explores how media manipulation is a means to control public conversation, derail democracy, and disrupt society. TaSC conducts research, develops methods, and facilitates workshops for journalists, policy makers, technologists, and civil society organizations on how to detect, document, and debunk media manipulation campaigns.

Dr. Donovan's research and teaching interests are focused on media manipulation, effects of disinformation campaigns, and adversarial media movements. Prior to joining Harvard Kennedy School, Dr. Donovan was the Research Lead for Data & Society’s Media Manipulation Initiative, where she led a large team of researchers studying efforts to manipulate sociotechnical systems for political gain. She continues to hold an affiliate appointment with Data & Society. Dr. Donovan received her Ph.D. in Sociology and Science Studies from the University of California San Diego, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics, where she studied white supremacists’ use of DNA ancestry tests, social movements, and technology.

Nina Jankowicz – Disinformation Fellow, the Wilson Center

Nina Jankowicz studies the intersection of democracy and technology in Central and Eastern Europe as the Wilson Center’s Disinformation Fellow. She is the author of How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict (Bloomsbury/IBTauris), which The New Yorker called “a persuasive new book on disinformation as a geopolitical strategy.” Ms. Jankowicz has advised the Ukrainian government on strategic communications under the auspices of a Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellowship.

She has previously testified on countering foreign influence operations before the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. Prior to her Fulbright grant in Ukraine, Ms. Jankowicz managed democracy assistance programs to Russia and Belarus at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. She received her MA in Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, and her BA from Bryn Mawr College.

Cindy Otis – Vice President, Alethea Group

Cindy L. Otis is a former CIA officer and an expert on disinformation threat analysis and countermessaging. She is also a Senior non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and an Associate at Argonne National Lab. Prior to joining the private sector in 2017, she served in the CIA as a military analyst, intelligence briefer, and a manager in the Directorate of Intelligence. While at the CIA, she specialized in security issues in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.  She is the author of the newly released True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Identifying and Fighting Fake News out now from Macmillan.

As a wheelchair user and passionate advocate of disability rights, she has also worked as a consultant to major disability rights organizations.

Melanie Smith – Head of Analysis, Graphika Inc.

Melanie Smith is Head of Analysis at Graphika, where she studies online social movements, disinformation, and election integrity. Her analysis of online conversation around Covid-19 has been leveraged by the World Health Organization, and her research on the QAnon community represents one of the most comprehensive reports on the group to date and has been cited by Reuters and The Washington Post. Melanie employs open-source social media data to map foreign and domestic information operations, as well as recruitment networks of extremists from across the political spectrum. She holds research fellowships at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London.

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