Understanding Policy Responses to the National Disinformation Challenge

May 2021 No Comments

Speaker(s): Montgomery, M. (U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission); Morgus, R. (U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission); Thompson, N. (U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission)

Date: 26 May 2021

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Mr. Mark Montgomery (Executive Director, US Cyberspace Solarium Commission), Mr. Robert Morgus (Senior Director, US Cyberspace Solarium Commission), and Ms. Natalie Thompson (Research Analyst, US Cyberspace Solarium Commission) as a part of its SMA IIJO Speaker Series.

Mr. Montgomery began by outlining the US Cyberspace Solarium Commission’s research on disinformation. The research focused on how to counter disinformation from a foreign source and how to make the United States’ domestic population more resilient to influence from disinformation campaigns. These malicious information campaigns have been conducted for more than 15 years; however, it was the Russian disinformation campaign during the 2016 US Presidential election that was the main catalyst for today’s research endeavors.

Mr. Morgus added that while disinformation is associated with information operations (IO), it also has implications for cyberspace. Furthermore, while the disinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential election received the most coverage, the issue presented by the rapid spread of disinformation is much broader than impacts on elections. Attacks from state and non-state actors via social media have helped increased political polarization in the US and often distract from traditional methods of communication, like TV and radio, that are still important and relevant in the discussion surrounding disinformation.

Ms. Thompson emphasized that there are several roadblocks for effective leadership in countering disinformation. Right now, the USG lacks a cohesive strategy, coordination, and prioritization for operating in the information environment (IE). She argued that the factors that contribute to a malicious actor’s ability to influence the United States’ IE, how private actors can be equipped and trained, and the USG’s role in protecting the IE should all be spelled out clearly. Moreover, as a democratic government, the USG must protect its principle of freedom of speech and how it represents itself to the rest of the world. Better defining measures of effectiveness (MOEs) is also important in order to measure the US’s messaging success and to determine how to bolster the US armed forces’, federal government’s, and domestic population’s resilience to malign influence campaigns.

Ms. Thompson emphasized that creating a clear connection between individuals’ actions in the IE and US national security is crucial. Increased funding for operations in the information environment (OIE) and increased sharing of data between actors in the IE and researchers will be important factors in increasing the US domestic population’s resilience. Mr. Morgus concluded the presentation by stating that the USG can increase its influence over the United States’ IE by increasing its policing power, leveraging sanctions against state actors, and being proactive in its OIE in order to deter malicious IO.

Speaker Session Recording

Note: We are aware that many government IT providers have blocked access to YouTube from government machines during the pandemic in response to bandwidth limitations. We recommend viewing the recording on YouTube from a non-government computer or listening to the audio file (below), if you are in this position.

Briefing Materials


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