Policy Roundup: December 2022

Key policy takeaways from Renée DiResta on the need to understand how platforms moderate content, David Relman and Megan Palmer on strengthening regulations on risky pathogen research, Steven Pifer on the ramifications of the Ukraine-Russia war on the Kremlin, Larry Diamond on the protests in China, Iran, and Russia, Naomi Egel on protecting civilians during war, and Rose Gottemoeller on U.S. nuclear negotiations with Russia.

Content Moderation

The Twitter Files Are a Missed Opportunity
Renée DiResta, Research Manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory
The Atlantic, 12/15/22

  • Unfortunately, the Twitter Files offer little insight into how important moderation decisions are made.
  • Individual anecdotes – particularly those involving high-stakes outlier decisions, such as how to handle a president whose supporters try to keep his successor’s election from being certified – are interesting but reveal little about how platforms operate day in and day out.
  • Twitter’s most recent transparency report, published in July, shows that it took action on 4.3 million accounts in the second half of 2021 and removed 5.1 million pieces of content. You could cherry-pick a few of those decisions to fit almost any ideological narrative.
  • The current controversy is ironic because downranking emerged as an alternative to more stringent takedowns. As an enforcement option for borderline posts and accounts, reduce supports the premise of “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach.”
  • Journalists and academic researchers shouldn’t have to base their evaluations solely on anecdotes. Twitter could easily provide systematic information about its practices.
  • Because anecdotal examples do help make abstract dynamics clearer to the public, the Twitter Files authors should seek out and share more details about precisely why the high-profile and somewhat controversial accounts they highlighted were subject to specific actions.

Biosecurity Regulations

Strengthen Oversight of Risky Research on Pathogens 
David Relman, Senior Fellow at FSI
Megan Palmer, CISAC Affiliate
Science, 12/08/2022

  • The ‘dual use research of concern’ (DURC) framework should apply to all human pathogens, not just the 15 agents currently listed.
  • Improved review processes must evaluate the risk and potential consequences of accidents, theft or insider diversions.
  • Research proposals should be required to go through independent, government-led risk–benefit assessments to determine whether the work should proceed and under what conditions.
  • The U.S. government should seek nongovernmental expertise for the review process. Currently, the HHS process involves only governmental experts, and the identity of these individuals is not publicly available.
  • All U.S. agencies and institutions that fund work related to the enhancement of potential pandemic pathogens should have that work evaluated under the revised enhanced potential pandemic pathogens framework.

Ukraine and Russia

The Russia-Ukraine War and its Ramifications for Russia
Steven Pifer, Affiliate at CISAC
Brookings, 12/08/22

  • While the war has been a tragedy for Ukraine and Ukrainians, it has also proven a disaster for Russia – militarily, economically, and geopolitically.
  • Ironically for an invasion launched in part due to Kremlin concern that Ukraine was moving away from Russia and toward the West, the war has opened a previously closed path for Ukraine’s membership in the European Union.
  • In addition to coping with the loss of high-tech and other key imports, the Russian economy faces brain drain, particularly in the IT sector, that began in February as well as the departure of more than 1,000 Western companies.
  • The Kremlin has waged a two-front war, fighting on the battlefield against Ukraine while seeking to undermine Western financial and military support for Kyiv. The Russians are losing on both fronts.
  • U.S. policy should remain one of seeking a change in policy, not regime. Yet prospects for improving U.S.-Russian relations appear slim while Putin remains in charge.
  • What happens will depend on how the Russian elite and public view his performance; while some signs of disaffection over the war have emerged, it is still too early to forecast their meaning for Putin’s political longevity.

Protests in China, Iran, Russia

Why Countries That Usually Don't See Dissent Are Now Seeing Their People Protest
Larry Diamond, Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at FSI
NPR | All Things Considered, 12/03/22

  • One element of it is that the regimes have been performing very badly in meeting people's expectations and in governing in a way that people find acceptable and tolerable.
  • China now has such a massive and triangulated surveillance system that they have multiple ways of tracking down people who protested.
  • However, there are always leaks and cracks in the surveillance system. And when people get really angry and protests happen simultaneously in large numbers, there is a kind of surge effect that overwhelms the social and political control mechanism.
  • If Xi Jinping can succeed in instituting a more flexible and rational system for meeting the COVID challenge and if he can regrow economic growth, then he's probably going to be able to survive and restore political stability for some time to come.
  • In Russia, there's growing evidence of elite as well as public dissatisfaction with Putin's ineptitude in prosecuting the war in Ukraine and maybe starting the war. The problem is that there's also a lot of evidence that the most serious and credible opposition to Vladimir Putin is coming from the radical right.
  • Iran is the most vulnerable. They already had a national uprising in 2009, the Green movement, after massively rigged elections that looked like it might topple the regime.
  • So this is a recurrent phenomenon in Iran. And it's very clear there that, as the Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said, probably 80% of the country at this point is with the protesters and against the regime.

Protecting Civilians During War

80 Countries Just Signed a Declaration on Protecting Civilians in War
Naomi Egel, Postdoctoral Fellow at CISAC
Washington Post, 11/29/22

  • As Russia’s war against Ukraine illustrates, civilians often bear the brunt of suffering in conflict and wars.
  • They are sometimes directly killed or saddled with lifelong injuries, and sometimes from the destruction of critical infrastructure like hospitals, power plants and sanitation systems needed to survive.
  • International laws of war prohibit targeting civilians — but often fail to protect them in practice.
  • How can this be stopped? Ireland recently organized the development of a multilateral declaration aimed at better protecting civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas.
  • While it’s not a legally binding treaty, this declaration includes new guidelines developed to improve how international humanitarian law gets put into practice.
  • Eighty countries, including the United States, signed this declaration in Dublin on Nov. 18.

Nuclear Deterrence

How Will America Deal with Three-way Nuclear Deterrence?
Rose Gottemoeller, Steven C. Házy Lecturer at CISAC
NBC News, 11/28/22

  • Russia has "unilaterally postponed" nuclear arms control negotiations with the U.S. that were to be held in Egypt in December.
  • The postponement of nuclear arms control talks between the U.S. and Russia are not ultimately concerning. They appear necessary "for technical reasons." 
  • Both the U.S. government and the Russia government often take additional time to get their work finished. If it turns out it's being postponed and turns into a long delay, then there may be something to be concerned about.
  • Both sides are also still working out new inspection methods after the spread of the coronavirus. That has kept inspections from restarting since the original suspension.
  • It's taken a while to work out the COVID protocols – such as what distance do the inspectors have to keep from others? What kind of masks do they have to wear? All those little details have to be worked out and agreed upon.

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