Hearts and Minds: Security in the Social Domain

Opening Remarks
Allison Hart,
Special Advisor,
NATO Public Diplomacy Division

The Fallacy of Counter Propaganda: Defending Independent Journalism in
Maxim Eristavi,
Hromadkse International

The Power of Perception: Digital Media and Extremism
Matt McDonald,
Head of Strategy & Operations,
YouTube Marketing

ArtLords: The Art of Fighting Corruption
Omaid Sharifi,
ArtLords, Afghanistan

Q&A Session
Maxim Eristavi,
Hromadkse International

Matt McDonald,
Head of Strategy & Operations,
YouTube Marketing

Omaid Sharifi,
ArtLords, Afghanistan

Allison Hart,
Special Advisor,
NATO Public Diplomacy Division

Location: Notovel Warszawa Centrum, Warsaw, Poland
Time: 1:20 p.m. LOCAL
Date: Thursday, July 7, 2016

Transcript By
Superior Transcriptions LLC

ALLISON HART: Well, good afternoon, everyone. Is it working? If I could – good afternoon, everyone. If I could please ask you to take your seats, we’re going to get started with the second session of the afternoon.

My name is Allison Hart, and I’m a special adviser in NATO’s public diplomacy division. I’m going to moderate this second session.

Now, the title of this session is “Hearts and Minds: Security in the Social Domain.” Now, the notion that beliefs and ideas can have a profound and powerful impact on the world we live in is really nothing new. Each of us can look to our own histories, our own societies, and we can find examples of how what people have said and the ideas that they’ve promoted, how that has impact the world in which we live today.

Now, I’m an American, and I can look back to the second president of the United States, John Adams, who, when he was talking about the American Revolution, said that the revolution was effected before the war commenced, that the revolution was made in the hearts and minds of the people.

Now, as I said, each of us can draw our own examples from our societies. And some of these are examples that we can tout with pride, because they advanced individual liberties or human rights. But some of those we look back on in sorrow because they advanced oppression or violence.

Now, it’s important that we have this discussion today, because the social domain has changed. We have new tools at our disposal. There’s a broader reach, and there’s wider access. We know that what happens in the social domain can have implications for our security. Let’s talk about who then can have an impact.

What is the role of the artist, of the journalist, of the tech exec? Well, let’s ask them.

Now, before we do, let me just remind you of a few of the house rules here today. First, this session is on the record. Second, if you have phones with you, please ensure that they are on silent so that they don’t disturb the conversation. Third, please do engage digitally in this conversation. The hashtag is #FutureNATO. OK.

Now we’re going to have three different talks. First we’re going to hear from a journalist from Ukraine. Maxim Eristavi is the cofounder of Hromadske International. And after we hear from him, we’re going to hear from Matt McDonald, who is the head of strategy and operations at YouTube marketing. Thirdly we’ll hear from Omaid Sharifi, who is cofounder of ArtLords Afghanistan. And after we’ve heard from all three of them, we’ll come back and open this up for a broader conversation.

With that, Maxim, please take the floor.

MAXIM ERISTAVI: Good day. Good day. Welcome here. It’s a great honor to be here and to talk about propaganda that we face on everyday basis, almost in an insane amount.

Well, I’m going to start, I think, with a very simple storytelling. And you know, it’s very unusual for me. I represent digital media, but I will go classy way with no digital stuff, with no videos and no slides.

So I’m going to share my story a bit, my personal story, because I think it’s uniquely important for me because it has shaped my views on what I face later with countering propaganda or just trying to deal with this propaganda.

So I’m coming from Eastern Ukraine, was – which is unfortunately right now engulfed by war. And I’m coming from very unlikely background, from very poor background. I was robbed of social opportunities, education opportunities. As a gay kid, I was denied any equal rights, denied by the state.

So as many other kids in my region, well, it makes you feel anger, frustration. And if you feel this kind of state or outside world is being against you, many kids become angry. And the only opportunity for them is lash out, smear your opponent and stuff like that.

In my case, I’ve learned quite early that the only way I can fight back is actually telling the truth, and actually that’s why I became journalist. And I became journalist when I was 16 years old. But in Eastern Europe, we all forced to start very early. But that lesson made me feel like the only way I can achieve something and I can change the system is just to expose the system and unfairness of the system.

So during my already long career in journalism – although I’m just, like, 30 – I went to different places. And as a journalist I also worked in Russia, and I worked for a state-run newsroom. And I worked in very specific period when the propaganda wasn’t a thing yet, but it was emerging. So it provided me with a unique perspective, how propaganda actually works.

And now when I travel and talk about propaganda, I see that we have so many misconceptions about propaganda. And one extremely important one that we don’t understand, that the way Russian propaganda works is not to convince you. The Russian propaganda, what it does is actually distorts the reality, but most importantly it destroys the middle ground for dialogue. And then when you have two radical camps on the right, on the left, not being able to talk to each other without any dialogue happening, that’s where you enter and that’s where you actually influence the news agenda and actually you can manipulate the current events in your favor.

And once we understand that actually, I think that’s where our problem lies at the moment. We think that propaganda is about convincing. So what we do, we just follow the propaganda narrative. But we should stop following that narrative, and we should start actually engaging dialogue. And that’s the only way we become effective, not leading from behind, not following Russia propaganda but creating our own agenda.

Because I’m coming from journalist background, I’m going to offer some – a bit of criticism. That’s what I do usually. And my first criticism point is going to be about institutional response to propaganda that we have at the moment. Unfortunately, in recent two years, I’ve started realizing how much money are being thrown at independent journalism institutions all around Central, Eastern Europe. The most disturbing thing that most of those funds now are – start coming from military budgets.

So we always had, you know, programs inside military budgets to counter propaganda or to expand communications. But now those funds go directly to independent newsrooms in the – in the region that are most affected by propaganda. And because, you know, that region is suffering from lack of funds, a lot of independent newsrooms suffering from lack of support, obviously sometimes you have absolutely no chance except to accept those money.

But what it does to independent newsrooms is actually very horrible thing. In a region that lacks any trust to media in general – for example, in Ukraine I’m coming from region that has distrust level to any kind of media, starting from 70 to 90 percent in some regions – when they see that actually those independent newsrooms, those few independent newsrooms receive military budget money, it makes the situation even worse, and it doesn’t win our audience – more audience – it doesn’t win that trust.

I’m going to channel a bit Dunya Miyatovich, and she is a terrific fighter for freedoms – media freedoms in the region. She’s a media representative for OSCE. She produced a terrific 2015 report when they gathered all instances of country and propaganda and how our money from military budgets or from state budgets affect independent journalists.

What she said is very simple. If you’re a military organization or a government, stay out of independent newsrooms in the region. When you channel money to that region and you make the situation even worse, because it produces more distrust between audience in media and it doesn’t actually work, you don’t win anyone that way.

So at the same time, we face very frustrating situation with a lot of governments in Central and especially Eastern Europe. Because they don’t quite understand the nature of propaganda, sometimes what they do – they just ban things. So from Estonia to Ukraine, Russian – many Russian TV stations are being switched off. Journalists have been harassed if they’re not patriotic enough or, you know, their line of questioning is not very comfortable. We are facing very disturbing situation where actually a lot of that action is happening outside the court system. So when you have just one bureaucrat deciding who is journalist, who is not a real journalist, what kind of channel is real news channel or not, this is very disturbing for the region that went through 80 years of brutal autocratic regimes. And actually it gives me chills when I think about bureaucrat deciding whether or not I’m independent journalist.

The other thing that we’re missing is the danger of the word “counter propaganda” entering our discourse. That’s something that we shouldn’t allow, because the moment it enters our discourse, it actually says a lot about we being involved in the same kind of propaganda. And I’m representing independent news organization that actually found a way out of it.

When we launched Hromadske in Russian, Russian language, a newsroom that (countering ?) Russian citizens and Russian speakers outside Ukraine, we refuse to use propaganda, we refuse to use the concept of myth-busting, refuse to follow Russian propaganda agenda. What we did instead is actually pushing for just independent journalism on very independent agenda. And it – we became the first-ever project based in Kiev that attracted the majority of audience from Russian, not from Ukraine. So our audience is still kind of small, but at the same time it’s a great example what actually works in the region.

So to finish, because I need to finish, I am actually – want to offer a bit of vision. So what we do right now is not what actually works. What we need to do is to provide more cooperation between independent newsrooms in the region, what we do – and we’re trying to reach out to independent newsrooms. But what also, we need more cooperation between our governments and especially in Eastern Europe, because examples like Ukrainian ministry of information is a horrible example of how we – how big a misconception we have about communications in the region.

But the – for example, international cooperation between different governments to release Ukrainian captive Nadiya Savchenko is another example of terrific communication program that we can build up together in the region.

So that’s what my main message is. And I think I’m really hoping to debate. And to the questions – the part I am enjoying the most.

Thank you so much. (Applause.)

MATT MCDONALD: Hi, everyone. Matt McDonald from YouTube marking. Pleasure to be here with all of you.

So just in the last week alone, we’ve seen the continuation of terrible terrorist attacks in Istanbul; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Baghdad. And these acts are part of a pattern that’s continued over the past several years. And what we’ve talked about today and what we’ll continue to talk about over the next couple days is discussions about how do you address these threats from a military perspective and then also from a diplomatic perspective.

But in parallel there needs to be a conversation about how do we work with the private sector and how can we play our part in the battle that’s happening online. And that is for the hearts and minds of young people who are susceptible to the propaganda and radicalization that’s happening.

So extremists have built a sophisticated operation, targeting young people through the use of social media. They’ve used a variety of platforms to spread intolerance and have stoked fear through the incitement of violence.

At YouTube we categorically reject the use of our platform for this intolerance. We have gone to great lengths to ensure that content that violates our term of service has no place and that radicalization does not occur on our platform.

Specifically, content that contains explicit calls for violence or glorifies or praises violent acts, terrorist recruitment or training camp videos, executions, hate speech, harassment or threats are not allowed on our platform. We don’t allow organizations or individuals recognized as terrorists by the U.S. government to have Google accounts. We have a process in place to work with governments and NGOs to remove content that violates local laws.

To do this, we work with a community of flaggers across the world to monitor content on our platform 24/7. We flag 100,000 pieces of content every day and last year removed 14 million videos from the platform. And I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but there’s a lot of stuff on YouTube. So it’s a lot of work.

So we take our responsibility incredibly seriously, and we are acting as a leader in our industry to prevent radicalization from happening online. But the reality is, is that taking down content and moderating content is only one part of the solution, because although YouTube is a leader in video, content still exists throughout the Internet. And fundamentally, we need to have a positive message that can recapture the dialogue, and provide a hopeful message to young people to help them realize that radicalization and violence is not the way to go.

One example of such content is the story of Abdullah-X. Created by an NGO in East London and commissioned by Google, the U.K. home office, Abdullah-X is a content series that is a prime example of what we call counter speech. Now, the project began to address the level of extremist content on the Internet with balanced, critical and insightful sources. It fundamentally tells a story that speaks to young people in a way that they can understand and in a way that resonates, but steers them away from violence, and provides a narrative of hope and inspiration to help young people connect with some of their grievances in a way that’s positive and in a way that they can move away from violence.

The creators of the YouTube channel brought this message online with rich storytelling, and we have done a lot of work to understand how effective this can be and how we can scale it. And so I want to show an example of some of Abdullah-X’s work so you can see how it works.

(Begin video clip.)

MR. : Salam. Thinking about Syria, and what’s going on there, has become almost a necessity now. But equally, thinking about the best way to support the people of Syria should be at the forefront of that process. And our young people are often being driven to act without being driven to think in detail first. So let’s change this dynamic for a better outcome. Inshallah.

There are five considerations or questions that an individual could do with asking him or herself on the Syria issue. Number one: Have you thought about the actual needs of the people, especially women and children in Syria? Number two: If you have, then do you genuinely think that going out there to fight and potentially be killed will affect their suffering in a positive way? Number three: Do the people of Syria really need you to go out there and fight when you don’t fully know the terrain, the political reality and the actual motivations of groups who are claiming to be fighting for Islam? Number four: If you have families and even basic responsibilities where you live, how would you justify leaving them for a conflict in which Muslims are essentially killing other Muslims – indiscriminately – and without regard for the Islamic principles of warfare and the protection of civilian life? Number five: Have you asked yourself sincerely what your actual maqasid – objective – is, and if this is actually anything to do with Islam or protecting other people? If you have, then have you not found more constructive ways to support the innocent people of Syria, compared to trying to go out there and fight to simulate some video game that you feel you have to reenact in real life? There is a call of duty for Syria, and it is to be well-informed and not misinformed. Allah does not need your so-called martyrdom when the fight out there is about power and influence in the form of some manufactured jihad. Do you even know how fard al-ain and fard kifayah apply to you in your homeland and to your own responsibilities? Engage in relief work for those people and raise awareness. Don’t go and fight for a so-called cause you have not even questioned critically. More next week, inshallah, on another topic that is current, or that will not go away. Abdullah-X. Peace.

(End video clip.)

MR. MCDONALD: So that was one of the first sets of content from Abdullah-X. And when we originally commissioned it, we had the goal of trying to reach a few hundred disaffected youth in London, specifically. After we launched our campaign, we were able to effectively reach tens of thousands of such viewers around the world and receive hundreds of comments from young people who were directly touched by its message.

And fundamentally, the reason it works is because it’s effective storytelling. Rather than talk at viewers, the creator effectively engages the viewer in a dialogue about the pressing question – whether to go to Syria – in an authentic and direct manner. And the team behind Abdullah-X built a positive inclusive message, and it’s showing to work.

We’re very proud to have been part of this effort, and we’re looking to scale the learnings of Abdullah-X through the development and growth of other counter narratives more broadly. We hosted over a dozen counter narrative events across the globe, including seven here in Europe. We’ve trained hundreds of NGOs on how to use counter narratives effectively and on how to use YouTube and how to use marketing to get their message out. We’re currently running a pilot to increase the visibility of such counter narratives on YouTube, and are offering Google Ad Words grants to NGOs to place ads for such content in response to queries like “I want to go to Syria” or “How do you join ISIS,” so that way we can facilitate a meaningful dialogue and recapture the dialogue with meaningful counter narratives from expert sources.

Now, obviously we can’t do this alone, and we’re collaborating very closely with Facebook, Twitter, and others in our industry to make counter narratives a bigger part of the broader conversation and to address these threats and the propaganda that exists online. So these are very complicated issues that nestle in with the broader remits of governments and NGOs, on the military and diplomatic side, when it comes to extremism and radicalization, and we’re committed to do our part. Thank you. (Applause.)

OMAID SHARIFI: All right. Good afternoon. My name is Omaid, Omaid Sharifi. I come from Afghanistan, born, raised, educated, currently living and working in Afghanistan. My organization is called ArtLords. We are the – have a lot of drug lords and warlords, so we wanted to reclaim back this word, and we are the positive lords of Afghanistan. It’s the work of an incredible team of 25 people, that they are now in Afghanistan and working. So I’ll show you two short and sweet videos. One is produced by BBC and one is produced by NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. It just gives you an idea how we do our work and what we do. And then it will be followed by a quick presentation.

(A video clip is played.)

MR. SHARIFI: Thank you. Just a quick – another one, 40 seconds. I promise it’s not long ones. (Pause.) Okay, I think we don’t have that one.

All right. So, first of all, I’m really honored to be here and speaking in front of you and having a different story from Afghanistan. According to Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, we are among the top three most corrupt countries, along with North Korea and Somalia, so it’s really tough to live in a country with so much corruption happening. At ArtLords, what we do is we use murals, we use images to tackle this issue. We want to reach wider citizens, the ordinary citizens of Afghanistan who are not educated, who does not have higher literacy. So the best way to reach them is through images and murals.

And we operate in a very difficult context. It’s violence, it’s conflict. And this is the most effective way to get them involved and to send our messages. So our main brand is the “I see you,” which is: I know you’re stealing my money. I know you’re doing corruption. It – the message is to all those people who are out there in the government, in the parliament, in the civil society. We know that you’re stealing our money, and we’ll get to you – maybe not today – but later we will take you to justice.

And this is very famous, the pair of eyes. It’s in the – our presidential palace, it’s in our spy agency, it’s in the Ministry of Education. So, basically, sometimes when I walk around in the street, the only thing people will say is, like, point at me, “Oh, this is the ‘I see you’ guy.” Or one day I went to the passport office – there’s a lot of corruption happening at that time – and I had a badge of “I see you,” and suddenly everybody was running around, trying to get organized and do something. And they were telling each other that the people of eye are here. Like, so this is the effect of a very simple work that we are doing in Afghanistan.

And when we paint, so we involve people. When I’m on the street of Kabul, I just ask people to join me. That feeling of ownership, that feeling of getting involved – kids, women, police officers, elderly. I had people that in their 60 years of life, they never had a brush in their hands, but they come in, they join and they paint – and they paint for two hours without asking question. And that is the platform when we talk, when we discuss their social concerns, when we try to find innovative ways to solve our own problems.

So the paintings, the murals is just the tip of the iceberg. I go to universities. I go to schools. I talk with them. I just encourage them to ask questions, because in our school system, in our universities, the religion, everybody just tells you not to ask questions. So through this work, we are really trying to promote critical thinking. Ask your father: Where did he buy the new car? Like, I have people in Afghanistan who become millionaires in just one night. So we have to ask those questions. And also, we take it to the next level as well, going to government, parliament, talk, engaging them in dialogue and arguments, and also advocating for – do sunshine laws, which can really help the country.

So, basically when – in my country, where the government, where everybody is putting walls, we are becoming those bridges. We bridge the ordinary citizens of Afghanistan, the most vulnerable ones. We’re connecting with those people behind those big concrete, ugly walls. They have made my city, the city I was born, into a prison. So that’s why I’m bringing down these walls. I’m connecting these two people, sharing their concerns and everything.

And also, we are doing our part. It’s just that responsibility, feeling that responsibility, and also at the same time, encouraging other citizens, other people, young minds to go and start their own initiatives, to do something, connect with us. We started from nothing, and here we are. And it inspired a lot of people to go and do their own things, their own small initiatives in their communities and their families. And this is our story and the story of ArtLords. So, thank you. We are the voice of the voiceless. (Applause.)

MS. HART: All right. If I can invite all three of our speakers up to the stage. Very shortly, I’m going to turn to the audience, so please start thinking through what questions you might have. And we’ve just heard three very different perspectives coming from different parts of the world, engaging in different aspects of the conversation about what our societies should be, what is truth, what is good, and what is right, and how do we combat those things that are outside that sphere, that are promoting oppression, or corruption, or violence.

So as we turn to the audience, think about how you’re engaging. What are you doing? Do you have a role? Do you have a responsibility? I’m not asking for a show of hands, but do consider that.

Now, there are mikes around the room. Please, if you have a question, raise your hand. Wait for the mike to arrive. State your name and your affiliation. And I will be gathering a few questions at a time. So where can I begin? Here in the blue tie.

Q: Yeah, thank you very much. Santiago de la Presilla with Visegrad Insight.

It may be too much a technical question, but I want to hear the panel’s thoughts on President Obama’s decision to delay the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Is the actual – or are the fears of a complete pullout that the current Afghan government would completely fall apart in two years or a year and a half a real fear or – I just want to hear your thoughts on that.

MS. HART: OK. The woman just in front of him.

Q: Thank you. My name is Tina Rohner. I’m an Atlantic Council Millennium Fellow, and I work for the Asian Development Bank, based in the Philippines.

So my question is for both Matt and Maxim, in a way, as I heard Maxim speak about the dangers of myth busting and using counterpropaganda, but on the other hand also watching the video that was shown from – by Matt. And I think there’s a fine line to walk, in terms of not wandering into dangers of this kind of counterpropaganda, which can also be destructive, but at same time also having an obligation to get a message out there and to counter the often hateful and destructive things that are broadcast on social media. And where do you see that line is, and how could you handle that so that, in one hand, you do not get a backlash that could follow from such counterpropaganda, but at the same time remaining silent is also not an answer to that?

MS. HART: All right. And we’ll take one more. This woman here.

Q: Thank you. My name is Aria (sp). I come from Afghanistan. Wonderful listening to all three of you.

Whoever wants to reflect on it, but it – what Maxim said made me think more about this. So in the fight of good versus evil, why is it that the good has to be the counter? Why is it that we have to be on the reacting seat, instead of acting seat? Why is it that the agenda is determined by the terrorists and then YouTube has to provide the opportunity for the good people to put the counterpropaganda there? What can we do to take that lead back if we have lost it? Thanks.

MS. HART: All right. So just to recap, we had three questions: one about Afghanistan and the recent decision to extend the U.S. presence there; the second about how to balance between silence and the potential counterpropaganda that you spoke about, Maxim; and then, third, can we play a more proactive role? Is there something that we can do to put out a more positive message rather than just reacting to circumstances as they evolve? Who would like to start?

MR. ERISTAVI: I think we –

MR. SHARIFI: Sure. I can go ahead with President Obama’s decision. So, our challenges are (mammoth ?); it’s gigantic. We have – the ISIS is now very active in the east part of Afghanistan. The Taliban has been there for the last 15, 20 years, and they are gaining momentum, getting support. The crimes has been high because of the drugs and everything. But at the same time, we are also taking responsibility, not only on the security front but on all fronts, be it economic, be it civil society. And every 24 hours, an average of 27 soldiers die, every day. So that’s the number of troops, the sacrifices that we are making. And this is a war that’s imposed on us. So this decision to keep the troops, it’s a small number compared to what it was a decade ago or a couple of years ago, but still, it helps to keep that leverage that the international community should have, and also helping train Afghan forces. They showed strong ground. They didn’t crack down, as it was analyzed by some experts. So it’s very important decision at a very important time. And this sends a signal to all those terrorists and the countries and evil states that are supporting terrorism, that the international community is standing with Afghanistan.

MR. MCDONALD: Sure. So I’ll tackle the questions about, you know, the line between silence and counterpropaganda, and then the question about sort of being proactive. So I think, first of all, from our perspective, fundamentally we’re a platform. We want to enable content creators to go out in the world and spread their stories, tell their messages and help them reach their end audiences. But I think that there’s a few different ways to do that. I think, one, as a brand, YouTube is very active in promoting tolerance in all forms.

We recently had a partnership with the U.N. where we brought together seven of our female creators, actually the U.N. ambassadors for gender equality. And they’re actively promoting gender equality around the world. We also – we also recently launched our latest LGBT pride campaign, where we’ve really talked about the notion of being proud to be, and encouraging people to tell their stories of who they are, and the full spectrum of the LGBTQI identity. And through that campaign, there’s been a series of a hundred other videos created by the YouTube community that speak out against different intolerances that, you know, that community faces on a regular basis.

But then we also want to really want to galvanize folks to build content on that platform. And one example outside of Abdullah-X is a creator called Firas in Germany, who was a Syrian – he was in a Syrian jail and he was sort of an oppressed moderate. And he created a YouTube channel, started to tell his stories through humor, actually. And is actually telling the story of the Syrian people in a very positive way. So I think there’s a lot of different ways to be proactive and to kind of go out and tell effective stories to kind of counter hate.

But in terms of the balance between silence and propaganda, I think – I think that – I think the important thing is fundamentally – you know, we’ve had a lot of conversations more broadly about how do you read your end user, how do you communicate effectively? And I think what ISIS has done well is that they’ve really thought about what are the different media channels, what are the different communication channels, and how can they master a strategy to utilize them effectively?

And I think as more and more governments and NGOs think about how to use YouTube, how to use Twitter, how to use Facebook, how to really think about the digital suite of products and how to reach young people in a way that resonates and a way that works, I feel like we’ll get smarter about that balance between the right type of engagement – that it needs to be authentic, it needs to be credible. If you like, Abdullah-X works is because it’s incredibly authentic and credible and it comes from the right people. But then, how to, you know, not wade into waters that doesn’t make sense.

And I think, you know, for Google we think that we have a role to play, and we also have a role that we shouldn’t play as a platform. And I think for governments and NGOs it’s the same. There’s some things that they should engage in and there’s some things that they shouldn’t engage in. So I think it’s just a balance of understanding your end user, understanding how to communicate effectively with them, leveraging the position you play in the broader conversation and what type of message you should engage in yourself, versus how you should partner with other organizations, and just having a smart, effective strategy around it.

MR. ERISTAVI: If I may, I’ll combine two questions, because I think they’re very close. And absolutely, you are right that we should do myth-busting, and we should do responses. That’s critically important. But sometimes at this moment, I think we do 95 percent of that. We don’t set our own agenda and we don’t fill up the space with facts and our own stories, and sometimes positive stories. And that’s important.

And also, it’s important to divide between the responsibility of independent newsrooms and responsibilities of government. I think that our governments in Eastern Europe or Central Europe fail us at good communications strategies. They do not respond very well. So if they are being accused of something by propaganda, their responses are not very good or they are not there yet, even at some point. So the task of government is being more proactive at responding, and to respond in a very good way. The task of newsrooms is to provide the space with really good content.

And I think that digital era provides us with such an enormous opportunity to just do a digital buildup of facts, of truth online, so people – when people search, people go to Google or Yahoo and they search about this issue, there are not only propaganda that is very – especially Russian propaganda – that is very effective at filling out this space everywhere, using every platform possible, the same with ISIS. We should be also there in providing an alternative because in the end I think what propaganda does to people – and we’re not facing something uniquely new. We had the similar propaganda crisis before.

What it does to people is obviously destroys the middle for dialogue. People become not very interested in the opinion of other people. Then we have this massive tribalizing effect or, as President Obama said, a Balkanization of media space, where people don’t even want to hear each other. But in the end, people get tired. This thing happens all the time. People get tired. And then when they get tired, they will go online and they will reach out for information to – you know, to fill up those gaps created by propaganda. And we should be there providing with that information.

And I think that answers your question, Aarya, in a way that that’s how we lead with an agenda because we have our own agenda, and our own agenda is unchangeable no matter what, no matter what kind of propaganda is creating more high-quality information, and do a digital buildup online, so when people are tired they come back to us, they receive very high-quality answers to their questions.

MS. HART: Well, thanks very much. Can I see another show of hands? I’ll take another three questions. Start first in the front row, then back here, then third in the back. And then I’ll come to this side for the next round.

Q: Hello. My name is Florence Akinyemi. I’m also a Millennium Fellow.

And my question is for Omaid. You ended your talk with a reflection of when you went to the passport office and you had the “I See You” pin and folks started to scurry around and be busy. And I wonder what the reaction of those who are – who directly benefit from a corrupt Afghan system is. And have you noticed an increase in self-reflection in terms of, you know, the art kind of placed throughout Kabul and other areas throughout Afghanistan? And I wonder in terms of access – how do you receive access to place your art? And have you received any resistance in any way? And how do you continue to move through and push ahead, despite resistance that you may have to your work?

MS. HART: Thanks. This gentleman two rows back.

Q: This question is to Matt. My name is Garrick Ngai. I’m a director of marketing at Discovery Air Defense and also a vice president at the NATO Association of Canada.

Now, Matt, I just have a question for you. You explain in your speech about how YouTube would connect content providers and content generators with your platform to end users, right? Could you elaborate more on Google’s stance, or perhaps YouTube’s stance, on connecting those people in countries such as China or people that are behind firewalls and governments able to control their pipe to the greater world. How would you enable those people to be able to spread their voices and put up their content through your platform?

MS. HART: Thanks. And the third question was all the way in the back, the gentleman in the blue shirt.

Q: Hello. My name is Archula (sp). I’m from Georgia.

Basically, my question is to Maxim. Do you solely rely on online platforms when you try to spend your message against this propaganda? Because what we see in Georgia is the situation is more or less similar, and online platforms are not usually quite effective. And what we actually need is the approach that the colleague from the – Afghanistan mentioned, that you just need to go and meet these people and meet face-to-face and explain the real situation, and provide the actual information to them?

MS. HART: All right, and I’ll turn it back to the panel in reverse order. So Maxim, a question about platforms and diversity thereof. Matt, for you, a question on connecting those who are being limited by their governments. And, Omaid, to you, is it working? Are people changing? And what are the obstacles that you face? Maxim.

MR. ERISTAVI: Sure. I think that obviously we must reach out to people who are offline and, you know, as well as in Georgia and Ukraine the internet reach is still quite small. Moreover, in Ukraine just 60 percent of people have a regular access to internet, which is one of the lowest levels in Europe. At the same time, that – at the same time, knowing that we should reach out to those people, the other fact is that the internet expansion is irreversible. And we will be there eventually, covering 100 percent of people being online. And it’s going to happen very soon.

And we must prepare ourselves when that peak is there 100 percent. We must prepare ourselves as journalists, as media organizations, or as government agencies to muster digital communication by that time, to be on every platform, at least to know how all those platform work, what kind of audience do they have. Because what we’re seeing right now are early trends, but they will expand in coming five, 10, and for some countries 15 years. But I’m pretty sure it is going to happen earlier. So that’s why we must lay out that foundation now and be the most creative, specifically in the digital area.

And unfortunately, not all of us are doing very well at that. And propaganda networks – like Russian network or ISIS – sometimes are much more effective at this. So they’re laying out their foundation before us. And we should be concerned and step up our efforts digitally first and foremost.

MS. HART: Thanks very much. And, Matt, for you.

MR. MCDONALD: Yeah. So on the issue with China and other countries, so I think fundamentally Google obliges by local law. And we abide by all local rules and regulations. I think fundamentally we do believe in the freedom of expression and the freedom of information. That does conflict at times with, you know, different municipalities in different countries. I think that it is an ongoing issue throughout the tech sector.

And as you’ve probably seen, sort of many of the bigger players in our industry have tried to engage with different governments and had ongoing conversations with different governments, and that does continue. But fundamentally, you know, we do have to abide by the local laws and regulations. And we – you know, we do want to promote more openness and more freedom of expression, but – you know, but we can only do that where we can.

MS. HART: Thanks. Omaid, for you. Comments on where you face difficulties, how you get your permissions, and how much of an impact this is really having on the people around you.

MR. SHARIFI: It works. In the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, the judges and the attorneys, they even have a joke about our “I See You” campaign. So it means even up there they are talking about it. We are targeting their conscience. I am quoting a minister which I met very recently. He wanted to appreciate our work. And then he told me: Every time I cross one of your murals, I make a list of all those people in the Cabinet and the national security council and all those people, how much they stole, how many houses they have in Dubai and Istanbul and all that stuff.

So that’s at the level which we are telling the government officials, the warlords, all those big people that we are watching you. We know you’re stealing. So and they are conscious that there are eyes all over the city. And these are the eyes of the ordinary citizens that are watching them. And the second level of this is that we are taking this fight to their households, to their homes, encouraging their young children to ask questions. So that’s where we will beat this evil corruption, because that’s where the integrity comes. The children should not go into this flood of corruption and culture of impunity. So it does work.

In terms of resistance, we do face a lot of challenges. One is the general threat of security, because if you’re working at the presidential palace, on the walls on the presidential palace, there might be explosions happening, somebody will come over and blow themselves up, and you will be a target. And then there are also targeted killings and kidnappings. So that’s our general situation which is happening. And we have consciously decided to stay there and do this work. But most of the times I face challenges in getting permissions from the government, because it’s their walls so when I go there to paint the soldiers will not let me unless I have a signature from a minister.

So recently, before coming here, I had to do a campaign – an art activation day for illegal immigration. I had to run for two weeks – because I have respect for the process to go through all the process – I had to run for two weeks, but I was not able to get the permission for a very, very ugly wall. Then I had to call office of the president. And then they made a call to that ministry. It happened in just half an hour I got my permission. So every time I have to go up there to the president’s office to get my permissions.

One time our spy agency just painted one of my murals. They just – somebody decided they didn’t like it. They just put white paint on it. And that was our first mural. And I loved it. It was like my child. And everybody in the team was very upset. So what we did, we indirectly worked with the media, with – in every sessions and meetings and parties. We were putting a lot of pressure on their leadership that – and my message was clear: Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan. And our spy agency destroyed our artwork. So it was simple. And I told them if they are not going to let me do it again on the same place with the same message and the same mural, I’ll go to the media and I will – I will tell people about this.

So after three months of lobbying with this agency, one day they asked me to come over. And I went. And there were, like, five guards standing. I thought I would get arrested. But then this big guy was sitting there waiting for me and told me that, OK, go ahead and get another wall. Do whatever you want to do with the wall, stop your propaganda and everything. I told him, no, you have to pay me, because it costs me $500 to paint that wall. And I want the same wall and the same message. And he was like – he thought I’m kidding. (Laughter.) But we succeeded. I painted the same pair of eyes at the spy agency with the same message, and we apologized as well.

So there is resistance. But we will not back down. By being there, standing our ground, we are making a statement. And that statement is that we will not let them win.

MS. HART: Thanks so much, Omaid.

Now, as promised, I’m going to come back to this side of the room. And I know there were a number of hands, if you could please raise them again. All right, first in the third row here, then we’ll move to the back.

Q: Thank you very much for the presentations. It’s very enlightening.

So in essence, the three of you have talked about the importance of having plurality of voices, especially in our generation. So my question is, what happens when the traditional infrastructures and platform that have allowed us to voice ourselves are very much controlled? So building on what the gentleman said about having firewall issues in China, it’s more than just, you know, the access to internet and social media. It’s things like general media coverage, where, Maxim, you talk about having independence of journalism, but what if the entire airwave is control by the government? So then how do you do that?

And, you know, Omaid, you talked about using art as a way of self-expression. So the funny thing is, China actually has great murals and graffiti, but it’s actually all commissioned by the government. So it’s all a very positive message. But the undertone is it’s all propaganda. And so people are slightly desensitized, no matter how good the messaging is. So then how do you allow for plurality of voices in that sort of context?

And then I sort of see in the Millennials, having worked in China – I grew up in Australia, but having worked in there close to three years now – where I sort of see it in myself. I start self-censoring. Now, I may look at articles and do things having a more sort of international exposure. Even now, in the back of my mind, I would think to myself: Oh, should I do this? Should I post this? And that’s what’s most scared me, not necessarily having these discussion debates – we all have them, myself and my circles and my friends, and with a lot of great Millennials growing up in China. But it’s that sort of embedded self-censorship that we become accustomed to. And then how do you allow for voices within our generation with that sort of backdrop?

MS. HART: Thanks very much. Now, the gentleman all the way in the back.

Q: Hi. I am Christian Picourt (sp) from Opselvatari (ph) Media, a digital journal in Canada.

My question is for Maxim, but I guess the other speakers too can answer it a little bit. You are speaking about the fact that government agencies and militaries are pouring money into the newsroom in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, et cetera. I understand how this can increase the stress and put in questions the independence of those newsrooms, but at the same time if the government agencies and the militaries are the only ones to have money to put in the newsroom, what are the choices of a newsroom in this situation? Do you have any ideas of what are the alternatives that can be followed by this newsroom? Thank you.

MS. HART: All right. And we have time for one more. Is there a question on this side? I promised I would stay here. This gentleman here.

Q: Thank you. My question would be to Omaid from Afghanistan.

Actually, at the beginning, there was a quote from John Adams – think it also belongs to John Adams. He said that “I must study politics and war so my children have the liberty to study math and engineering so their children can study arts and philosophy.” And it seems like you’ve actually kind of brought arts much closer to the political dimension. And in your case, it’s not even underground art, where you – it’s like anonymous, like Banksy or something, but it’s actually – you have a face and you’re not hiding it, and you’re openly fighting it against certain political issues you have in the country.

My question would be, where do you get the funding? I mean, do you need any funding, and where do you get it? And what’s your vision? Like, how are you going to expand it? Do you think it could have a greater impact down the road? Thank you.

MS. HART: All right, thanks for those questions. I’m going to turn back to the panel for some final remarks. Maxim, if I can start with you? Just as a reminder, the first question had to do with the challenge of access, whether that’s access to social media platforms or to the media space, or even indeed the public space for art, and how do we avoid going down the path of self-censorship. There was also a question for you, just that last question, about how we should think about this going forward.

MR. ERISTAVI: If I may, I can combine.

MS. HART: Please.

MR. ERISTAVI: I love building bridges. (Laughter.)

So I’m going to start with self-censorship. I’m coming from a country that still struggles to get an access to the audience, right? In a country that we don’t have state censorship, but we have oligarchic censorship, where 95 (percent) of all media assets are in hands of very rich Ukrainians, sometimes getting message out is very complicated. But what I also learned personally myself, that as long as you get extremely creative and you explore every possible communication possibility out there, so they can – they can switch off YouTube, they can ban Facebook, they can block Twitter, but in the end, you go further: you use WhatsApp groups, you go to Telegram, if it’s a digital communication you use even Snapchat, whatever is possible so they cannot ban everything at once. They will try, but you will be a step further.

But when it comes to non-digital communications, which is also important, it’s something that needs to be – we need to be creative as well. So we can start non-online groups and trying to expand that reach. That’s how actually Hromadske started, for example. It’s very important for every country to have a public broadcaster. The Ukraine learned that very hard way. When the revolution started and we started Hromadske as – you know, it’s translated as “public,” it’s a public broadcaster that is designed and operates as a public broadcaster, but it’s out of a system because, up until now, two years of the – after the revolution, the government still blocks the public broadcasting reform. So we operate out of the system, being constitutionally a public broadcaster but effective one, but still not being officially public broadcaster. So it’s another example of being creative, have to bypass the system. Sometimes not all countries can afford that, obviously.

But then it leads me to the second question, because if we are a public broadcaster, we’re facing huge challenges of making sure that our audience participates. And that’s something I guess every – any other independent newsroom in the region faces and has to deal with. We lack the feeling of ownership among our audience. But we – that’s why we reach out to foreign funding, because that’s the only sometimes way to survive on initial stages. And I’m not telling you that if you’re a young, independent, new newsroom, you should totally refuse any international support. Sometimes NGO support or foreign government support is the only way for you to start and operate. But you – from the day – the day first, you have to build up this ownership feeling with your audience.

What we do, we livestream our editorial meetings. We reach out to audience all the time so they participate in the editorial decision. If we make mistakes – and we do make mistakes; we young journalists, we don’t know everything – we are very open with audience, we accept their criticism, we evolve with it, we’re very honest with them. But we also started online donation campaign. It doesn’t support us 100 percent, but the level of donations is rising because people feel like they own this, you know? If they paid – if they paid donation, they own the media and they participate in the process, and in return they get some good.

So this feeling of ownership, I don’t think that you can get it right away. But at the same time, I think we should start with education, with digital literacy in schools, with building up the whole notion of ownership when kids are, you know, still in schools, and to make it part of life that if they want something public, some public content or public service, they also need to feel like they own it. And that public provider, it’s their job to provide that content to them.

MR. HART: Thanks very much, Maxim.

Matt, do you have some closing comments?

MR. MCDONALD: Yeah, so I’ll just address the question about access. And so I think there’s – it’s a really good question, because there’s two parts of access.

I think, first, before we even get to the topic of censorship and your ability to really engage and express yourself, there’s a big reality in that in a lot of countries where there are challenges around censorship, there’s also just real challenges around infrastructure period. And one thing that we spend a lot of time thinking about is how can we create the basic layer of infrastructure for the internet, for sort of watching digital content, because a lot of – a lot of folks are constrained by the high cost of data and very limited access to broadband internet. And so I think that is sort of one thing that isn’t there for a lot of people.

But then, even beyond that, when you go into the question of the dissemination of ideas and freedom of expression, you know, there are a lot of challenges, but I think one thing to remember is that, as what was said earlier today, smartphone penetration is ubiquitous. And increasingly, there are more ways to communicate than there ever have been all around the world. In markets even like China, you have – you have products like WeChat, which have tremendous penetration in the market where you can not only record video, have chats that are encrypted, and then also kind of, you know, have transactions and commerce, but you can kind of spread your message through different channels throughout the internet. And even though certain services might be blocked in certain countries, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still get your message out through other services and through other products and through other platforms.

And what ends up happening is that, you know, the internet is a community. Fundamentally, as messages get spread and they get picked up, you know, you might have someone in the – in Canada who sees a video or sees a piece of content from someone in China, and then uploads that to YouTube and then gets the message out that way. And so we’re increasingly interconnected. We have more and more platforms that facilitate that connection around the world in all markets. And I think that you’re getting to the point to where most voices can be heard, and it’s just a matter of amplifying those voices.

And even in the last few days in the United States, where you’ve had, you know, videos of police brutality being captured, now that people know that they can go to the internet to, you know, use Facebook Live or use sort of YouTube to capture moments and then, you know, work to get those moments spread and get those stories told to more people, I think, you know, we’re quickly bringing down barriers to make sure all voices are heard.

MS. HART: Thanks so much, Matt.

Omaid, closing comments?

MR. SHARIFI: Yes. So we choose our own social topics or issues, the themes. And we choose it because of the surveys and everything that gives us an idea of what is very important and hot topic for the country. For example, issues of corruption, radicalization and women’s rights, these are the themes that we work on. So we come up with the issues, we come up with the concepts, and we go there and paint it. So we have that level of authority, and most of the time the government is helping as well. But I do get calls from government offices, from the warlords, or businesses. They call me and say, we want my portrait to be painted in one of the walls, or this – (laughter) – yeah, I get a lot of those calls, and I respectfully decline – or in their houses, so they just even do that.

The funding, this is a 2-years-old organization now. At the beginning, I spent all my money on this thing. Then, when it was finished, I used my wife’s money, a lot of it. (Laughter.) Yeah, so she still asks me for that money. And then, when it was a bit known for the people, I got a lot of donations from friends and everybody was from $10 to any amount that they could give me. So they would just – they liked the movement and they would say, OK, just do this mural and I will pay the costs for the paint and brush. But mostly, this movement is volunteer-based, so everybody is working with no salary or anything. I only pay my artists, because there are 25 artists I have, and they are the most vulnerable sect of the society because they don’t have – there’s no space for art in that country.

The vision is, in 10 years – because I want Kabul to be the capital of the street art. We have the most ugly teal walls in the world. This is the biggest capital with all these big, ugly walls. I want people, artists to come over to Kabul, see a different side of Kabul and paint with us. And also, this could be a movement for accountability and transparency – a movement which is for the people, with the people that could ensure transparency and accountability.

MS. HART: All right. Well, thank you so much. I mean, we’ve seen over the last hour that there is just incredible work going on in the social domain. Whether it’s the artists who are working in Kabul or private industry who’s working in the digital sphere or independent journalism in Ukraine and indeed around the world, we’re being pushed to think and to have critical dialogue. I think that was the common theme to each of you: we need to get people thinking and talking about what’s going on in the world.

So I’d like to thank Omaid, and Matt and Maxim for being with us today. And I’d like to thank you all for participating in this conversation.

Now we have a short break. (Applause.) So we now have a short break. The next session will start promptly at 2:40 p.m., so please do be back for that. Thank you very much.