Contentious Narratives — Overview

Introduction

The conference focused on the effects of disinformation on peacebuilding and on efforts to document human rights abuse and war crimes. Trolls, bots — bits of computer code designed to augment social media activities — have emerged as disruptive elements in foreign and domestic politics.

Soon, generative adversarial network technology — the ability to invert words and images onto video feeds, even live ones — will deepen the epistemological murk surrounding fact-based analysis and discourse.

The conference began with a review of the strengths and challenges associated with the role of digital technology in human rights documentation and peacebuilding. From there, we considered specific cases involving the tension and struggle between, on the one hand, the use of digital technology to verify and document events, and, on the other, the uses of technology to obfuscate and delude. We then turned to a consideration of potential remedies.

The Journal of International Affairs at Columbia University will publish a special issue in association with the conference. Papers will be drawn from conferees and from select external proposals.

Sponsored By:

GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs and Elliott School of International Affairs with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the World Bank.

Introductory Remarks

Frank Sesno

Frank Sesno is director of the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) at the George Washington University. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and creator of PlanetForward.org, a user-driven web and television project that highlights innovations in sustainability.

As SMPA director, Sesno leads a faculty of nearly two dozen world-class professors who research and teach journalism, political communication and the impact of digital media in international affairs. Sesno teaches classes on environmental multimedia reporting, ethics in journalism, documentary and “The Art of the Interview.”

Sesno’s diverse career spans more than three decades, including 21 years at CNN where he served as White House correspondent, anchor, and Washington Bureau Chief. He has covered a diverse range of subjects, from politics and conventions to international summits and climate change. He has interviewed five U.S. presidents and literally thousands of political, business and civic leaders — ranging from Hillary Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Microsoft founder Bill Gates and broadcast legend Walter Cronkite.

Reuben E. Brigety

Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety II is dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University and previously served as the appointed Representative of the United States of America to the African Union and Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

Prior to this appointment, Amb. Brigety served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of African Affairs from November 14, 2011, until September 3, 2013, with responsibility for Southern African and Regional Security Affairs. From December 2009 to November 2011, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. In this capacity, he supervised U.S. refugee programs in Africa, managed U.S. humanitarian diplomacy with major international partners, and oversaw the development of international migration policy.

Amb. Brigety is a 1995 distinguished midshipman graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he earned a B.S. in political science (with merit), served as the Brigade Commander and received the Thomas G. Pownall Scholarship. He also holds an M.Phil. and a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Cambridge, England. Amb. Brigety is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a recipient of the Council’s International Affairs Fellowship.

Steven Livingston

Steven Livingston is Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs with appointments in the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) and the Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA) at the George Washington University.

He was founding director of the Public Diplomacy Institute (PDI) at GW in 2000 and served as the chairman of the Board of Directors until 2008. PDI is now the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication. Livingston’s research and teaching focus on media/information technology, national security and global politics. He is particularly interested in the role of information technologies and media on governance, development, accountability and human rights.

From 2015 to 2016 he was a visiting senior research fellow at the Free University of Berlin; a Canterbury Fellow at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand; a Visiting Scholar at the Brookings Institution in governance; a visiting professor at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland; and a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge in Britain. Beginning in the fall of 2016, Livingston was also appointed a Senior Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University.

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