The Battle for Hearts and Minds continues – Disinformation & Democracy 2023

Jana Kleščová

At the end of September 2023, our think-tank organized the third edition of our flagship conference Disinformation and Democracy. Experts from the fields of military, security, strategic communication, disinformation and artificial intelligence met again at the Falkensteiner Hotel in Bratislava. The main program consisted of three discussion panels and three presentation sessions. 

Read the full report HERE.

This year’s conference was opened with opening remarks by Miroslav Wlachovský, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic. Minister Wlachovský stressed the fact that we are currently facing difficult moments in history. The challenges include not only the war in Europe but also the democratic backsliding that we are already witnessing.

“The way we create, communicate and consume information has become one of the key determinants of the viability and strength of our democracies,” Wlachovský said, underlining the importance of information security and the related contemporary threats. 

The first panel discussion was devoted to the topics of strategic communication concerning Ukraine and its relations with NATO. The very first debate brought a rather unexpected dive into topics such as mental health and its impact on the perception and reception of strategic communication or disinformation. Ukrainian strategic communication in the context of war is still assessed as very good and progressive. It is happening on all fronts, whether it is government, civil society or the private sector. The communication has been accelerated mainly on social media, both inwards to its own citizens and outwards to the international public.

The issue of disinformation is no longer just a question of social networks, nevertheless, the panellists of the second discussion agreed that the most important pillars in the fight against the negative impact of disinformation should be the regulation of social media platforms and the improvement of media literacy in general. Thanks to the panellists from three important fields, we got a greater picture of an interdisciplinary approach to tackling disinformation that combines the perspectives of technology, media and social sciences.

Throughout the day-long program, attendees had the opportunity to learn more about the activities of our partners in the fight for a better and safer information space. One of them was Gerulata Technologies, which brought an analysis of advanced language models, their potential misuse, as well as their use in the fight against disinformation. Much important part of the presentation was an explanation of ways we can make artificial intelligence safer. Michal Trnka and Filip Uhlárik presented “Guardrails”, a set of tools and techniques to prevent a model from facilitating illegal, hateful or other unwanted behaviour.

Katarína Králiková, speaking for the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic, presented the activities and the latest legal frameworks of the European Union to regulate the behaviour of big tech giants and social networks. 

Vladimír Šucha, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Slovakia, gave a presentation on how technology and artificial intelligence can manipulate human emotions and influence decision-making both at the individual and collective level. He stressed that what is nowadays needed the most is rapid regulation and development of technologies to deal with dangerous threats, but he did not neglect the constant need for education.

There are many different approaches to social cohesion, including political, sociological, economic and psychological. In the last panel discussion of the conference, Dalia Bankauskaitė, Senior Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Analysis, Jakub Hankovský, Executive Director of IPSOS, and Justin Lane, co-founder of CulturePulse, addressed the topic of social cohesion. You can see that it was a very informative and enriching debate by watching the live broadcast of the Disinformation and Democracy 2023 conference on the Adapt Institute’s YouTube channel.

“When the trust breaks down, we start to get angry with one another because we start viewing people as an outgroup” ” said Justin Lane.

The panellists also stated that social trust in Slovakia is at a very low level, Slovak citizens do not trust institutions, surveys or data. Low trust in society in general makes it difficult to reach a consensus. Jakub Hankovský highlighted the fact that significant differences were found between people with different opinions, political ideas and educational backgrounds. “People with less education are roughly twice as active on social media as people with higher education,” says Hankovský.

More than 130 guests from Slovakia and abroad attended our third annual conference. For example, journalists from the BBC or Deutsche Welle and ambassadors from Great Britain, the Netherlands and South Korea in Slovakia honoured us with their presence.

You can watch the full recording of the conference on Adapt’s YouTube channel via this link. 

The conference was organized in cooperation with the DT Institute, the Representation of the European Commission in Slovakia, Gerulata Technologies, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Slovakia, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic and the Open Information Partnership.

Photo credit: Jana Kleščová

This article was written in the framework of the project Conference “Disinformation and Democracy”, based on contract No. MVZP/2023/5 on the provision of subsidies in the field of International Relations and Foreign Policy of the Slovak Republic within the competence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic. The opinions and statements expressed do not represent the official position of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic. The authors are solely responsible for the content of the document.

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