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tv   The Communicators Kara Frederick Research Fellow Heritage Foundation...  CSPAN  June 5, 2021 6:30pm-7:01pm EDT

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peter: this week on "the communicators," we want to introduce you to kara frederick. she is with the heritage foundation's center for public policy. your background doesn't necessarily bespeak technology. how did you get from national security to technology? kara: i started as a counterterrorism analyst. i was an al qaeda analyst. i went into one of the three-letter agencies, did a bunch of rotations with other agencies and it was when i was working with nsa, it stoked the fire and me for technical analysis, working with technical tools, seeing the affects we can have on the battle space, seeing the fruits of your neighbor when you are behind a computer and you are actually having connecticut facts that make a difference in the global war on terror. that is something that stoked my interest in technology. and then, i was recruited from a position at the pentagon, still working on counterterrorism and intelligence, to help start the counterterrorism analysis program at facebook. i moved to the bay area, originally from california, so not much of a departure. i ended up working at the locus of energy where the tech space was in the silicon valley and loved it. i was in the middle of everything, able to dream and envision everything, and facebook with their resources and engineering talent, we were able to make it happen. so national security seemed to move seamlessly into the tech world in the bay area. i applied a lot of skills i learned at the defense intelligence agency, the national security agency come over to a company that was a
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global corporation behaving as a scrappy startup, and allowing engineers and policy people and the analysts and intelligence people around them to figure out how to implement tools on the platform. very interesting. it seemed seamless to me, but i guess not to an outsider. peter: how did you get from facebook to heritage? kara: i wanted to marry my interest in policy and technical proficiency with a love of d.c. i started my career in d.c. after moving here from london in 2010 and never lost the desire to come back.
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i don't think many people can claim that. but i decided the bay area was amazing, silicon valley was great, but i still missed the policy applications that were absent in 2016, 20 17, when i was at facebook. so i decided to find middle ground. i went to the center for a new american security, where i was a national security and technology fellow. i did that for over three years and really, really enjoyed it. and to be honest, it was watching what was happening with big tech platforms and the election of 2020 that drove me to want to be part of a conservative organization. and if you're going to be part of a conservative organization, a think tank in d.c., heritage is the number-one player. i decided to go over there. peter: kara frederick, do conservatives have unique issues when it comes to technology? kara: i think so. originally, i thought of technology as neutral, something that is just a tool, and we used it as a tool when i work at dia, nsa, the pentagon, naval special warfare command.
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yet when i saw it visited upon people of certain ideologies, and the flow of information constricted, viable information constricted, when i saw the profession of people in these big tech companies to stand up for free expression, when i saw ceos in these companies turn their back on that after saying explicitly that was why they wanted to create these platforms, it became a conservative issue. and rank application of values, when jack dorsey of twitter said he wanted to give users more control, when zuckerberg says he doesn't want to be an arbiter of truth, that facebook has to
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stand up for the marketplace of ideas, as was talked about in his october 2019 georgetown speech, when they want to stand up for free expression, that to me was very compelling. it was what drove me to silicon valley in the first place. but then, to see that abrogated, to see them turn their backs on that ethos was devastating. and it redounds to the disadvantage of conservatives in particular. peter: to help us explore some of the issues you look at at heritage is emily birnbaum, a long time tech reporter, now with "politico." emily: thanks for having me. kara, i am curious about your evolution. you are now a critic of facebook and other platforms. did you see anything at facebook that led to this evolution and give you concerns? or is it like you said, these questions around content in elections, during the most recent presidential cycle?
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kara: thanks, emily. i would have to say the latter. when i was there in 2016 and 2017, it was before trump got elected. and what i would tell people out loud when they asked this question, there was a palpable lack of geopolitical cognition when you were blocking a hallway at that company during that timeframe. this was pre-cambridge analytic, pre-everybody looking around to figure out why trump got elected in 2016. when i was there, it was a bunch of hard chargers really challenging people. a lot of them are still there, working on very hard and intractable problems, problems of intelligence analysis, so counterterror issues, other organizations who were seeking to visit, or bad actors really, and figuring out reactions to those real threats, things like child exploitation, which i
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wasn't part of, but we used those frameworks and counterterrorism. and i think we were doing well there. we had a clear view of bad actors, of what they were doing, and we were instituting techniques on how to come to them. we said we wanted to make the platform hostile to terrorist actors. and that is what we did. i think it was after cambridge analytic a broke that there was a notable schism in how facebook saw itself, how these big tech companies saw themselves. i think they started to believe that they were political actors, that they could insert themselves between content and users and control the flow of information in a way that was extremely evident to me in november 2020, and after january 2020 with the deplatforming of a
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sitting president of the united states. when i was working there, it looked like we were concentrating on the right threats, the real threats. but i think there has been a marked change in how these companies have built that airplane in midflight. and it hasn't always been perfect. emily: you said hard, intractable problems was some of what you were working on at facebook. facebook is dealing with another problem now, the most recent eruption of violence in gaza, in the israeli-palestinian region. they are continuing to deal with the fallout, allegations that pro-palestinian voices have been censored, platforms being used by far-right extremists in israel to plan violence. how do you think facebook has done during this recent escalation? is it any different upper years
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of learning from conflicts? a it is obviously different because both sides disagree on basic steps, so how do you moderate content in that kind of situation? kara: i think they are learning as they go. we really look at content on the platform. like when an isis flag is being thrown up and shared, what propaganda is being shared, and by the time i left, they were focused on foreign malign influence operations per they started to look at behavior, and that coordinated, authentic behavior became a phrase they used to look at what happened on the platform and how to review and take down some content, and these organizations and doctors accordingly. i think they are learning, but they are very much building that
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airplane in midflight, very much making it up as they go, especially when it comes to domestic u.s. politics. you referenced the recent skirmishes in gaza. what i think is, there is a good data point here. i don't know if you have heard the jerusalem prayer team page, which was flooded with anti-semitic comments. the administrator of the page claims this was a coordinated campaign by anti-semites or actual islamic radicals to get the page taken down, to use facebook's community standards against them. and it appears facebook took the
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page down and that they are not allowing any sort of appeal or recourse for the ministries of the page. so in that instance, this is something when third parties are using the rules against them in order to get people whose views they don't like kicked off the platform. so that is a metastasizing of the problem, you look at terrorists, foreign influence campaigns, review that content, get it off the platform. but when attribution becomes murkier, when actors manipulate the rules, that is something facebook and other big tech platforms are going to have to contend with. so they need very clear-cut solutions to do so. the time to make it up is not working. they can't have opaque rules anymore. they have to be concrete. they have to be uniformly applied. they cannot be inconsistently enforced. and there has to be clear and genuine methods for recourse for people who feel their rights on the platform have been violated in error. peter: heritage foundation and emily birnbaum, you both used the term actors, or bad actors.
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who are these people? we heard about them in the 2020 campaign as well, russian actors. who are these people and how do they coordinate? kara: i will take that. this is the perennial problem. i would separate it from hard cyber concerns, where a better reference here is jason healy's spectrum of national responsibility, where he says nationstates are complicit in some of these things, going back to the colonial pipeline hack, they are not necessarily sending their branded operators out
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there, but they are using actors who maybe have had operational experience within their ranks before, they are granting cyber criminals safe harbor. there is for-profit actors who do it. there is chaos agents who just want to see the world burn. there is hacktivists, all kinds of things on the hard cyber side. i would refer you to columbia expert jason healy. but for things that are more murky like influence operations, we have seen a spectrum in this way too, of actors. we have seen from the great work the stanford internet observatory has done, russians using legitimate news organizations to peddle misinformation to hapless victims. on the china side, we have seen the chinese push information about taiwan and the u.s. response to covid. so you have a combination of actors who are sometimes doing the bidding of nationstates, sometimes through their own desires and patriotism doing the bidding of nationstates, but not
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explicitly. links tend to be murky. they like it that way. when it comes to facebook and the jerusalem prayer team, it looks like people who have anti-semitic ideologies are interested in not seeing the conflict being resolved. so they are deciding to stoke additional tensions on these platforms, or pull down viewpoints they don't agree with so other people can see it. there was i believe 77 million followers of this page. correct me if i am wrong, emily, but for people not to be able to see that and that viewpoint, i don't think they are protecting free speech at all. it is the opposite. emily: reading some of the things you have written, you said you think dealing with what you say is anticompetitive conduct by some major social media platforms, that actually affects u.s. national security. can you tell me more about how you see that working, and others things could happen in tandem? kara: emily, thanks for reading
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that, you and my mom read the quote you just mentioned. when i wrote that paragraph in "foreign affairs," right now, it is a good thing that social media companies are a projection of u.s. economic power. we love our markets as conservatives and want to keep applying conservative frameworks to new and updated policy
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solutions. so it is a good thing these companies exist in america. practically speaking, it is a good thing these data centers are mostly in america and friends of america right now. so i will take a server in idaho over a server in a gang any day. as we know from the tiktok battle, when a private company is beholden to a company like the ccp, you can exert leverage over human beings. it is not just about the server or where the data is stored, but for the most part, having companies with servers incorporated in the united states, data centers in the united states, and for that matter having the semiconductor industry in the united states, is a good thing, or our friends in taiwan, a good thing. we don't want to destroy these companies. we like the company's predictive a lot of jobs to people. however, when they become very anticompetitive, we have to look at it with a different lens and use the right tools to contend with that.
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what i meant by the second part of that was, when we allow genuine markets genuine alternatives to spring up through the markets, that helps u.s. national security. because these companies were created when the china challenge wasn't at the forefront of our national security concerns. we were dealing with two wars when facebook came into being in a big way. we were in iraq, we were in afghanistan, we weren't really concerned by what people are calling great power competition and the rise of china, russia, iran, north korea and the issues those actors present geopolitically. so these companies, smaller companies that are allowed to be genuinely competitive with these bigger tech companies, and they grow up in the full realization of the china challenge, they are not giving away their ip for an infusion of cash, they are not putting their service areas china can exert leverage over,
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when their ceos recognize what china does and that it is bad for u.s. national security, when these companies grow up in recognition of that, i think that will serve u.s. national security. look at companies like palmer lucky's, that deals with applications of artificial intelligence. that is a guy who knows what the threat is, and those companies, even though they are backed by billionaires, when they can actually have room in the market and work and knowing that, we are american companies, we are not just corporations with 90% of users outside the u.s. and canada, we are american, we want america to have the most powerful national security
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apparatus that we can, and we will help pursue american values, i think that is only for the good. emily: you were talking about being a conservative, you love our markets, there is an interesting schism happening in the republican party right now. on one hand, there are people like you and the heritage foundation who are calling for serious reform and government intervention to take on the powers of big tech companies. end on the other hand, more "traditional" conservatives who are business friendly, their values focus on the free market doing what it will, so can you tell he how your party is evolving when it comes to tech policy? do you see a clash between that free market ethos and this call for serious government intervention?
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kara: i don't think the schism has to be that brought. and i think we are doing a good job at heritage of communicating that there is absolutely room for the market to do its work. there is room for limited government. i will absolutely put a finer point on the limited government aspect because as a conservative, whenever we ask the government to do anything, we know that these powers, they typically expand and become entrenched and permanent. and that is something that we are against because one of our first principles at heritage is for limited government. so when we are looking at things the federal government can do to address the issues that you mentioned, when we talk about section 230, we advocate a very focused reform. clarence thomas, our lodestar in this area, he heralded a potential addressing of this issue when he basically said the
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court has granted us and expanded sweeping immunity through this clause, and it is time to start thinking about it. ok, let's think about it. the 26 words that reacted the internet are no longer sacrosanct. what we are proposing at heritage is to bring that
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statute more in-line line with its original intent. and i believe from 1996 and the commute occasions decency act, it was intended to not stifle innovation by strangling litigation measures in the early infancy of these companies that relied on computers and the digital world. so i think noble cause, let's get it back to where it needed to be. but the argument and what you mentioned goes beyond section 230. i think a fixation on section 230 is misplaced. and the markets, it is very important as we used to say in the special operations community, let a thousand flowers loom. so helping bolster the fact that these alternative platforms are being created to address some of the free expression issues that we discussed broadly earlier, that is a good thing.
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so we need to highlight when people are creating new competitors in the market like white ford, like divinity, that encompass all levels of the stack. with parler, we found apple and google kicked parler off their platforms. you can still get it if you are sitting on a desktop, on the internet you can still look at parler, but when amazon web services at the infrastructure layer cited to pull the plug, that was the issue. that was when conservatives are like, ok. build your own. everyone says build your own. we have to build our own internet at this point. so allowing new platforms at all levels of the stack, when it comes to isps, cloud infrastructure services, you are having a problem there. it is much more difficult, it is much harder. so we should help these companies by talking about them when they are trying to create viable alternatives. that is a way we can compromise with what you call the breaking off of the conservative movement. amy klobuchar is giving with the game when she says i want to make antitrust cool again, i want to fund the regulators. conservatives naturally balk at things like that because giving
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money to government entities never seems to go well for us. so we think we have to use the right tools to address the right problems. but in this case, apply that conservative framework and have updated solutions. technology, if the development of technology outpaces attempts to govern it every single time, we need to keep up and we are not now. peter: would title to censorship? kara: i am not a net neutrality expert. i am going to leave that to the experts. i remember when those issues were coming to the fore, i thought ajit pai handle them very well. i don't think the world is going to end if that happens. i think there are things to think about, but i don't think the argument is as at the
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forefront as it has been, and for good reason. there are other things to focus on that are going to be more efficacious for the conservative movement. peter: emily birnbaum. emily: you were talking about narrower antitrust reforms. you mentioned amy klobuchar. it sounds like you wouldn't agree with parts of her sweeping plan when it comes to antitrust, so what are the targeted reforms that you see as potential middle ground that conservatives could get behind with democrats want to take on the power of tech platforms? where is that sweet spot? kara: i wouldn't use antitrust for this. this is where it comes to using the right tools. i would look at holding tech companies accountable. at heritage, one of the ways is letting the states be test beds of experimentation. it letting them come up with policy proposals, disseminate that authority at the most local level possible, and see what works.
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let's see what the best proposal is. you have probably seen florida governor ron desantis revealing a bill and got it passed and it is aimed at holding tech companies to account. there is a little bit of antitrust in there, but i would really focus on the fact that you are empowering citizens, you are giving them some teeth, letting them take these companies to account in the courts. if they feel they have been wronged, the rights have been violated, that the terms of services or standards were used against them, they now have recourse. and it is something that tech can't do it, let you talk about the facebook oversight board, but they are really trying to, in florida, let consumers basically restore that balance between big corporations and users and consumers. and i think that is a good thing. i think that is the way we hold these big tech companies accountable. we don't necessarily start using
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the instruments of antitrust. that is always something conservatives have to think very cautiously about. peter: one final question, emily birnbaum. emily: i am interested in what you predict is going to happen when it comes to tiktok. you were watching it closely when the trump administration attempted to ban tiktok. that is still tied up in courts. can you tell us what we know about biden's approach to tiktok, and whether you think it is necessary to go for an all out ban? kara: i still have hope for this. you are referring to the executive order where there was a ban on tiktok. but this points to an issue of systemic risk when it comes to dealing with the ccp, dealing with private and easy china that are beholden to the ccp.
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if the biden administration goes through with the tiktok ban, banning it on government and military devices, there should be no question about that. it is good that is moving forward. but when it comes to other measures, a tiktok sale and whatnot, it is very important to keep our eye on the fact it is not just about tiktok, it is about digital platforms that are increasingly gaining popularity that china is exploiting, what they can do with your data, where this data is stored, collected, who has access to the data, the way they could integrate disparate data sets and come up with insights given the fact that we have the power to do so with our official intelligence and machine learning now, so i would live to see tiktok off military and
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government devices, as a bill last year introduced. and i would love to see people recognize the threat more broadly. this is an issue of systemic risk dealing with authoritarian governments that produce these last forms. people need to wake up that their data is and will be exploited by these bad actors who don't have u.s. interest at heart. peter: kara frederick, are you personally a tiktok user? kara: absolutely not. i put my money where my mouth is. peter: thank you. i hope you come back and join us on "the communicators." ♪ announcer: c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we are funded by these companies and more including while. >> the world has changed.
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