Mobile technologies for consuming and spreading information are empowering individuals and nonstate actors in politics and in conflicts. Social media activists scrutinize authoritarian and democratic powers alike. Violent extremists such as ISIS have used the web to advance their ideologies, project invincibility, undermine governments, and sow fear and hatred. The information battlefield surrounds all internet users.
How does online traffic lead to global violence, and how are international actors adapting their strategies to counter these trends? How is this weaponizing of information complicating the United States’ fight against ISIS and efforts to combat extremism in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan? Can democratic governments and civilian activists for peace and justice use data-driven techniques to win this war?
The Middle East Institute (MEI) was pleased to host a panel discussion featuring Shadi Hamid (Brookings), Nancy Payne (PeaceTech Lab), and Haroon Ullah (BBG), discussing new challenges in combating these trends. MEI senior fellow and director for counterterrorism Charles Lister moderated the discussion.
Senior fellow, The Brookings Institution
Shadi Hamid is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. He is the author of Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Lionel Gelber Prize for best book on foreign affairs, and co-editor of Rethinking Political Islam (Oxford University Press). His first book Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East was named a Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2014. An expert on Islam and politics, Hamid served as director of research at the Brookings Doha Center until January 2014. He received his B.S. and M.A. from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and his Ph.D. in political science from Oxford University.
Chief operating officer, PeaceTech Lab
Nancy Payne is chief operating officer of PeaceTech Lab, which uses media, technology and data innovations for peacebuilding. She has expertise integrating digital media strategies into outreach and behavior change campaigns, managing international programs and strategic communications. Previously, she was managing director for communications at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. government’s development finance institution. As a senior partner and senior vice president at FleishmanHillard International, Nancy served as general manager at FH-Hong Kong and co-led the firm’s largest digital communication team in Washington, DC. She also managed technology client activities for international communications agencies now in the Weber Shandwick network, and started her career in broadcast news as a reporter and photographer.
Chief strategy officer, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)
Haroon K. Ullah serves as chief strategy officer at the BBG, an $800+ million global media agency. Prior to joining BBG, Ullah advised three secretaries of state, traveled with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s Afghanistan/Pakistan team, and started the first-ever public diplomacy countering violent extremism office at any American Embassy (U.S. Embassy Islamabad). He teaches at Georgetown University and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as senior Harvard University Belfer Fellow, where he completed his graduate coursework at the Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School. Ullah has a MA and Ph.D. in international political economy, and was a William J. Fulbright Fellow, a Harvard University Presidential Scholar, and a Woodrow Wilson Public Service Fellow. His award-winning books include Vying for Allah’s Vote (Georgetown University Press), The Bargain from the Bazaar (Public Affairs Books), and the new Digital World War (Yale University Press), which has been featured on Diane Sawyer (ABC 20/20), CNN News Day with Chris Cuomo, CBS news and focuses on the new ‘information battlefield’ and uses for technology, transmedia, and digital content.
Charles Lister, moderator
Senior fellow and director of the Countering Terrorism Program, MEI
Charles Lister is a senior fellow at MEI. His work focuses primarily on the conflict in Syria and on issues of terrorism and insurgency across the Levant. Since September 2016, Lister has managed MEI’s Countering Terrorism project. Prior to this, Lister also managed nearly three years of intensive face-to-face engagement with the leaderships of over 100 Syrian armed opposition groups, on behalf of the multinationally-backed Syria Track II Dialogue Initiative. Lister is a frequent source of briefings on the Syrian insurgency to political, military and intelligence leaderships in the United States and across Europe and the Middle East. He appears regularly on television media, including CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera, and his articles have been widely published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, BBC, CNN, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, among others. Lister has previously held positions as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar and as head of MENA at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center in London, UK.