[Event Report/Part I] Special Symposium with Professor Lawrence Lessig "Social Networks and Democracy considered through the War in Ukraine" (held on June 24, 2022)


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MUFG Endowed Lecture/Z Holdings Endowed Lecture Special Symposium Co-hosted Symposium: 2040 Independence & Self-respect Project/CCRC "Social Networks and Democracy considered through the War in Ukraine"

These are endowed lectures made possible by contributions from Mitsubishi UFG Bank, Ltd. and Z Holdings Corporation. As part of this, the Cyber Civilization Research Center (CCRC) and the KGRI 2040 Independence & Self-respect Project "Platforms and the 2040 Problem," held a symposium entitled "Social Networks and Democracy considered through the War in Ukraine."

During the war in Ukraine we were witness to the powers that be exploiting social networking sites to play on people's minds and to violate the sovereignty of democratic nations. Meanwhile, social networking sites also became a means for people to express their resistance. Do social networking sites represent a shield for the protection of democracy or the spark that will see it go up in flames? Will democracy be the ultimate result of clashes in the network spaces? At the event, Professor Lawrence Lessig, who has given voice to concerns about the threat to democracy posed by social networking sites, delivered a talk, which was followed by discussions on the future of networked spaces and democracy following the war in Ukraine. Below, we look back on the proceedings during the first and second parts of the symposium.

Part 1
■ Opening Remarks: Masayuki Amagai (Keio University Vice-President)
■ Overview of Event Purpose: Tatsuhiko Yamamoto (Professor, Keio University Law School; KGRI Vice Director)
■ Lecture: Lawrence Lessig (Professor of Law, Harvard Law School)
Part 2
■ Comments and Discussion
・Yusuke Narita (Professor, Yale University)
・Yoko Hirose (Professor, Keio University Faculty of Policy Management)
・Tatsuhiko Yamamoto (Professor, Keio University Law School; Vice Director, KGRI)
Moderator: Jiro Kokuryo (Professor, Keio University Faculty of Policy Management; Chief Administrator of Cyber Civilization Research Center)
■ Closing Remarks: David Farber (CCRC Co-Director; Professor)
■ General Remarks: Haruna Kawashima (KGRI Project Associate Professor)

1. Opening Remarks and Overview of Event Purpose
Following the Opening Remarks by Keio University Vice-President Masayuki Amagai, KGRI Vice Director Tatsuhiko Yamamoto gave the Overview of Event Purpose.

Masayuki Amagai (Keio University Vice President): I would like to thank Professor Lawrence Lessig for coming to Japan. My thanks too to Yusuke Narita for taking part in this event at Mita Campus.

Many things have happened over the past several years. In 2020, we were for the most part united in the fight against the common foe of COVID-19. This solidarity mitigated any anxiety we felt during this difficult time. However, we were beset by further unspeakable anxieties with the invasion of Ukraine in 2021, and the collapse of our shared democratic structures which this embodied. At this time, my colleagues at KGRI convened an emergency seminar in order to alleviate these anxieties.

Events around the former US President Donald Trump have also been an area of considerable concern. The United States is a country in which I myself have studied and for which I have great respect. However, I am now deeply concerned by the fact that it no longer appears to stand as a single united entity. I think that the topic of today's proceedings is extremely important as we look to the future. I hope that this symposium will serve to make clear exactly what is at stake and, in however modest a way, alleviate some of our concerns.

Tatsuhiko Yamamoto (Professor, Keio University Law School; Vice Director, KGRI): It would appear that democracy is now subject to intense attacks both from within and outside its frameworks through the channels of social media networks. The war to bring about the destruction of democracy through force has in recent years changed its shape into a hybrid war combining military might and "information warfare" using social media and other means.

The business model of social media in recent years has been referred to as the "attention economy," which lends itself to sensationalist "fake news" over the truth. Experts say that users of social media are being siphoned into closed information spaces or "echo chambers" in order to have them engage with the platforms, and that this also lends itself to political radicalization. This is one source of the difficulty in endeavors to have people give their attention to and together address common challenges of the community, and ultimately to unite nations as one. In short, the attention economy is, both directly and indirectly, a major risk to the tenets of democracy, with information warfare being used to take advantage of these structural disruptions.

We have invited Professor Lawrence Lessig from Harvard University to join us for thoroughgoing discussions from the interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary perspectives which are embodied by KGRI. These will deal with how democracy is viewed following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and our collective potential courses of action in response.

Questions arise such as what is the ideal model for social media, and what role should public institutions and individuals play. Furthermore, is democracy, which is dependent on human reason, actually a realistic prospect? Also, is democracy as advocated in modern times, genuinely the political system to which we should be aspiring? Ultimately, the real question will be about how human beings should comport themselves within a digital society. I would be delighted if today's event proved an opportunity to take, with Professor Lessig, another look at the status of democracy following the invasion of Ukraine.

For this event, we have invited as panelists, Yusuke Narita, Assistant Professor at Yale University, and Yoko Hirose, Professor at the Keio University Faculty of Policy Management. The discussion in the latter part of the event will be moderated by Jiro Kokuryo, Professor at the Faculty of Policy Management and Chief Administrator of the Cyber Civilization Research Center (CCRC). With that, let's hope you enjoy the talks and panel discussion.

Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School delivered the Keynote Address.

Lawrence Lessig
Born in 1960. After graduating from Yale Law School, served as a law clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court under Justice Scalia. Has been in his current position since 2009, following appointments as a Professor at the University of Chicago and Stanford University. In 2001, he founded the non-profit organization Creative Commons, where he currently serves as Director Emeritus. His major publications include "CODE: Legality, Illegality, and Privacy in Cyberspace" (2001) "Commons: Strengthening copyright laws in cyberspace is killing a technological revolution" (2002) "Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity" (2004).

I am sincerely delighted to have this unique opportunity to visit Japan. With regards to the theme of "What lessons can be learned from the current situation in Ukraine?" I will focus in particular on "media with a motive." I would also like to put the question of "What configurations of the media might make democracy possible?" out there.

The events in Ukraine date back to 2014. The question that the world is now asking about the situation in Ukraine is "what should be done?" The question of "what actions should we now take?" besides a policy of appeasement is a truly taxing conundrum.

Do we have recourse to anything beyond a policy of appeasement? Here I will give you an overview of a paper which I previously authored. I suggested that crowd-sourced warfare could be used to address this challenge without recourse to the use of masses of weapons. In response to this paper, I was contacted by email by a Russian acquaintance who asserted that the conclusions I had reached were erroneous, and that the Russians would merely be emboldened by such measures. Just like Kissinger he meant that the way to end this war would be for Ukraine to cede its territories to Russia. Four months later, at the end of February, I found out that he was right. This does not mean that I am saying he was correct in his assertion that this is what should be done. What he was right about though was in predicting that Russia would actually invade Ukraine.

So what is the problem ... In a nutshell, the Russian people do not believe what the rest of the world believes. According to a survey by the research company Open Democracy, the number one reason that Russians support the war in Ukraine is the influence of state-sponsored propaganda. The second is the influence of persons who advocate for the restoration of the former Soviet Union territories. And the third is the threat of NATO. The fourth, that there are those with personal ties with eastern Ukraine. And fifth, that there are those who support the state regardless of whether they believe it is acting in the wrong. There is a tendency in countries of the West to assign all blame to propaganda, but I would like to question if there are not perhaps more radical reasons.

Let's shift the focus to the United States. Last year, protestors staged an invasion of the Capitol. Many Republicans were of the genuine belief that Trump had won more votes than Biden. This has been investigated by various agencies, and clearly established as having no foundation in reality. So what can we learn from this? It means that, even in countries in which freedom of speech is protected, it is extremely difficult to discern between what is and is not true. On social media, polarization and animosity increase engagement and thereby generate profit. Facebook has thus become a force to be reckoned with by increasing engagement by these means. The truth is not valued.

In the case of COVID-19 too, the President of the United States disavowed the truth about the spread of the virus which contributed to many people's decision not to get vaccinated. These lies have caused many deaths. The problem is the media do not go after the truth. And the reason is that pursuing the truth does not increase profits. In a country such as Russia, media profits will increase if they are supported by the state. In a free nation, however, news that is designed to maximize engagement is that which generates profits. Much in the manner of processed foods being addictive, arousing the brain via information produces addicts.

Tristan Harris emphasizes that the science Silicon Valley practices is engineered to be attention-grabbing. In the midst of the digital fatigue of platform users, Facebook and Instagram have successfully sold advertising. This is claimed to represent a win-win situation for both the social media platforms and the users. However information addiction is a major problem for individuals, for society, and for democracy. AI is merely being leveraged to enhance engagement. Politics, especially the kind which incites hatred, polarization, and ignorance among users, increases both engagement and the profits of social media companies.


What we can do is to foster norms as a collective group of citizens, and to actively petition the government to institute regulations. On the individual's part, it is essential that they have access to many sources of information as well as a critical approach to these sources to allow them to discern the actual truth from various perspectives.

Even within this context, the Ukrainian situation is a complex challenge. Many Russians are suspicious of the very concept of truth. While we are "victims of various forms of propaganda," we are also individual constituents of that edifice of propaganda.

Is the world truly so paranoid about the truth? Many Americans believed the lies about Iraq at the beginning of 2003, but came to realize that they had been lied to as they familiarized themselves with information from other countries. This is because the truth had come to be perceived as a simple fact rather than being assigned the status of conspiracy. Is the same true for Russians? The numbers in Russia of those who perceive everything as a lie and a conspiracy are overwhelming.

The lesson to be taken from this is that, in a culture absent of truth, truth cannot necessarily be said to exist. Insisting that the president is telling lies offers no solution to the situation in Russia. The only hope may be for expatriate Russians in other parts of the world to let the Russian people know that Putin is lying. I believe that the crowdsourced war has ended in failure. However, a crowdsourced war involving expatriate Russians may still hold some hope.

To the question "What configuration of the media makes democracy possible?" my answer is that we must recognize the dangers of the "media with a motive." One lesson from the Ukraine situation would be to create a media infrastructure in which the individual is complicit. The truth must be understood, and the truth must be propagated. This means being faithful only to the truth. It will also mean divorcing the news from marketing incentives, and not allowing the media to pursue profit alone. This concludes my presentation. Thank you very much.

Read Part II here