October 17, 2023
Remarks by AIT Director Sandra Oudkirk at 2023 Indo-Pacific Workshop on Countering Disinformation
October 17, 2023
Chairman You, David, and distinguished guests, good morning!
I am pleased to join you for this timely and important workshop. And I am grateful to the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy for hosting me, as well as those from the United States and Taiwan who planned and organized this event. I also want to thank the workshop participants who traveled to Taipei from across the Indo-Pacific region and Europe to share your experiences and expertise.
It is hard to think of a timelier and more meaningful topic than the one that brings us here together today. The United States maintains a deep appreciation for Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, its respect for fundamental freedoms, and its strong commitment to the rule of law. Taiwan’s enduring support for the free exchange of ideas, its efforts to create an enabling environment for civil society, and its transparent and accountable approach to governance ensures that its people can build a society that is more secure, resilient, and prosperous. At a time of democratic backsliding and human rights abuses elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific region, Taiwan serves as an invaluable model to others. And given the challenges we all face, it is especially important that democracies like Taiwan and the United States stand together to promote a brighter future free of repression, censorship, and exploitation.
As we know all too well, the Internet age, not to mention emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, have enabled a dramatic rise in the spread and impact of disinformation. As open, democratic societies, the United States, Taiwan, and many others are all on the frontlines as we grapple with the spread of disinformation and propaganda, particularly as foreign actors seek to use social media and emerging technologies to manipulate public discourse, divide the public, sow discord, interfere in our elections, and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions.
This threat is especially worrisome in the context of democratic elections – the treasured process by which free societies choose how and by whom they would like to be governed. The United States, Taiwan, and many others have experienced harmful disinformation in recent elections that seeks to undermine our people’s faith in the democratic process. Without public trust in free and fair elections, the ability of our democracies to thrive is at risk.
That is why forums such as this are important vehicles to share experiences and best practices with like-minded representatives from governments, civil society, and academia around the world. Sharing lessons learned from countering past disinformation efforts targeting our electoral processes as well as discussing strategies from both the policy and civil society standpoints can improve media literacy in our societies and strengthen our ability to defend our democracies.
Democracy is the form of government with the greatest capacity to safeguard human rights, fundamental freedoms, and dignity of every person, as well as to advance peace, prosperity, and security globally.
Democracies are best able to serve those functions when there is an environment of free and open exchange of information and ideas; when there is tolerance for a diversity of viewpoints; when debate over divergent viewpoints is nonviolent and information and ideas stand or fall on their own merits; and when engaged and informed citizens are able to participate meaningfully in political decision-making and to hold their government accountable.
Disinformation can take many forms, and it has the potential to drown out vital discussions; to marginalize credible voices and speakers from minority groups; to misshape beliefs and policy preferences; to instigate violence; to erode trust in media and public institutions; and to affect whether and how citizens exercise their right to vote.
As a result, effectively countering disinformation is essential to protecting our democracy and upholding our national security.
Successfully meeting the challenge of disinformation will require the efforts not only of governments but also of all of us who have a stake in this issue, including companies, non-governmental organizations, the media, and perhaps most significantly, an active and informed citizenry. It is equally critical for multiple stakeholders to continue to find ways to share information, best practices, and lessons learned. Civil society and the academic community are well placed to help identify and expose new disinformation campaigns and to offer technical expertise on the ever-evolving methods used by hostile actors.
We believe a well-informed citizenry is key to the strength of democratic institutions. Healthy and robust public debates based on facts, evidence, and reason are integral to effective civic engagement. To that end, the United States will continue to support efforts to strengthen civil society and promote media literacy in the Indo-Pacific region and across the globe.
It is an honor to have distinguished speakers and participants from so many countries joining this workshop to share experiences, challenges, and best practices. I hope that you can take the lessons you learn from this workshop and integrate them into your own work to strengthen democratic society and protect the integrity of democratic elections.
On behalf of the American Institute in Taiwan, thank you all for the work you do. I am delighted that you have taken the time to participate in this important workshop, and I look forward to candid conversations about how we can respond to this shared challenge. Thank you.