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Dr. Emma Briant

‘Project Illuminate’: Scrutiny and Accountability for the Actors Behind Influence Operations

We are living in an age of deception yet only slowly are politicians awakening to the reality of 21st Century warfare. Our communication infrastructure is vital to inform ourselves about all aspects of our lives – it is essential to how we engage in the democratic discourse essential for fair elections, for solving complex problems from conflict to coronavirus to the climate crisis. Disinformation and influence campaigns present some of the most complex and rapidly evolving challenges in our time, not least for researchers, civil society, and policymakers, but critically for society, as invisible, AI-driven targeted manipulation has harmful effects for citizens. From Myanmar to Ukraine to Washington D.C., misleading and manipulative campaigns being enabled by Big Tech and influence industry campaigns have real-world impact – whether it’s inciting violence, discouraging health measures, widening inequality, enabling genocide, or burying environmental disaster. This ambitious project will analyze and map the multi-billion dollar influence industry and its methods. I am researching deeply and broadly the recent technical, political and economic development of the influence industry, surveying the extent of different technologies and services offered to clients worldwide across three domains (commercial, political, security). The ‘Project Illuminate’ goal is to place powerful new data and analysis of influence actors in the hands of the public, policymakers and their civic advocates. This project focuses scrutiny on the influence industry actors and will help outline recommendations for policy, transparency, accountability measures and advocacy approaches that ensure a more holistic response to platforms, governments, and private industries who have so often benefited from perpetuating ‘surveillance capitalism’.

Main Research Topics

  • Propaganda
  • Influence Operations

Dr. Emma Briant

Fellow at CAIS from April to September 2023