He proposed “guardrails around technology” to limit surveillance and political advertising on social media, promote a healthy free press, and introduce new international norms — “the equivalent of a Geneva convention,” whereby “governments are not permitted to attack the civilian infrastructure of other countries just as they are not allowed to attack civilians in a time of war.”
Facebook’s director of public policy, Katie Harbath, addressed some of the election-related concerns in a parallel session. She said that Facebook was “a fundamentally different company” than it was at the time of the 2016 presidential vote in the United States, and that there was “a lot that we did miss in that election.”
To make sure voters get the right information, she said, Facebook is now monitoring political ads, hiring fact checkers and combating foreign interference. “There will be no finish line in this work,” she said. “Bad actors and adversaries will continue to try to find different ways to disrupt or hurt the integrity of elections.”
The conference also highlighted the many assaults on democracy beyond the Western world — from Hong Kong and Ukraine to Togo and Venezuela. Speaking live from Caracas, Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, denied that his support base had diminished, and once again refused to run in planned December elections as long as there were political prisoners, torture and an absence of electoral supervision in Venezuela.
“What we want is real elections to take place, and not a legitimization of a dictatorship,” he said.
The forum hosted a number of young activists who have taken the cause of democracy into their own hands and are bringing grass-roots solutions to national or global problems. One was the Palestinian-Canadian author and speaker Chaker Khazaal, who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, and is now an advocate for the rights of refugees. Also among the attendees were Andrea Venzon and Colombe Cahen-Salvador, founders of “Now!” — a global movement that uses digital tools and grass-roots campaigning to lobby governments and politicians.
One major concern for young people is jobs — and Mr. Harari had another bleak prognosis on the subject. He said the pandemic was actually forcing entire industries to accelerate an automation process that was previously going to take 10 or 20 years.