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Milton Wolf Seminar on Media and Diplomacy

2019 Seminar

The New Global Media (dis)Order in International Relations: Agonizing Struggles and Elusive Solutions

April 23-25, 2019

As we move further into the 21st Century, a seemingly endless array of challenges– fake news, information warfare, environmental degradation, migration crises, cyber warfare, terrorism, and rising global populism–have upended once safe democracies, destabilized traditional diplomacy, and called into question the future of the international system. The relationship between media and international relations are at the center of many of these crises. Platform empires like Facebook and Google increasingly appear to operate as sovereign states while many traditional “old media” platforms have been starved financially and are unable to cut effectively through the noise of a distorted and dystopian media environment. Media platforms, both digital and non-digital, are simultaneously spaces for the practice of diplomacy, tools of reconciliation, and agents of dissent and discord. Diplomats, journalists, and pundits struggle to make sense of this complex array of issues facing contemporary international relations and global communications.

While there have been myriad conferences that focus on documenting media’s role in the breakdown of the international order, this seminar was dedicated to solutions. The 2019 Milton Wolf Seminar explored the wide range of proposals for how to ameliorate pressing challenges to international relations, particularly those wrought by a weak and degraded media and communications environment and probe the strengths and weaknesses of conceivable avenues forward. Legal scholar Lawrence Lessig posited that there are four modalities of media and communications regulation: technological code/architecture, market economic forces, law and policy, and social norms. The 2019 Seminar brought together actors working both within these modalities and beyond who are conceptualizing solutions to today’s acute issues related to media and international relations.

Questions under consideration included: How do technological fixes to the spread of fake news influence freedom of expression norms?  How do campaigns focused on changing social norms undermine technological or legal solutions and vice versa?  As computational propaganda, fake news, and misinformation intensifies international conflict, what are the potential benefits of a reviving and strengthening public media systems?  How is the training of diplomats and the role of diplomats adjusting to meet the altered realities of communications systems?  Invited guests included academics, researchers, legal experts, technologists, citizen activists, regulators, diplomats, and journalists actively involved in identifying and building different solutions.

Sponsorship: The 2019 seminar would not be possible without the kind sponsorship of the Wolf Family Foundation, The Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation, The Media Inequality and Change Center, and Perry World House.

Seminar Agenda

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM — Welcome Reception and Registration (Diplomatic Academy)

9:00 AM – 10:00 AM — Welcome Tea & Introduction

  • Katharine Eltz-Aulitzky, Executive Director, The American Austrian Foundation
  • Monroe Price, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
  • Ambassador Emil Brix, Director, Diplomatic Academy
  • Amelia Arsenault, Senior Advisor, Public Diplomacy Research and Evaluation Unit, US Department of State

10:00 AM – 11:45 AM — Session 1: Institutions Adjust or At Least Try—Breaking the Cold Hand of Inertia

While regulation evokes immediate associations with law and policy solutions, this panel, and this seminar, takes a broader approach, considering legal, social, technological, and other avenues taken to ameliorate the complex array of social problems wrought by contemporary media vis-à-vis international relations. Representatives from academia, diplomacy, and journalism will set the stage for the ensuing panels. Panelists will articulate the key challenges that today’s complex media system pose for contemporary international relations with a particular focus on assessing the range of solutions put forward among different communities of practice. These presentations will provide a starting point, a chance to bring the diverse Milton Wolf audience into the conversation about competing approaches to improving the role of media, old and new, in international relations.

  • Monroe Price, Professor, Annenberg School for Communication University of Pennsylvania (Chair)
  • James Pamment, Head of department at Department of Strategic Communication, Lund University, Head Researcher for the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency’s (MSB)
  • Peter Guschelbauer, Head, Department of Press and Information; Spokesperson of the Austrian Federal Minister Karin Kneissl and of the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs
  • Jim Rutenberg, Media Editor, New York Times
  • Amelia Arsenault, Senior Advisor, Public Diplomacy Research and Evaluation Unit, US Department of State

11:45 AM – 1:15 PM — Welcoming Lunch

1:15 PM – 3:00 PM — Session 2: Beyond the Demands of Skirmishing: Legal Norms and International Challenges

In 2011, internet freedom and the right to communicate dominated Milton Wolf discussions about new media’s role in international relations. Less than a decade later, it appears that freedom of expression and information access questions have taken a backseat to discussions about how to curb election interference and misinformation, disinformation, and computational propaganda. This session focuses on the transnational implications of recent legal and policy attempts to regulate domestic media in the name of promoting societal stability. Panelists will discuss an array of legal architectures put forward in different countries, with particular attention to the implications of these efforts for international and domestic norms of freedom of expression and access to information.

  • Emil Brix, Director, Diplomatic Academy (Chair)
  • Daniel Bill Opio, Executive Director, Cyber Law Initiative (CyberLine)
  • Andrei Rikhter, Senior Advisor, Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
  • Emma Goodman, Policy Officer, Media Policy Project, LSE

3:15 PM – 5:00 PM — Session 3: Shutdowns, Intranets, and Moderation: The Internet and Jurisdiction

The question of immunity of the platform for material placed on it by third parties is now more heavily disputed. The duty of the platform operator to moderate—to establish and enforce standards—is a matter of increasing significance. This is an intense and revealing moment as various governments including the United States, the European Union (and countries within it), the United Kingdom, China, Russia, Pakistan, etc. invent and alter governance arrangements. This panel focuses on the utility and dangers inherent in national attempts to shape media and communications flows for international relations.

  • Tina Freyburg, Professor of Comparative Politics in the School of Economics and Political Science at the University of St. Gallen (Chair and Panelist)
  • Jared Shurin, Strategy Director, M&C Saatchi
  • Julie Owono, Executive Director, Internet Without Borders (Internet Sans Frontières)

9:00 AM – 10:00 AM — Coffee and Conversation with the 2019 Emerging Scholars

Supporting junior scholars is a key part of the Milton Wolf Seminar.  Please join us for a morning coffee and a lively roundtable discussion features our 2019 Emerging Scholar Fellows.  They will discuss their research and how it relates to the 2019 Seminar theme.

  • Amelia Arsenault, Senior Advisor, US Department of State (Chair)
  • Phillip Arceneaux, PhD Student, University of Florida
  • Jimil Ataman, MA Student, School of Education, University of Pennsylvania
  • Zahraa Badr, MA Student, Cairo University
  • Bea Bierlein, MA Student, University of Stuttgart
  • Lauren Bridges, PhD Student, Annenberg School, University of Pennsylvania
  • Josh Cowls, PhD Student, Oxford University
  • Connor Donnan, PhD Student, Department of History, University of Pennsylvania
  • Kevan Feshami, PhD Student, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Brian Hughes, PhD Student, American University
  • Yin Lu, PhD Student, Oxford University
  • Christopher Magoon, MD Student, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
  • Mariela Morales, PhD Student, Annenberg School, University of Pennsylvania
  • Maria Skouras, PhD Student, University of Texas, Austin
  • Qun Wang, PhD Student, Rutgers University
  • Anna Young, PhD Student, University of Connecticut

10:15 AM– 12:00 PM — Session 4: Strengthening Independent and Traditional Media

In the wake of information warfare efforts, fake news, election interference and computational propaganda, the focus is too-often on assessing how to regulate and restrict digital activity. Panelists in this session will explore a wide variety of efforts to strengthen traditional media both in terms of supply (i.e. traditional media platforms) and demand (i.e. media literacy). Topics for discussion include how to reimagine public service broadcasting to fight these challenges, attempts to track and limit fake news, and media literacy efforts.

  • Michael Freund, Journalist, Der Standard (Chair)
  • Victor Pickard, Associate Professor of Communication, Co-director, Media, Inequality, and Change Center Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
  • Karolin Schwarz, Founder, Hoaxmap
  • Ravi Prasad, Director of Advocacy, IPI
  • Andras Petho, Co-Founder, Direkt36

12:00 AM – 1:15 PM — Lunch

1:15 PM – 3:00 PM — Session 5: Activism and Sites of Resistance

NGOS and activists play critical roles in the contemporary debates, often speaking truth to power and raising awareness about the social justice implications of different governmental, legal, and technological attempts at normalizing media flows within and between national borders. This panel features activists and academics working on these issues in the international arena.

  • Todd Wolfson, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, Co-director, Media, Inequality, and Change Center (Chair and respondent)
  • Wafa Ben-Hassine, Access Now MENA Policy Counsel
  • Lina Dencik, Director Data Justice Lab, Cardiff University
  • Jillian York, Director for International Freedom of Expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation

3:15 PM – 5:00 PM — Session 6: Digital Propaganda: Digital Problems, Digital Solutions?

Even a few years ago discussions about the role of the internet in international relations centered on the tension between a so-called Western ethos heralding the free flow of information and opponents like China and Russia advocating information sovereignty. Exponential increases in cross-border election interference, computational propaganda, and fake news have upended this bi-polarity. States that once heralded the free flow of information are wrestling with the need to combat information warfare from abroad even as they continue diplomatic interactions. This panel will look at digital solutions to these digital problems. It features representatives from research and technology companies, think tanks, and governments working on innovative solutions to these issues.

  • Victor Pickard, Associate Professor of Communication, Co-director, Media, Inequality, and Change Center, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania (Chair)
  • Anastasia Mark, Director of Product, Thresher
  • Franak Viacorka, Research Media Analyst, US Agency for Global Media
  • Mike Hull, President, Psiphon
  • Nika Aleksejeva, Digital Researcher (DFR Lab), Atlantic Council

Seminar Co-organizers

The American Austrian Foundation (AAF) was established in 1984, by a group of Americans and Austrians with an interest in promoting a positive relationship between the two countries. The AAF partners with NGOs, governments and individuals to bridge the gap between professionals in developed countries and countries in transition, by providing fellowships to attend post-graduate educational programs in medicine, media and the arts. The American Austrian Foundation is a public non-profit organization incorporated under the laws of Delaware and has 501(c) (3) status with the United States Internal Revenue Service.

Founded in 1959 through the generosity and vision of diplomat and philanthropist Walter Annenberg, the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania is devoted to furthering our understanding of the role of communication in public life through research, education, and service. With strengths in health communication, political communication, culture and communication, media institutions, digital media, and global communication, ASC is ranked as the top Communication school in the United States.

The Diplomatic Academy of Vienna (DA) offers post-graduate training for the varied challenges of an international career. The DA equips its students with the academic qualifications, language training, intercultural competences and management skills, which are essential and often decisive prerequisites for many international professions and a subsequent interesting career. Furthermore, the DA offers a Summer Course for German as a foreign language and Austrian Studies.  In addition to its study programmes, the DA organizes conferences and a great number of public lectures with well-known political, diplomatic, business and cultural figures. Publications of the DA (“Favorita Papers”) offer substantive contributions from academicians taken from selected conferences in the field of international relations.


The Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation was initiated with a financial allocation from the ERP Fund. The Foundation’s mission is to foster knowledge transfer between the USA and Austria. The Foundation benefits from and supports the cooperation between Austrian and American universities and academics. The activities of the foundation are carried out in the framework of: (Guest) professorships in the USA and Austria; Conferences, lectures and symposia in the USA and Austria; Post Graduate/Research Fellowships in the USA and Austria.

The Media, Inequality and Change Center (MIC) is a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School and Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information. The Center explores the intersections between media, democracy, technology, policy, and social justice. MIC produces engaged research and analysis while collaborating with community leaders to help support activist initiatives and policy interventions. The Center’s objective is to develop a local-to-national strategy that focuses on communication issues important to local communities and social movements in the region, while also addressing how these local issues intersect with national and international policy challenges.

Perry World House at the University of Pennsylvania (PWH) is a global policy research center that aims to advance interdisciplinary, policy-relevant research on the world’s most urgent global affairs challenges. At a time of increasing ideological division and the politicization of policymaking, PWH will draw on the wide range of expertise found across Penn’s 12 Schools, connecting Penn with policymakers, practitioners, and researchers from around the world to develop and advance innovative policy proposals. Housed at the new, state-of-the-art building at the center of Penn’s campus, PWH is uniquely positioned to convene world leaders, cutting-edge practitioners, and top intellectuals engaged on these vital topics. Our high-level workshops, conferences, engagements, and publications link Penn to the global policy community so that the best ideas have impact now when they are needed most.