Reflections on the 2022 Code Conference

By Lisa Kaplan


Kara Swisher’s final Code conference showcased how breaking assumptions about industries solves the world's most challenging problems and creates new possibilities. From Mark Cuban’s disruption of the pharmaceutical industry to John Doerr’s plans to create companies that solve climate change, entrepreneurship and innovation are about what’s possible when we break our assumptions and build something new.


Swisher focused on how DC and Silicon Valley can collaborate and learn from each other as we solve pressing challenges. As someone who started their career in the hallways of Capitol Hill and navigated the labyrinth of the State Department, I have a deep appreciation for the importance of bridging the divide between Silicon Valley and Washington D.C. There are great examples of how the Valley’s disruption and Washington’s ability to set policies for the future create game changing companies. Taxpayers have supported some of the most important innovations – including Arpanet, the defense department-funded predecessor to our existing internet. Tech leaders’ tremendous innovation is real, but the essential foundation has been made possible by a broader, public investment in innovation necessary to grow our economy, secure free societies, and protect the planet.


Code’s agenda brought disruption and collaboration to life around two systemic challenges: how to protect our climate and to ensure society’s access to accurate information. To address both of these issues, we have to consider how to break the systems that brought us to this point and build anew. The challenges we face defending the information space are similar to those faced by climate defenders – these crises did not suddenly erupt. Due to a systemic failure of government and companies to act, we urgently need bold solutions to solve what have evolved into the biggest challenges of our time. Systemic changes necessitate new ways of thinking, but they can be backed by assets we hold now: the government’s ability to create accountability and the private sector’s focus on strategy and innovation.


Business, technology innovation

The government’s role is to incentivize and drive accountability.

The government addresses climate change through regulations that offer financial incentives, funding research and development for startups and universities, and developing enforcement or monitoring mechanisms. Over the last few decades, these incentives have created visible changes – from LEED certifications proudly featured in buildings to electric vehicles (Tesla of course, famously took advantage of the many government incentives to become a successful company) to developing ways to monitor carbon emissions – the government can incentivize positive action.


We need that same positive action to spur innovation and new systems in the information space. While democracies and free societies have to promote and protect freedom of speech, the government can do more to partner with the private sector to stop the erosion of information integrity. This could include providing research and development funding for innovative technologies that can stop actors from spreading manipulated media, supporting new curriculums that can scale to promote digital media literacy, and creating tax incentives for platforms to invest in trust and safety. The government should also consider appointing envoys and developing a national strategy, or including disinformation as part of its national cyber strategy, to promote lasting whole of society solutions versus ad hoc stopgaps.


When I talk with corporate leaders and boards, I find that there is a false sense of security in that they think the government protects them against digital threats. While this is partially true in the case of companies classified as critical infrastructure, unfortunately our government cannot protect and remediate every threat in the best interest of the private sector. Leaders understand that manipulated media and the spread of false and damaging information can impact brand, bottom line and physical safety. The private sector needs to step up and be the source of innovation this challenge requires.


Like climate change, if the private sector leads in solution development, the government can act. When companies have proactive insights into what narratives actors are using to target companies, who is behind the narrative, and how they’re influencing populations – companies can act. If information is false and defamatory, legal teams can take action. If actors use tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to spread disinformation that violate community standards, networks can come down. If it’s to a company’s advantage to expose a network and make it public, communicators have the opportunity to expand the narrative to denouncing it as false and messaging accurate information. If it’s appropriate for government to act, such as if a foreign adversary is targeting a company, information sharing can enable government to respond.


Connecting disinformation protection with corporate strategy.

A core component of corporate strategy needs to be countering disinformation. Considering the stakes - reputation, license to operate, physical safety - it’s important that leaders see disinformation risk as a strategic priority they must own. By developing a strategic approach to monitoring, evaluating and addressing disinformation, companies can take action to combat it. They can take legal action, launch counter messaging and enhance their security posture. This preparedness is key, and early detection of disinformation leads to more successful outcomes.


We need innovative technologies, new services and social investments to fight disinformation at scale. The more companies protecting themselves means the more eyes on the problem, and there will be a collective benefit as giants lead with remediation that fights back.


At Alethea Group, we stand ready to help. I want to thank Kara for leading such important conversations this year and for the past 20 years at Code. This was my first time attending and I’m very glad I had the chance to be there for her last turn in the big red chair.


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