Ambassador’s Remarks at the DISICON 6, December 6, 2023
President Osmani, Ambassador Soderberg, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to join you this afternoon.
I want to thank the National Democratic Institute for hosting this important event – now in its sixth edition.
This year’s theme – to understand and combat gender-based and LGBTQI disinformation – is fundamental to building strong, participatory democracies and promoting human rights.
This week’s news of another case of suspected femicide here in Kosovo illustrates just how urgent it is that we work on addressing these issues at a societal level.
I also congratulate the organizers for having the foresight to schedule this year’s DISICON during our collective campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which began on November 25th.
Neither the United States nor Kosovo nor any other democratic society around the world can have peace, stability, and security without the safe, free, and equal participation of women and all marginalized groups in public life.
That’s why I made it a priority to be here with you today.
It is also why the team at U.S. Embassy in Kosovo is keenly focused on this issue of information integrity.
I’m sure you have all seen and experienced the disturbing trends of hate speech directed at women, members of the LGBTQI+ community, and other minority groups online.
Unchecked, these various manifestations of hate speech spread through social networks, inciting extremists and fueling division and violence of all kinds.
And it is all too easy for ill-intentioned individuals to use disinformation as a weapon to eliminate their critics and consolidate power.
Pushing women and marginalized people out of the political arena is a core part of that strategy.
These campaigns and false narratives aimed at discrediting the character, morality, and dignity of women as well as other marginalized groups can and often do successfully deceive the general public.
They also disincentivize women and other marginalized groups from entering politics or public life in order to avoid these hateful repercussions.
While we’ve seen gradual progress globally in women’s representation, both in the local and central elections and at the national level, there is room for improvement.
Disinformation campaigns – particularly those against women and other marginalized groups – are the first step of a broad and dangerous attempt to dismantle democracy and human rights.
We need to respond in a way that is effective, principled, and coordinated.
We need to work together to stop bad faith actors from seeking political gain by attacking women, LGBTQI+ individuals, and other minority groups in politics for their own political gain.
This means both identifying circumstances in which this takes place, exposing these bad faith actors in public, and holding them accountable for their actions.
Fortunately, we are seeing a change in public opinion in Kosovo – at least as far as gender is concerned.
76% of citizens believe that political parties should ensure an equal representation of women and men.
And, 62% of Kosovan citizens believe that online harassment and negative portrayal of women politicians discourages their political participation.
While sobering, these statistics are also encouraging. They tell us the citizens of Kosovo understand, care, and are increasingly ready to support change.
This DISICON meeting, over these two days, should facilitate discussions about options and solutions to address gender disinformation in Kosovo and the Western Balkans region.
As President Biden’s personal representative, I want to emphasize that the United States is your staunch ally in this effort.
This is also an effort that requires multiple actors. You will hear about how we are only effective when there is coordination and cooperation between government, the private sector, media, civil society, and other influential actors to build alliances and implement solutions together.
Because information disorders, and their vehicle, the internet, operate without borders, our response must equally not be constrained by national borders.
National, regional, and international information sharing, and collective action are crucial to addressing gendered disinformation effectively.
You will, of course, share ideas about how to build the public’s immunity – especially amongst young people – against disinformation through media literacy and critical thinking skills.
You will have conversations about how to protect independent media outlets and support watchdog organizations to ensure a safe and inclusive media environment.
You will discuss the pivotal role the ICT industry’s commitment plays in finding technological innovations to create and maintain a safe online environment is absolutely critical.
And finally, you will hear about the crucial importance of giving political actors under attack the tools they need to successfully combat weapons of disinformation.
Everyone facing disinformation, and those experiencing gender-based attacks, grapples with the psychological impact of online hate speech. They deserve robust support systems and strategies for rising above.
I understand we will next have the pleasure and honor of hearing from President Osmani who I understand will share her story of resilience, empowerment, and hope. Women leaders like you, President Osmani, shine a light on the path the next generation will be able to take.
Tackling gendered disinformation demands this kind of a multifaceted approach.
And it’s only through understanding its intricate complexity and working together – as you are at this conference – that we can foster an inclusive and safe media environment and a world where democratic values and human rights prevail.
Thank you, Faleminderit, Hvala.