Dissertation Defense: Beba Cibralic
Candidate Name: Beba Cibralic
Advisor: David Luban, Ph.D.
Title: Reframing Foreign Influence: War, Technology, and Words
Abstract: The purpose of this dissertation is to take a philosophical approach to determining how we should best conceptualise the issue of ‘foreign influence,’ with an eye to cases involving online speech. The term ‘influence’ is capacious; it includes persuasion, manipulation, and coercion. ‘Foreign influence’ refers to kinds of activities conducted by foreign state, foreign non-state, or foreign private actors with the aim of influencing a target state or populace. Drawing from literatures in ethics, political philosophy, social epistemology, and international law, I explore how we guard against the ethical, political, and epistemic harms of certain online influence while retaining a firm commitment to democratic and liberal norms of discourse. In chapter one, I provide a conceptual framework for understanding foreign influence as a multilayered phenomenon. I show that boundaries between foreign influence and other kinds of influence are not easily demarcated. In chapter two, I argue against using the dominant models in international law – armed conflict, sovereignty, and self-determination – to articulate the harms of certain information operation. I then propose a multifactorial contextual analysis for evaluating the permissibility of an information operation. In chapter three, I explore the tensions that arise when politically disruptive speakers engage in epistemically reliable speech, and consider the kinds of responses, in a social media context, that individual users might take. I conclude the dissertation by considering the future of foreign influence, and how technology may change its nature and scope.