Yaël Eisenstat is a democracy activist exploring the real-world effects of technology on our public discourse. After spending 18 years in national security and global affairs—as a CIA officer, a diplomat, and a White House advisor—Eisenstat became concerned with how social media was driving political polarization and division. So, she took a job at Facebook, aiming to protect the integrity of political advertising for elections worldwide. Eisenstat soon realized she wasn’t going to change the company from within, and today, she is a high-powered advocate for transparency and accountability in tech. Empowering and actionable, her talks show us a path forward for protecting our citizens, our democracy, and our future.
“We must strive to love our country more than we hate our neighbor.”— Yaël Eisenstat
When former CIA analyst Yaël Eisenstat realized she could have easier conversations with suspected extremists overseas than she could with her fellow Americans on hot-button issues, she started to fear that the breakdown of public discourse was a greater threat to our democracy than any foreign adversary. Determined to reverse this course, she took a job as Global Head of Elections Integrity Ops at Facebook—a company she believed was a huge part of the problem, by enabling inflammatory rhetoric, spreading fake news and conspiracy theories, and amplifying dangerous hate speech. In her immensely powerful TED Talk “Dear Facebook, this is how you’re breaking democracy,” Eisenstat reveals her experience inside the tech behemoth and how, despite her recommendations, the company continued to resist meaningful change in the interest of profit. “As long as algorithms’ goals are to keep us engaged, they will continue to feed us the poison that plays to our worst instincts and human weaknesses,” she says. In her work today, Eisenstat shows us how we can bridge the gap between government and tech, helping us foster an information ecosystem that uplifts and empowers us, rather than manipulates, exploits, and divides us.
As a speaker, Eisenstat brings a wealth of experience, as well as a genuinely hopeful vision for the next era of technology. In her brilliant, strategic talks, she discusses everything from information warfare and the future of media, to political and social inequality, international affairs, and national security. Following a period as a Visiting Fellow at Cornell Tech's Digital Life Initiative, Eisenstat is now the Future of Democracy Fellow at Berggruen Institute. There, she will focus on what open, democratic debate looks like in the digital world, and how we can change the incentives that helped social media rise to dominance in our public spaces—replacing them with democratic principles.
Once named one of Forbes “40 Women to Watch Over 40,” Eisenstat founded and runs Kilele Global: a consulting firm working with mission-driven organizations to tackle our most complex global challenges. She is also a Global Policy Adviser at the Center for Humane Technology and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the vice-president of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a leading civil rights group, and leads their Center for Technology and Society. Eisenstat regularly provides context and analysis on national security, political, and foreign affairs in the media. She has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, and WIRED, and has appeared on CNN, BBC World News, CBS News, and C-SPAN. Eisenstat earned an M.A. in International Affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“The Surrey Board of Trade was honored to present Yaël Eisenstat to our Surrey Women in Business Awards audience. Her speech was fascinating as I and the audience listened to all of her career accomplishments. When she said the words about knowing your worth and value no matter what, that resonated with me and the audience. The message about standing up for what you believe in even if it means you have to make difficult choices also resonated. Yaël was amazing!”Surrey Board of Trade
Taking Back Our Public Square Can Social Media Better Serve Democracy?
With two decades of experience in the public sector and tech industry, Eisenstat has a unique vantage point for understanding these critical issues. It’s up to us, our advocacy, and our activism to create meaningful change, she says. This vital talk, presented by a true change-maker, reveals powerful ideas for how government and society should hold tech companies accountable—stopping them from ceding our public square to for-profit interests.
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