By Liam Jones, U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program Participant
In 1948, U.S. President Harry S. Truman approved the Smith-Mundt Act, also known as the United States Informa¬tion and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, passed by the 80th U.S. Congress. In the aftermath of World War II, the world was still ripe with geopolitical unsteadiness and tensions; to resolve the foundational lack of mutual understanding among the world’s people, leaders looked for innovative approaches to international collaboration.
To solve this issue, President Truman turned to the development of a new network of trusted relationships built through stronger people-to-people links that would, in turn, strengthen democracy and global cooperation. This led to the establishment of the foundations of what went on to be the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), a new program connecting leaders worldwide through sharing peer-to-peer exchanges, with its successes and shortcomings.
During the past three decades, democracy has been under renewed threat. Propaganda and deception continue to spread, eroding truth and sprouting polarisation. One way democracies are coming together to confront these threats is to challenge disinformation.
It was my privilege to spend three and a half weeks among emerging leaders from the Indo-Pacific and travel across the U.S. to combat disinformation through the IVLP to do our part in strengthening diplomacy globally.
I was honored to be nominated and supported by the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia, along with two of my compatriots, to represent Australia on this very appropriately themed, “Identifying and Combatting Disinformation in the Quad.”
It was a comprehensive, engaging, and informative program capably pulled together by the State Department and Meridian International Center. The incredible array of resources we met with included civil society organizations like The Internet Archive; world-leading educational institutions like Stanford University; cutting-edge think tanks like the Center of International and Strategic Studies and RAND Corporation; local media outlets like WUWM 89.7 and Wisconsin Watch!, a local fact-checking organization in a key political swing state.
If those sessions were the investment, like compound interest, the further conversations we had on the bus among our cohort delivered incredible returns. Indeed, these incidental opportunities to share our perspectives were as enriching as our professional briefings. From disinformation about treated water from Fukushima and the problems it was causing Japanese fishermen to India’s approach to mitigate the rise of misinformation across its billion-strong democracy, we all learned a lot from each other. We discussed ways to collaborate and how we might operationalize these insights into actions when we got home.
Our program took us through stretching cities, into leafy suburbs, onto vast highways, and across immense bridges. We met dozens of everyday Americans going about their lives in the late summer of 2023. It was an honest and unvarnished account of the U.S., with its principles and contradictions, its excesses and courtesies, its aspirations and shortcomings.
I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to participate as part of the IVLP and for the relationships I formed over the course of it. The program created the space for me to reflect on what is at stake as we face the task of combating disinformation across the Quad.
As I take up that task in my corner of the Indo-Pacific, I recall a fitting memory and a symbolic souvenir from the U.S. Capitol Building. In U.S. President Ronald Regan’s marble statue, there are fragments of concrete embedded within from the Berlin Wall, a permanent reminder of democracy’s enduring strength through international cooperation.
Later that day, I would stop by the White House Historical Association Shop and pick up a set of souvenir cufflinks to remember the moment. The Seal? President Harry S. Truman.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liam is an emerging leader in Australian political and public affairs who is committed to the advancing the cause of democracy. Has experience working at the executive level of federal government as well as in the private sector. Liam’s standing within Australian politics is reflected in in his appointment as a Senior Adviser for Skills Policy and Senior Media Adviser to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Sussan Ley MP in the Australian Parliament. This position is the culmination of several roles he has held in government. In the previous Coalition Government, Liam served as Media Adviser for a senior Cabinet Minister across several portfolios. Before that he worked as a public affairs consultant on number of private sector, defence and government accounts.
Liam holds a Masters in National Security Policy from the Australian National University’s National Security College, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales and an Executive Certificate in Public Narrative and Leadership from the Harvard Kennedy School.
He is graduate of the Australia America Young Leadership Dialogue, a Young Leader at the Pacific Forum and was selected as Team Leader of the Australia’s Youth Delegation to APEC 2017. He has board experience having served on the Australian Capital Territory Government’s Youth Advisory Council and on the board of Canberra based NGO Abundant Water.