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Interview With Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Interview With French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired November 13, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: I wanted to call to congratulate you and congratulate Kamala Harris for this election.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): France welcomes Joe Biden's victory. What next for a country shaken by coronavirus and terror attacks? Answers from the French
finance minister, Bruno Le Maire.
Then, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with her review of Obama's new memoir, her fresh fiction and Nigeria's current crisis.
RENEE DIRESTA, STANFORD INTERNET OBSERVATORY: So, you have a very divided country that doesn't have kind of a common sense of facts at this point.
AMANPOUR: How to break our online echo chambers? The Stanford Internet Observatory's Renee DiResta speaks with our Hari Sreenivasan.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
China has now joined the nations reaching out to congratulate the Biden/Harris team on their election victory. European leaders have already
spoken to president-elect Biden, hoping to refresh the transatlantic alliance, after four years of what a former British foreign secretary
called a hostile U.S. disengagement from the multilateral world order.
For France, stability right now is paramount. Today marks five years since a terrorist attack killed 130 people in restaurants and at Bataclan theater
in Paris. Hundreds more were wounded.
The country is back on high alert after recent terror attacks, and all this amid a brutal second wave of the coronavirus.
Joining me from Paris is the French economy and finance minister, Bruno Le Maire.
Minister Le Maire, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining me.
BRUNO LE MAIRE, FRENCH FINANCE MINISTER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you to reflect on this sad anniversary. And your prime minister has been marking the occasion throughout the day. And I
was there to cover it.
What -- I mean, how is Paris faring in the wake of this anniversary Plus, of course, we know that, in the last month, there have been two other
terrible terrorist attacks in France.
LE MAIRE: I think that we must all be aware, in European countries, that we are still under attack, and that we are threatened by radical Islam.
This is a very sad anniversary for the French people. This is also a very sad anniversary for all European countries. We should all bear in mind that
we need to be tough vis-a-vis radical Islam. We have to fight radical Islam. We have to stand together.
And I hope that, with the election of President Biden, there will be a new step in the cooperation between the United States, France, and the European
countries in that fight against the terrorism and against radical Islam.
Everybody should be aware that this is not only a fight against an enemy. It is also a cultural challenge for all of us. We have to defend our
values, our European values that are at the core of the French society and at the core of the European society.
AMANPOUR: Minister, I want to ask you about that. Maybe it's an opportunity to explain to the Anglo-Saxon world, maybe America and
You have a very specific secularist term called laicite where you are absolutely very, very committed to the secularization and total separation
of church and state of any religion.
Some people don't quite understand what you mean, because the president, of course, when he was mourning the death and the beheadings of citizens of
France, also stood up for the right of, like, the teachers and journalists and other intellectuals to put maybe those cartoons other such things into
the public domain.
LE MAIRE: I think that everybody has to understand that the so-called laicite is at the heart of the French society, at the heart of the French
construction, and at the heart of the French nation.
What does it mean, laicite. Laicite means a clear separation between the secular issues and the religious issues.
We don't want the religious issues to play at the first stage the role that secular issues and secular matters have to play. And we want to stick to
that clear distinction between religion and politics.
But, behind that, there are other values that are not only French values, but I would say Western values, that we share with the United States, with
all other European countries, for instance, the freedom of speech. Nobody can dispute this key question of the freedom of speech.
In our democracies, in our liberal democracies, nobody can hate this freedom of speech. Everybody should be free to express its own opinion, its
And that's also what's at the heart of this concept of laicite. So do not think that this is only the concept, the French concept of laicite that is
What is now by all times under attack, this is our common values, freedom, freedom of speech, solidarity. This is exactly what the terrorist body
wants to hit when they are committing their crimes in the French ground.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you whether you have thought about why it happened again and now?
You have mentioned you welcome the election of President Biden. You hope and you look forward to America returning to its role in multilateral -- in
the multilateral world order.
Why do you think this spike of terrorism has happened now, after a pretty significant lull?
LE MAIRE: I have no explanation to give to you to explain why it happened now.
But I think this is clear evidence that the threat remains the same, and that we all have to get rid of terrorism and all have to get rid of radical
Islam. And President Macron made it very clear that's not a French challenge. This is a European challenge. This is a Western challenge. This
is a world challenge.
If we want to preserve our freedom, if we want to preserve our core values, we have to fight all together against terrorism and against radical Islam.
AMANPOUR: And, of course, the president of France announced that it had, in fact, killed the head of al Qaeda in Africa, in Mali. So, that was an
Can I ask you, then, what you expect from the next U.S. administration, whether it's the joint fight against terrorism, against climate change, for
health and a coalition to try to figure out how to deal in a coordinated way against with this pandemic?
Because I did speak to the former top foreign affairs official of the E.U., Federica Mogherini. And she told me that these last four years for Europe
have been very difficult, the last four years of the Trump administration. She called them very, very difficult years.
Do you agree, and in what way were they difficult?
LE MAIRE: Yes, I can confirm to you, as the French finance minister, that, on many topics, it has been difficult years, because, on many issues -- I
mean, the trade issue that has been clearly at the core of the transatlantic relationship and the relationship between the U.S. and China,
this idea of being hit as allies of the United States by American sanctions has become a very important issue between Washington and the European
I think we have to go out of this kind of relationship made of sanctions and retaliation from both sides of the Atlantic. We have to build together.
And I really think that the election of President Biden must be a new start in the relationship between Europe and the United States. We are fully
aware that we all have our own interests. The United States do have their own interests. Europe has its own interests, too. And it is up to us, of
course, to defend our own interests.
But we also have interests of common views, and we also have issues on which we should pave the way for understanding, common understanding,
compromise, and I hope agreement.
Let me just quote one or two examples. The first one is multilateralism. We all believe that the Biden's administration and European nations in the
necessity of building together a new multilateralist approach, which is, I think, to fight against the coronavirus, for instance, or to have a new
trade relationship, the best way of bridging the gaps and building compromises.
The second issue I wanted to tackle also is a willingness to fight against inequalities. What the last election in the U.S. has shown very clearly is
that there's now a very important gap between the skilled people in the big cities and the whole population.
There are growing inequalities in the capitalist system. And we want to bridge the gap between the poorest people and the richest people. We want
to fight against the inequalities created by the capitalist system. That's also at the core of the -- Biden's program. And this is at the core of the
French program and the European program.
A third point which is for us, of course, of key importance is climate change. We want to fight against climate change. And the fact that Vice
President Biden, just elected, announced that the United States would rejoin the Paris agreement is very good news for all of us, because if we
want to be successful in the fight against climate change, if we want to have a decarbonated economy, we need to fight in the same direction.
We need to gather our forces, to gather -- or a force. That's the single way of being successful in this key challenge for the 21st century of the
fight against climate change.
So, once again, I really think that the election of President Biden must be a new start and a positive one in the relationship between the United
States and all European nations.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just take one or two of those.
You talked about resenting being hit as punitive measures with tariffs and sanctions and the like. But, as you know, the E.U. has literally just,
almost at the same time that Joe Biden was pronounced the winner of the election, hit $4 billion U.S. worth of goods with tariffs.
You know, Germany wanted to wait, wanted to see the result of the election. How do you describe that and why do you think that happened? Some have
said, it's either a farewell gift to President Trump or is it a welcome gift to Biden?
AMANPOUR: What is the U.S. meant to understand about that, that attack, that targeting by the E.U.?
LE MAIRE: It has nothing to see. It has nothing to see with a welcome gift, of course. This is just a very old case, this Airbus Boeing case.
The U.S. administration has decided to hit Europe by a sanction at total amount of $7 billion. So, we did not have any other choice to respond to
these sanctions. And since we were allotted by the WTO to put also sanctions on the U.S., this was, I would say, the normal scenario.
And we have decided to put this $4 billion sanctions. What is now the way forward, because we have to think about the future, not about the past. And
I think that a compromise can be reached in the coming weeks.
I think that there is a possibility to build an agreement between the U.S. and Europe on this Airbus Boeing case. I do not underestimate the
difficulties of bridging the gap between the positions of the U.S. and the positions of the E.U., but I can tell you that we will not spare our
efforts to build a compromise in this Airbus Boeing case, in the interests of both the U.S. and Europe.
AMANPOUR: Well, that sounds like good news. Hopefully, you can broker some negotiation on that.
But can I ask you about COVID? Because I know that your country is in the midst of a very, very severe second wave of coronavirus. You have had about
1.9, nearly two million cases so far, 43,000 deaths. Obviously, Britain has a higher number of deaths, but, nonetheless, it's high.
What do you expect? And how do you expect to be able to deal with this going forward? Obviously, the cold weather set in.
LE MAIRE: I think that there are three challenges for the French government and I would say for the French people, but also for many
The first one is to reduce the level of cases and to be able to stop the COVID crisis, I mean, from a health point of view. And that's why President
Macron has decided a very strong measure, which is the lockdown, but the lockdown proves to be efficient from a sanitary point of view.
And this is, I think, the best way of reducing the number of COVID cases in France as soon as possible. This is the first pillar of the strategy.
The second one is fight against the economic consequences of this lockdown and of these very strong measures. That's why I have decided, as the
minister in charge of economy and finance, to give full support to retail shops that have been locked down, to all the sectors of the industries that
have been really severely hit by the economic crisis.
Supporting the economy is now the duty of the state. This is the best way of avoiding a catastrophe in the French economy and the European economy.
And the third pillar of our strategy, which is, I think, one of the most important ones and one on which we should cooperate between the U.S. and
the E.U., are the recovery plans.
We have already decided a recovery plan a total amount of 100 billion euros for France. It has already been decided. It will enter into force by the
end of this year. We also have the European recovery plan with a total amount of 750 billion euros.
And I think that Europe, the ECB have been really at the level of what we could have expected, as far as a response to the economic crisis is
And now we have this plan to enter into force as soon as possible. And on the third pillar, I really want to underline the necessity of having the
close cooperation with the United States.
AMANPOUR: Well, yes, because terrible statistics out of France this week that 20 -- I believe 10 million people under the poverty threshold in 2020
in your country, mostly because of the pandemic and all the businesses that are closing down and the jobs that have been lost.
Can I just quickly turn to Brexit, because that's another huge thing with economic consequences? You once said that it's a fabulous opportunity for
France, but catastrophic for the U.K.
And, as you see the very firm Brexiteers like Dominic Cummings has left the Boris Johnson administration today, I just wonder whether you want to
discuss whether you feel that there's any kind of movement in real negotiations between Britain and the Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
LE MAIRE: You know that the negotiations is under the responsibility of the commission, I mean, President Ursula von der Leyen and the negotiator
Michel Barnier. And we fully trust both of them to find the best solution.
But I want to be very clear. We do not want to jeopardize the level playing field. I think that this key question of the level playing field must
remain at the core of the negotiations between the U.K. and the European Commission.
The U.K. have decided to leave the E.U. I'm strongly convinced that it was a huge political and historic mistake, but this is the choice of the
British people, and we fully respect the choice of the British people. Everybody can now understand that it's up to the European countries and to
the European Commission to defend our interests, to defend the level playing field, and to defend a single market, which is at the core of the
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you quickly, also, because you have just spoken about your hopes for the new Biden administration and reengagement.
As you know, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is visiting Paris. I believe he will be there this weekend. He has not yet acknowledged the
results of the U.S. election, despite the fact that you all have.
What kind of conversations do you expect to have? What is this visit about?
LE MAIRE: I think that we all wait for a peaceful transition in the U.S.
And we are all waiting for a very good cooperation between the U.S. administration, the new U.S. Biden administration, and the European
Then you know it's up to the American authorities, the American people to decide by their own. We are waiting. And I can tell you that we are really
waiting as soon as possible to enter into that new cooperation between the United States, now leaded by -- led by Joe Biden and the European
AMANPOUR: Minister Bruno Le Maire, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.
Now, while the world has largely moved on and embraced president-elect Biden, the former President Barack Obama had some words to share about his
successor, Donald Trump, and his lies about voter fraud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They appear to be motivated in part because the president doesn't like to lose and never
I'm more troubled by the fact that other Republican officials who clearly know better are going along with this, are humoring him in this fashion. It
is one more step in delegitimizing not just the incoming Biden administration, but democracy generally. And that's a dangerous path.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, Obama is on a book tour at the moment, promoting his long- awaited memoir "A Promised Land."
And my next guest was one of the first to read it and review it for "The New York Times." She's the award-winning Nigerian American author
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her novel "Half of a Yellow Sun" has just been crowned the best of all the books that have won the Women's Prize for
Fiction in the last 25 years.
She has a new work of fiction out. It's called "Zikora." And she is joining me now from Lagos, Nigeria.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, welcome to the program. I hope you can hear me loud and clear out there.
I just wanted to ask you how you feel about this announcement that "Half of a Yellow Sun" has won the winner of all winners prize?
CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE, NOVELIST: It's wonderful news. I felt really happy, and particularly because this is actually the prize that first
brought a large audience to my work. And it's been 13 years.
And so to be crowned winner of winners, it just makes it doubly meaningful.
AMANPOUR: And tell us a little bit, because it is about Nigeria itself, I mean, obviously the Biafran War, but you sort of brought the story of your
country to a massive audience.
And we know that there's been a whole eruption of protests on the streets recently, especially by young people. What is happening there right now?
And how do you assess these protests by the young people to sort of have freedom and an uncorrupted system?
ADICHIE: I think what the anti-SARS protests showed is that a generation of Nigerians are no longer willing to accept the status quo and are very
eager to use their voices.
And I actually found the protests very, not just politically moving, but also just really impressive, how people rose up and came out and made
demands, which were actually quite reasonable demands.
I think the Nigerian government missed an opportunity to handle it well. I think there was probably some kind of panic in the government, because I
think that they were surprised at how widespread and how organic the protests were.
And what's happening now is that you have some people who were part of the protests being harassed. There are people whose bank accounts have been
frozen. There are people who were stopped at the airports, their passports taken, because they were involved in the protests.
And so I think we still have a government that seems unable to fully understand that, in a democratic system, dissent is not treason.
AMANPOUR: Well, indeed.
And you wrote in an op-ed -- this is one of the things you wrote: "There is the sense that Nigeria could very well burn to the ground, while the
president remains malevolently aloof. The president himself has often telegraphed a contemptuous self-righteousness, as though engaging fully
with Nigerians is beneath him."
Now, we know that he's an elderly man. We know that he's been sick over the years. How dangerous is the disconnect, as you put it?
ADICHIE: I think it is quite dangerous.
And I'm not entirely sure how much of it is an inability to understand or an unwillingness to understand, because I do think that there's a wide
divide between this generation of Nigerians and the generation of people in power.
I also think that there is still very much a sense of our military history, that we still have a government that thinks that engaging with people is
somehow doing them a favor. And so I find that quite, quite dangerous for our democracy, because, if you're able to really understand the yearnings
of your populace, then it's a failure of leadership.
AMANPOUR: Well, it's a good segue into the United States, because leadership has been on the ballot, obviously, in this election and we have
seen so much upheaval on the streets, certainly in this year, and, actually, by civilians for many, many years, whether it's about climate,
women's right, the right to protect science and facts, a lot of civilian activity in the U.S.
So, you have just read and reviewed President Obama's much-anticipated memoir, "A Promised Land."
And I was just struck by one of the lines that you picked on. We're going to talk a little bit about it.
But, first and foremost, I was struck by you commenting on Obama writing about having a -- -- quote -- "a deep self-conscious" being deep -- "having
a deep self-conscious and sensitivity to rejection or looking stupid."
Explain that to me. What do you think he was saying in that sentence? And what were you saying about it?
ADICHIE: I think we would have to ask him. I think we would have to ask him what he meant. I was just struck by it.
I think there's -- in the book, which is really well-written, really engaging, and just really well done, as a political memoir, and I think
also as a cultural artifact, but I think that book is of interest because of the person who wrote it and because of the particular space that he
occupied in American political space and political culture.
But that bit really struck me, because it's rare, I think, to find a politician who's willing to engage in that kind of sort of self-
questioning, right, and to say, well, maybe I just don't like looking stupid.
I think most politicians don't like to look stupid, but I think it takes one of particular courage to admit that they don't like looking stupid.
AMANPOUR: You know, I find it just so interesting. I think I leapt on it, because what we're being told is that President Trump also doesn't like the
idea of rejection and losing. And the question is how two different people deal with it. Did that strike you?
ADICHIE: Not really, because I try not to try to spend too much time thinking about the present American president.
But I do think, obviously, that there's a difference, and the difference is maturity. President Obama is an adult who behaves like an adult, and I
think has a level of self-awareness, which really, I think, is essential for leadership.
AMANPOUR: So, you have written, obviously, a lot about race and you have spoken a lot about it.
And you do take on Obama on the issue of race in this book. I think you -- I don't know. I think you hope that you wish he had gone a bit farther
forward on it, but this is what you write in your review about Obama.
"He writes about race as though overly aware that it will be read by a person keen to take offense. Of course, Obama has a fine-toothed
understanding of American racism, but perhaps because of his unique parentage in history, he's cast himself as the conciliatory middle child,
preferring to leave unsaid truths that might inflame and insulating those said in various levels of cant."
What more would you have liked to have seen?
ADICHIE: I have to say, I do think it's a bit unfair to -- I think Obama, too much was expected of him on the subject of race.
And, in a way, it's unfair, but, also, it's understandable because he did occupy the highest position of power and was a black man. And in a country
that for so long refused black people basic rights because they were black means that he just has this special place, and that one expects him and
wants more from him on that subject.
I think maybe what I wanted was more of sort of an interiority. And it seems to me that he's still very much aware of how he's seen as the voice
on race. And so he wants to be very -- sort of very tempered about it.
And there was a part of me that felt that he can afford to be just -- he can afford to let loose a little bit more. But, again, I say this knowing
that I want to be circumspect about it, because, really, he gets to say whatever he wants to say. I mean, people should be allowed to tell their
stories how they want to tell them.
But I did very much want to have the sense of more of -- you know, what were the personal costs to him? I mean, he endured what I thought eight
years of savage racism. And, in the book, there's kind of almost a glossing over of it and maybe it's also, in a sense, but I felt so much anger on his
behalf and kind of wants him to participate in that, and he's just not having it.
AMANPOUR: You know, it's interesting, because it's not just you making this review, but you also -- he figures -- Barack Obama figures in your
novel of 2013 "Americana," one of your main characters, she thought maybe she preferred Hillary and then she had read Obama' first memoir, "Dreams
from My Father," and decided that, you know, it was to be Obama for her. So, he's really -- he's been central to a lot of your fiction, as well, and
ADICHIE: I mean, I don't know it's about him in particular. I think with "Americana," it was about trying to capture this really particular moment
in American political history, that there was something about his election that spoke to so many people about what was possible. And I wanted in
"Americana" to try to capture that.
So, I mean, obviously, it was him. I don't think it's about him in particular, so I'm not sure that I would say that he's been, you know,
central to my fiction, but I think that what he represented in America certainly was the driving force behind my novel.
AMANPOUR: And you also point out, and I think it's important, because you've done a lot of work on feminism, you've made very important speeches
on it. You point out that he is such a feminist and the relationship with Hillary, even though he beat her in the primaries, was a standout example
ADICHIE: Yes. I think his respect of Hillary Clinton shines through. It seems very genuine and, you know, from not just what he says, but what he
stands for, one knows that he's a person who believes in the full humanity of women. And that in itself, I think, is very telling. Because we do live
in a world where many, many people still don't see women as full human beings.
AMANPOUR: Well, Chimamanda, well, apparently, certainly, most of the American voters has seen a woman as a full human being and she is now Vice
President-Elect Kamala Harris. And I just want to play a little soundbite of hers and then get you to react.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAMALA HARRIS U.S. VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: She believes so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible. And so, I am thinking about
her and about the generations of women, black women, Asian, white, Latina, native American women, who throughout our nation's history have paved the
way for this moment tonight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: She was talking about her mother's inspiration and what happened to her. As a black woman yourself who goes back and forth between America
and Nigeria, just your reaction when you heard, you know, that she was going to be the first female vice president.
ADICHIE: I was elated. I think that she's really thoughtful, intelligent, proved herself as senator. But I do want to say something about the idea of
her being vice president somehow meaning that all is well, because all is still not well. And when I talk about women not being seen as full human
beings, it's really about, you know, more structural things. I think in the U.S., it's wonderful that she's going to be vice president, and of course,
I think that there are many of us who hope that it doesn't end there. But we also need to talk about, you know, things like reproductive rights, the
idea that what a woman can do with her body is something that people think is open for legislation is -- it really, I think, is dehumanizing. And how
women are represented in real positions of power in the U.S. is still really abysmal.
So, while we celebrate this, I think -- and I do think that symbolic things are important. So, there's something symbolic about her being vice
president, but I do think that there's still, sort of more important conversations to be had about sexism in the U.S. and really, everywhere in
AMANPOUR: Well, I want to ask you to read a passage, actually, because it fits a little bit with what you're saying. Your new work, "Zikora," your
first official fiction since "Americana" in 2013, and it's about a Nigerian woman, a professional, and it's about when she gives birth. I want you to
read that passage and we can talk about why afterwards.
ADICHIE: Sure. My heart was beating fast, I'd read somewhere that maternal mortality was higher in America than anywhere else in the western world. Or
was it just higher for black women? The subject had never really interested me. I'd felt at most a faraway concern, as though it was something that
happened to other people. I should have paid more attention. Now, I would die in this hospital room with its rolling table and its picture of faded
flowers on the wall and become a tiny, nameless dot in the data and somebody somewhere would read a new report on maternal mortality and mildly
wonder if it was black women who died more often.
AMANPOUR: Well, Chimamanda, I'm going to then back that up by the CDC reports who said that -- you know, and this was in 2018, the latest
figures, 658 women died while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy. 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. And as you say,
the rate was three times as higher for black women. And about 60 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable without much cost or trouble.
That's for the U.S., but it's very similar in other countries with black minorities.
What is the aim of your book, apart from being a fantastic story? Are you trying to really put attention on this terrible issue?
ADICHIE: I don't know. I think I was just trying to tell a story that's engaging, but because I always start at the level of story, but I don't
think that art exists outside of social and political realities. And so, I wanted to write about a woman who was abandoned by the man she loves, who
has a baby, and also who comes to ask questions about more structural things.
So, in the U.S., women -- black women, the maternal mortality rate is quite high in the U.S. For black women, it's really sort of unforgivably high.
And I think we can attribute that to racism, because it cuts across class. So, it's really not about class. So, black women who are middle class and
upper class, the data shows that they still die at a higher rate than white women at the same class. And for me, that's very troubling. But America
also has a long history of racism in medicine. It's not just that we know that black Americans were used for medical experiments without their
permission, but also that studies have consistently shown that doctors are more likely to ignore the pain and, you know, sort of real complaints of
black people because of these cultural assumptions that they are, you know, drama queens.
AMANPOUR: And of course, we've seen that terrible disparity in the COVID pandemic and the number of deaths and infections. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,
thank you so much for joining us from Lagos.
And now, conspiracy and misinformation about COVID and the U.S. election result are spreading like wildfire online. It's something our next guest
has been studying for years. Renee DiResta is a disinformation expert and technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory. And here
she is speaking to our Hari Sreenivasan about the dangers of viral false narratives and what she thinks can be done to break this cycle.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Renee DiResta, thanks for joining us. We seem to be in a place where there
is an active information campaign to delegitimize the results of the election.
RENEE DIRESTA, RESEARCH MANAGER, STANFORD INTERNET OBSERVATORY: I would say that's true. I think, beginning on election night, as results began to
come in, what we started to see was communities that felt like that the results weren't coming in the way they would like. And they began to look
back to conspiratorial claims that had been laid almost two months prior. Allegations of fraud, the allegations of ballot destruction, miscounting, a
whole range of theories began to pop up, particularly in echo chambers like the app Parlor, some Facebook groups, Twitter communities and it began to
spread across the internet as the results began to not be a wild victory for President Trump.
SREENIVASAN: What do we do when some of that misinformation, well, and disinformation, ends up being amplified by sources that we normally trust,
say, the president or his family or members of his campaign?
DIRESTA: I think that's one of the key challenges right now, is that the mis and disinformation is not coming from just the few response of the
internet, it is coming from what my team at Election Integrity Partnership calls blue check misinformation in response. So, the kind of verified
accounts that are on social media.
Normally, those accounts, you know, particularly politicians like the president of the United States are people that we trust. And one of the
real challenges is we have an environment entirely independent of the internet where half the population trusts only what they see within their
media. You know, their half trusts what they see in their media. And so, that kind of bifurcation of trust means that if your person isn't telling
you what you want -- you know, if your person is telling you something, it doesn't matter if the other person's media or the other person's leaders
are telling them something completely different. So, you have a very divided country that doesn't have kind of a common sense of facts at this
SREENIVASAN: So, how do we break out of that cycle? Because it seems like the technology companies are not necessarily interested in allowing you to
leave their ecosystem and go somewhere else for news, because they want to keep you as long as possible. And if you've created this filter bubble for
yourself, you're going to stay there.
DIRESTA: That's true. And it's even -- we're seeing it even more in the introduction of smaller apps into the ecosystem. So, you know, entities
like Parlor, which didn't exist four years ago, have now become very much an echo chamber for conservatives. And so, as people are moving into these
even more kind of niche, insular platforms, they see even less of what people outside of their bubbles are telling them.
I think one of the key challenges, though, is that, you know, even within a bespoke reality or an environment where you have kind of the media or
leadership ecosystem that's telling you one thing, usually, in a case like this, in a case like a presidential election, there would be at least some
people who are beginning to kind of, you know, accept the facts for what they are and begin to communicate that back out. What's interesting about
Parlor is it's not the entirety of conservative media, it's really sort of a niche space within it.
And so, Fox News, for example, did call states like Arizona quite early for Joe Biden. And so, there's been this interesting rift where even within
kind of the conservative media sphere, there are some entities that are reporting facts and then there are others like Newsmax or OANN that are
actually, you know, kind of distinguishing themselves from Fox, using this as an opportunity to grow their audience by actively positioning themselves
as, no, no, we're a real conservative media and we are telling you the truth.
And it's very cynical. It's actually very opportunist. It's really -- it's a growth grift, is what it actually is.
SREENIVASAN: Well, and you see leading conservative voices, whether that's Mark Levin or even Fox business channel's, Maria Bartiromo, encouraging
people to join Parlor because they feel like they're going to be censored on the major platforms like Twitter or Facebook.
DIRESTA: Well, they say that. But if you recall, back in June of 2020, June/July of 2020, when Twitter began to fact check and to label President
Trump's tweets, there was also an attempt at a kind of mass exodus to Parlor, made with sort of the same claims, that the president was being
fact checked, that conservative censorship was imminent. That conservative people were shadow banned based on viewpoint determinations that platforms
Now, none of that was true, but you still saw prominent peoples like Senator Rand Paul and Senator Ted Cruz kind of, you know, do a very public
post to Twitter, saying that they were going to Parlor, because they were being censored on Twitter. Now, the logic falls down, but they still did
it. And interestingly, despite the fact that they did make this declaration that they were going to be headed to Parlor, they didn't actually leave
Twitter. They still use it constantly. And they use it far more frequently than they use Parlor, and that's because that's where people are and
they're not actually being censored.
But this narrative, aggrievement narrative, it plays well and, you know, there are certain things that, you know, Twitter and Facebook didn't
necessarily -- they don't really explain how the feed works. People believe if you don't see every post, you know, if your friends don't see every post
that you've made, a lot of people believe that they're being censored in some way as opposed to the fact that the ranked feed simply didn't push
that tweet out to their friends.
SREENIVASAN: One of the metanarratives that is starting to emerge is something called the Color Revolution. Tell us a little bit. What is that?
DIRESTA: So, in late August, there was a claim made by a conservative influencer that a vast Color Revolution was afoot. A Color Revolution
historically referred to mass popular uprising against an authoritarian government or semi-authoritarian government. And that referred to, you
know, in Ukraine, the Orange Revolution. There were people, students who marched in the streets carrying signs, wearing orange flags.
Those revolutions happened and the governments that were impacted, negatively impacted by them and also kind of power players in the region
began to use the term Color Revolution to disparagingly to refer to CIA- instituted regime change, to claim that the revolutions, rather than being actual popular uprisings were really created by the American CIA. So, it's
just a narrative that Russia and China both began to use the term Color Revolution in the context of, for example, the Hong Kong protests and other
mass popular uprisings that weakened them, and so they blamed the United States kind of deep state for them.
So, the narrative that emerged two months ago that that was happening in the United States. That the American deep state, our own CIA was acting
against our own president and this was a kind of vast secret coup. And since Color Revolutions are marked by ballot irregularities and in the
streets protests, the Black Lives Matter protests were sort of recast, reframed as a vast Soros-funded Color Revolution, which is untrue. And the
-- any voter irregularities that would come about from mail-in ballots, you may have recalled, you know, people have been voting for a couple of
months. Some of the early vote casting or examples of a postal worker finding a ballot in a -- you know, these images of ballots in garbage cans
and things like that were kind of recast of evidence of this vast coup that was underway.
SREENIVASAN: It almost seems like this is sort of the grand unified theory. That everything else can fit right in.
DIRESTA: So, that was what we were seeing, exactly. So, it lays the groundwork to be a unified theory in which when a person sees a story of a
ballot irregularity in the streets action, they could read into that more than there was. So, instead of it being an isolated example of a voting
machine not working, all of a sudden that became part of the conspiracy. If there was an in the streets action because of a, you know, police-involved
incident, then there would be, again, a protest, and that would be read as part of the destabilization of America, which was secretly being
coordinated by these vast forces.
What wound up happening, interestingly, was that the Color Revolution narrative wasn't really the one that stuck. Certain people did, on election
night, begin to point to it, see, this is coming true. They've told us about it for two months and now, here it is happening. But the kind of
delegitimization that was where they were laying the ground work for that for two months actually really took the form of a hashtag called stop the
steal, which is very much simpler than explaining -- yes, the complexity of explaining a Color Revolution.
But the -- that narrative of stop the steal was very, very basic. It was just, the election is being stolen. So, more sophisticated conspiratorial
insiders and influencers who had followed this narrative of the Color Revolution, which did make it to Tucker Carlson, did kind of point back to
that. But more generally, it was actually the narrative about sharpie markers, Sharpiegate, as it came to be called, as the thing that really
stuck and Sharpiegate has been woven into this overarching hashtag, stop the steal, which has led to kind of the spawning of Facebook groups and
hashtags on Parlor and hashtags on Twitter and videos on YouTube.
And so, under the stop the steal kind of framing, you can find activism insinuating that the election has been stolen across any platform surface
that you go look at.
SREENIVASAN: And Sharpiegate is where the theory goes that if you used a sharpie, your ballot was disqualified.
DIRESTA: That's right, yes. And we have seen local news, particularly in Arizona, really do remarkable work trying to put out the facts with state
election officials, with national election officials, in some cases, DHS's CISA, so reiterating that the election was actually quite smoothly
executed. This was not an election where things went badly.
And so, the local news, you know, generally occupies a position of trust. And so, they're trying to put out info graphics detailing, you know, your
vote was not invalidated if you used a sharpie. A sharpie is perfectly fine. And trying to walk people through the logic and the facts of that
particular voting machine and how it works.
The corrections are not always received and believed. Oftentimes, you see people kind of fighting under the posts on a local page saying, no, you're
lying, no, you're bought. And so, even when local news tries to correct the record on something like Sharpiegate to say, no, this is just not a real
thing, people don't necessarily internalize that.
SREENIVASAN: So, how do we -- what do we do about this? I mean, you've got YouTube videos that, you know, are algorithmically surfaced. You've got
actual broadcast, places like Newsmax or OANN that are amplifying these signals. How -- is there anything that can be done about it?
DIRESTA: Well, I don't think it's -- we can't treat it as an information environment problem. Like, there are certain things that have been very,
very wrong for the last five year with regard to ways in which platform recommendations have kind of pushed people into these communities. But, I
think, ultimately, the challenge that we face as a country particularly moving forward is bigger than the information environment that's heavily
restore trust so that the echo chambers don't have quite so strong a hold. And that is a function of what we see and do in the real world and -- or
the internet is the real world, too. The offline real world.
SREENIVASAN: Yes, yes.
DIRESTA: Where we're actually communicating with people who aren't necessarily just like us. We're hearing alternative points of view and
redeveloping trust in media and authority.
SREENIVASAN: Even if the president doesn't officially concede or he leaves and he never officially says "I lost," there's still millions of his
supporters who will not believe in the presidency of Joe Biden. What does that do to the country?
DIRESTA: That's true and that's the real risk of misinformation that's going now. Per your point, you know, we do have legal frameworks in place
to ensure that there is a transfer of power. We expect those to work. But at the same time, the delegitimization of the next presidency does mean
that there are going to be residual people, probably quite many of them, who sincerely believe that the election is illegitimate.
So, this is where other people who occupy positions of trust in that community have to come out and have to throw their support behind President
Biden. And that, I think is -- you know, that is going to extend to media in the trusted environments, as well. I think there will kind of continue
to be these pockets, these, you know, kind of grifter media sites like Newsmax and others that are using this opportunity to try to grow their
base by, you know, kind of picking off some audience from Fox News.
But ultimately, what we're going to have to see, if we're going to kind of come forward and, you know, come together and move forward as a country,
you know, are these other influencers who occupy positions of trust, beginning to do the work to explain to people that, in fact, President
Trump was not re-elected and, you know, President-Elect Biden is where we're headed.
SREENIVASAN: We're coming into an era now where there's going to be a lot of discussions about vaccines. And which vaccine is safe, and whether you
should get the vaccine or not. And well before this election, before several elections, there's been a fairly active anti-vaccine movement
online. Are you concerned about kind of the conspiracy theories, the information ecosystem around vaccines, especially when the COVID-19
vaccines come out?
DIRESTA: Yes, absolutely. So, the anti-vaccine movement has been very active on social media for years, upwards of about six years now.
Remarkably, politically active as well. Again, this is an example of one of this kind of legacy problems that the early days of mask recommendation, of
sensational and conspiratorial content helped grew those communities into the multi hundred-thousand person or groups that exist online today.
Those groups have always been politically active. You know, vaccines are a political issue, even things like just state immunization requirements. So,
they know how to activate quite quickly. And they are quite well networked with things like the reopen community, the various groups that have been
quite active in pushing for states to reopen sooner, and there is a very low degree of trust in government. So, we have seen harassment of public
health officials. We've seen, you know, of course, attacks, massive attacks on anybody who's working on vaccinations.
There is a lot of concern about what is going to happen both to the people who become, you know, advocates for the vaccine and also the extent to
which misinformation about it will prevent people from taking it. Vaccines really work when they create -- when there's a sufficiently large number of
people who take them so that the disease can't hop to those who have not taken them. And that is why we try to ensure that vaccination coverage for
childhood vaccines, you know, is above 85 percent in most cases.
I think we're at a point now where, you know, 40 or something percent of the population is saying that they're not going to get the COVID vaccine.
And so, that's going to be a significant challenge going forward.
SREENIVASAN: Renee DiResta, thanks so much for joining us.
DIRESTA: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, some good news. Children in Italy and around the world will be happy to know that lockdown doesn't apply to Santa
Claus. With Christmas approaching, 5-year-old Tommaso wrote to his prime minister, that's the Italian prime minister, pleading with him not to put
Babbo Natale into deep freeze. And in a Facebook post, the prime minister responded, reassuring the boy and many others that thanks to a special
permit, social distancing, and a mask, Father Christmas will go around the world and safely deliver gifts for everyone as usual.
And that is it for now. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.