How diplomacy saves American lives

Diplomacy is not always pretty and much of the work of diplomats is misrepresented and politicized but it is absolutely essential to keep the world at peace.

Ronan Farrow: There’s a lot of theater to old school diplomacy. Someone like Richard Holbrook; during the Bosnia negotiations at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio he had luggage delivered (prominently) outside of the doors of the American diplomats present so that the other side would think, “Oh no! The clock is ticking, the Americans are going to pull out.” And it was a complete feint, but it worked and it got people back to the table at a tough time in the talks. And diplomacy isn’t a dovish endeavor always, and in that case this was a state department official who was fully leveraging the threat of NATO strikes and doing a lot of saber rattling, a lot of larger than life bellowing and threatening and cajoling. Diplomacy doesn’t always look pretty or neat, but it is absolutely an antidote to and an alternative to military intervention. There are some fundamental misunderstandings about what diplomats do around the world and I think that’s been exploited by politicians of both parties to characterize these brave men and women as dusty bureaucrats who don’t get a lot done. In fact these are individuals who get very little pay to uproot their families and move them around the world and work in dangerous places specifically to ensure our security as a nation. And they do everything from screening the dangerous individuals that seek to enter the United States of America to brokering the high-level political settlements that hopefully can spare our service men and women from being thrown into the line of fire as a first resort every time we encounter a conflict. One of the consequences of sidelining diplomacy is you see a lot more of the work that was once the domain of diplomats coming out of the Pentagon and the CIA. You end up with the military industrial complex taking over the work of development. I served as a state department official in Afghanistan, for instance, and in that conflict, which was a particularly militarized setting—if you wanted to do just about anything, if you wanted to start a conversation with local leaders on the ground, if you wanted to build a well, you had to do it through the Army Corps of Engineers or through the various teams around the country—they were called PRTs, these provincial reconstruction teams where the military was stationed on the ground and had access to those communities. We have created a universe in which if you try to get something done through the state department or USAID you end up with a cumbersome, lengthy process where they put out a request for applications, you wind up with a contract with a huge contractor based out of Washington DC who then subcontracts three times, and then finally brings in people from outside of Afghanistan to build a well in a spot where the ground water is salty, and no one is going to use the well. We saw these kinds of boondoggles play out over and over again, and what I take away from that is that we have eviscerated the expertise and capacity on the diplomacy and development side, and we need to fix it. Not that we need to throw this out, not that the answer is running everything through the military—which totally, appropriately has different goals, is designed to effect change on the battlefield in a short-term tactical sense. We need a separate core of experts who know the regions and know the pressure points and are specifically tasked with looking at the long-term implications years down the line. I think one of the reasons that there is so much denigration of the diplomat in our political conversation is that the results of diplomacy do require patience and can be less immediate than things going “boom.” And I say that without any aspersion casts on things going boom and the brave men and women who dodge those explosions and are in the line of fire. But we need both, and both are important kinds of public servants. And Americans, I hope when they read this book and when they look at the history of diplomatic endeavor of recent American events they see that the diplomat deserves the patience that they need to be afforded—that if you give it the time and understand that the results might look imperfect and buckle down and say, “Okay, we’re going to keep talks going no matter how tough they get,” you very often end up with results and results that can save lives.

  • Diplomacy doesn't always look pretty or neat, but it is absolutely an antidote to and an alternative to military intervention.
  • There are some fundamental misunderstandings about what diplomats do around the world that have been exploited by politicians of both parties.
  • One of the consequences of sidelining diplomacy is you see a lot more of the work that was once the domain of diplomats coming out of the Pentagon and the CIA, with negotiations dictated by the industrial military complex.

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Pixabay by pexels
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Public health crisis: Facebook ads misinform about HIV prevention drug

Facebook's misinformation isn't just a threat to democracy. It's endangering lives.

Photo Credit: Paul Butler / Flickr
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada.
  • Over the years, Facebook's hands-off ad policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its political ads.
  • Unregulated "surveillance capitalism" commodifies people's personal information and makes them vulnerable to sometimes misleading ads.

LGBT groups are saying that Facebook is endangering lives by advertising misleading medical information pertaining to HIV patients.

The tech giant's laissez-faire ad policy has already been accused of threatening democracy by providing a platform for false political ads, and now policy could be fostering a major public-health concern.

LGBT groups take on Facebook’s ad policy

According to LGBT advocates, for the past six months Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada. The ads, which The Washington Post reports appear to have been purchased by personal-injury lawyers, claim that these medications threaten patients with serious side effects. According to LGBT organizations led by GLAAD, the ads have left some patients who are potentially at risk of contracting HIV scared to take preventative drugs, even though health officials and federal regulators say the drugs are safe.

LGBT groups like GLAAD, which regularly advises Facebook on LGBT issues, reached out to the company to have the ads taken down, saying they are false. Yet, the tech titan has refused to remove the content claiming that the ads fall within the parameters of its policy. Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns told The Post that the ads had not been rated false by independent fact-checkers, which include the Associated Press. But others are saying that Facebook's controversial approach to ads is creating a public-health crisis.

In an open letter to Facebook sent on Monday, GLAAD joined over 50 well-known LGBTQ groups including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Academy of HIV Medicine and the National Coalition for LGBT Health to publicly condemn the company for putting "real people's lives in imminent danger" by "convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections."

What Facebook’s policy risks 

Of course, this is not the first time Facebook's policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its ads. Social media has been both a catalyst and conduit for the rapid-fire spread of misinformation to the world wide web. As lawmakers struggle to enforce order to cyberspace and its creations, Facebook has become a symbol of the threat the internet poses to our institutions and to public safety. For example, the company has refused to take down 2020 election ads, largely funded by the Trump campaign, that spew false information. For this reason, Facebook and other social media platforms present a serious risk to a fundamental necessity of American democracy, public access to truth.

But this latest scandal underlines how the misconstrued information that plagues the web can infect other, more intimate aspects of American lives. Facebook's handling of paid-for claims about the potential health risks of taking Truvada and other HIV medications threatens lives.

"Almost immediately we started hearing reports from front-line PrEP prescribers, clinics and public health officials around the country, saying we're beginning to hear from potential clients that they're scared of trying Truvada because they're seeing all these ads on their Facebook and Instagram feeds," said Peter Staley, a long-time AIDS activist who works with the PrEP4All Collaboration, to The Post.

Unregulated Surveillance Capitalism

To be fair, the distinction between true and false information can be muddy territory. Personal injury lawyers who represent HIV patients claim that the numbers show that the potential risks of medications such as Turvada and others that contain the ingredient antiretroviral tenofovir may exist. This is particularly of note when the medication is used as a treatment for those that already have HIV rather than prevention for those that do not. But the life-saving potential of the HIV medications are unequivocally real. The problem, as some LGBT advocates are claiming, is that the ads lacked vital nuance.

It also should be pointed out that Facebook has taken action against anti-vaccine content and other ads that pose threats to users. Still, the company's dubious policies clearly pose a big problem, and it has shown no signs of adjusting. But perhaps the underlying issue is the failure to regulate what social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism" by which people's experiences, personal information, and characteristics become commodities. In this case, paid-for personal-injury legal ads that target users with certain, undisclosed characteristics. It's been said that you should be wary of what you get for free, because it means you've become the product. Facebook, after all, is a business with an end goal to maximize profits.

But why does a company have this kind of power over our lives? Americans and their legislators are ensnared in an existential predicament. Figure out how to regulate Facebook and be accused with endangering free speech, or leave the cyber business alone and risk the public's health going up for sale along with its government.