by Hannah Eastman

Nina Jancowicz’s presentation titled “Information, Disinformation and the 2024 Election” engaged The College of Wooster community on the night of Tuesday, Jan. 30, beginning the 42nd Great Decisions lecture series. The four events will take place between late January and early March and are designed to encourage Wooster community members on campus and in the wider community to think critically about its theme: “U.S. Foreign Policy in an Election Year.” Great Decisions of Wayne County is led by director Matt Mariola, an assistant professor and program chair of environmental studies at the College, assisted by three College of Wooster students who make up the Selection Committee — Holly Shaum ’24, Elijah Shoaf ’24 and Abby Thomson ’24.

Nina Jancowicz, a scholar on misinformation and disinformation, challenged attendees to examine the overcrowded and loud information environment ahead of the 2024 election. Her lecture reflected on changes in the political landscape and technological advancements in the past eight years and sought to answer four questions: Where are we now? How did we get here? Where are we going? What are we going to do about it? 

While addressing these questions, Jancowicz reflected on her own career as a scholar and public servant. Jancowicz’s experiences as a Fulbright fellow in Kyiv, Ukraine and disinformation fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center led her to author her first book in 2020 called “How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News and the Future of Conflict.” Jancowicz’s work has stressed how gendered and sexualized frames are utilized in online targeted harassment. Questions of safety and protection were the basis of her second book “How to be a Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment, and How to Fight Back,” published in 2022. 

A week after her second book was published, Jancowicz was selected as the Executive Director of the Disinformation Governance Board of the United States Department of Homeland Security. The board, designed to combat the growing threat posed by both disinformation and misinformation, was perceived by some to over-regulate online information. Jancowicz was met with public backlash — what she described as a gendered and sexualized campaign of internet trolls that she still deals with. Her personal and scholarly experiences with gendered discrimination in online harassment campaigns made for a captivating lecture for attendees. Jancowicz’s reflection on harassment in her own life was a powerful tool to encourage the audience to be more conscious and digitally literate.

Mariola was impressed with the turnout and estimated that 70 percent of attendees were not students, but from the city of Wooster. Shoaf commented that even Nina Jancowicz was surprised “when the mean age of the room was 45.” 

After Jancowicz’s successful kickoff to the lecture series, the slate for the coming weeks boasts other exciting names. Last Tuesday Feb. 6, Kirk Lippold, retired Navy commander, gave a lecture titled “Global Security Threats and U.S. Foreign Policy.” Feb. 13 will bring speakers  Ibra Sene, associate professor of history and global & international studies at the College, and Alex de Waal, the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, to speak on U.S. foreign policy in East and West Africa. The final installment in the series will take place on March 6 with a showing of the documentary “Sound the Alarm” and a discussion with its director: Wooster alum John Trainor ’16.