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Yaël Eisenstat | Former CIA Officer | Former Special Advisor to the White House | Visiting Fellow, Cornell Tech
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Over the last two decades, Yaël Eisenstat has been a CIA Officer, a U.S. Diplomat, and a special advisor to Vice President Biden. Noticing that more and more Americans were having a hard time finding common ground, she switched her focus from counter-extremism overseas to the dangers back at home—starting with Silicon Valley. Eisenstat’s national security expertise landed her at Facebook, working inside the company playing a major role in one of the biggest threats to our democracy.  Today, Eisenstat helps us navigate the choppy intersection of ethics, technology, society, and politics to create a better future.

“We must strive to love our country more than we hate our neighbor.”

— Yaël Eisenstat

The breakdown of civil discourse is the biggest threat to our democracy, says Yaël Eisenstat. After leaving the White House for the world of corporate social responsibility, the former CIA analyst became increasingly concerned with how the Internet was contributing to political polarization, hate, and division. “It was easier for me to sit down and have open discussions with suspected terrorists, than it was for me to engage in any sort of political or hot-button discussion with Americans on the opposite side of the fence from me,” Eisenstat explains. Still believing that the Internet could be harnessed for good—connecting, rather than dividing us— she took a job as the Global Head of Elections Integrity Operations at Facebook. There, she dug into misinformation in political advertising, and came to the conclusion that Facebook needed to change its business model. “As long as Facebook prioritises profit over healthy discourse, it can’t avoid damaging democracies,” she says. While the company continues to struggle with how to handle political content in the midst of another presidential election, Eisenstat has gone on to be a public advocate for transparency in tech.

 

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 an Adjunct Professor at NYU's Center for Global Affairs, Eisenstat is now a Visiting Fellow at Cornell Tech's Digital Life Initiative, where she explores technology's effects on civil discourse and democracy.

 

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. 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.

 

Speech Topics

Politics & Society
With Great Power Comes...No Responsibility? The Insidious Effects of Technology on Our Democracy
The breakdown of civil discourse is more than just the loss of polite society—it’s a genuine threat to our national security. As a former intelligence officer and U.S. diplomat, Yaël Eisenstat felt alarmed by the growing social and political rifts happening throughout America. Even more concerning? The way the Internet, and social media, was contributing to this divide. Eisenstat grappled with the question of who was responsible for the real-world consequences of tech, particularly as it impacted our democracy. With the danger at home steadily rising, she believed her experience in the public sector could help fill a gap in Silicon Valley’s talent pool—and chip away at the ways tech enabled polarization and election hacking. She took a job as the Global Head of Elections Integrity Operations at Facebook, working inside a company she felt played a major role in threatening democracy.
 
In a talk that is both eye-opening and essential, Eisenstat shares the lessons she learned from her time in the national security world and at Facebook, her perspective on government’s role in regulating tech, and finally, ideas on how all of us can contribute to the united America we want to build.