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Interview With Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; Interview With Relative Of Five Israeli Hostages Abbey Onn; Interview With Dr. Khamis Elessi; Interview With Center For Countering Digital Hate CEO Imran Ahmed; Interview With U.S. National Security Council Coordinator For Strategic Communications John Kirby. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 10, 2023 - 13:00 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.
As Hamas launches more rockets into Israel and Israel pounds Gaza with airstrikes, U.S. President Joe Biden will make public remarks on the
crisis, and we will bring you that as it happens.
And I will get the latest U.S. military maneuvers from the national security spokesman, John Kirby. Then, I speak to an American Israeli who
says five family members have been kidnapped by Hamas, most of them children or elderly.
Also, ahead, the former Israeli prime minister and army general, Ehud Barak, on what a war will look like.
And later in the program, the latest from inside Gaza with a doctor working in the city under siege.
Plus, social media is letting the world see these atrocities in real-time. Hari Sreenivasan discusses the impact with Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the
Center for Countering Digital Hate.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Shock, trauma, and the agony of uncertainty as Israel unleashes revenge on Hamas, the fate of more than 100 hostages snatched on Saturday is still as
unclear as ever. In Tel Aviv today, American families of missing loved ones spoke to reporters about their living nightmare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL GOLDBERG, MOTHER OF AMERICAN MAN MISSING AFTER HAMAS ATTACK: There were two texts in a row from Hersh at 8:11. The first one said, I love you.
And immediately at 8:11 also, it said, I'm sorry. And so, I knew immediately wherever he was it was a terrible situation. I took it to mean
I love you and I'm sorry because whatever is going to happen is going to cause you tremendous pain and worry.
JONATHAN DEKEL-CHEN, AMERICAN FATHER OF MAN- MISSING AFTER HAMAS ATTACK: We were waiting for Sagi to come home. We do not know what faith he met.
NAHAR NETA, SON OF AMERICAN WOMAN MISSING AFTER HAMAS ATTACK: It is our hope, which is a little bit ridiculous at this stage to say that the
optimistic scenario here is that she is held hostage in Gaza and not dead on the street of the kibbutz.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, the families have called on the U.S. government to help. As soon as the press are wrapped, air raid sirens blared, a clear reminder
that war is raging and nobody knows where this is headed. Hamas is still firing hundreds of rockets into Israel, even after the IDF says that it's
recovered the bodies of about 15 of those fighters, those terrorists who've made the incursion on Saturday.
Israel says more than 900 of its people have been killed, and that number is bound to rise. The Palestinian health ministry says Israeli airstrikes
have killed more than 800 people in Gaza. We are awaiting President Biden.
But first, I want to bring in the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, an army general, former head of the armed services. And welcome back to our
And it's really good that we have you because clearly, we want to understand from your unique perspective what the next days are going to
look like. What is the objective for a military incursion or this military response to Hamas in Gaza?
EHUD BARAK, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: It was the most severe blow that Israel got all along its existence, a major failure of intelligence, of
operation, up to the top political leadership. And we now have, first of all, to make sure that Hamas will suffer the proper blow, that is to get in
order that such -- repeating such an event will be impossible. And it cannot be done without certain risk of widening the circle to the north as
well, to Hezbollah in the north or to the -- some dormant cells within Judea and Somalia. All could happen. You cannot predict it. It's -- the
details of any plan were decided by details that our --
BARAK: -- not all discussion over the TV. Israel is determined to make sure that Hamas will be held accountable for this barbarian murderous attack.
AMANPOUR: Ehud Barak, what about the hostages? How does that -- can you do that simultaneously? Does one have to have them first? What is that
BARAK: It's a very sensitive issue. Of course, it puts certain constraints on the considerations. But I think in that it won't be clever to share
these nuances between me and you on TV because we are not the only ones to listen to it. And I don't think it could be an issue for discussion.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you what is --
BARAK: If there's heavy constraint, but we will have to manage.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you then, how likely is it that the hostages survived? What do you think is the reason for taking so many hostages? What
is the strategic reason by Hamas for doing that? What do they want from you?
BARAK: It's unprecedented amount of people that the -- you know, the success went much beyond their expectations, I believe. And I think that
the objective, of course, is to get all their prisoners, probably 10,000 of them, in -- Israeli prisoners to be freed. And they will try to navigate it
toward its end. It's not clear how it will end.
AMANPOUR: So, if it was you and you know that Israel has entered these very one-sided or lopsided hostage exchanges for one Gilad Shalit. There were
1,100 or so Palestinians released. These are many, many more by a huge factor. Would you release all the prisoners in return for these?
BARAK: Look, I think, first of all, that probably one-third of them have also a foreign kind of passport. Some of them are really genuine
foreigners, like some workers from Thailand. Others has American or British or other European or other nations passport. I assume that they will be
ready to release them under certain terms.
But even then, they will have enough hostages to negotiate very toughly for the release of all their people. And I really -- genuinely, I don't think
that it will be clever for me --
AMANPOUR: OK. All right. I get it.
BARAK: -- to discuss with you the --
AMANPOUR: I get it. Fine. Fine. I understand. I'm just trying to understand what might happen given what did happen in the past. But this is, as you
say, a different moment. And the Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that, you know, not just to exact revenge and accountability on Hamas, but to
change -- you know, to totally decapitate, to decimate Hamas, these are the words we are hearing. And to, I assume, remove their military and political
ability inside Gaza. That also is a change. Because in previous encounters, you've left them there. And now, tell me what you think is the end goal
BARAK: Look, Israel already mobilized several hundreds of thousands of reservist soldiers deployed all over the area. Even if the conflict will
widen, I do not -- Israel doesn't need it and I would not recommend it to the Hezbollah, but it might quite possibly happen. Even if we find
ourselves fighting against these two fronts, Israel is not under any existential threat. Israel will win. We know how to unite. We know how to
fight. And we will win. I say it in order to calm all these anxieties of what happened in Israel. Israel will win this test as well.
But as I mentioned earlier, it might take time. It might have ups and downs. It might -- it's something, you know, when you look at the size, the
magnitude of the event and even the -- if you could look at the graphic pictures, it's quite shocking.
BARAK: We lost more people than in the whole six days war or in the whole intifada, over three years of intifada in one day. It had never had
happened in Israel. People try to compare it to 9/11. You know, 9/11 were the use for a civilian airplane (INAUDIBLE) was something new. Breaking the
barrier and attacking the Israeli settlement was something quite high on the option least of the Hamas and we failed to do it and we paid a huge
Now, there is this, that's not just for revenge. In the Middle East, you just have to resume the status of deterrents in order to --
BARAK: -- make sure that you will delay such --
AMANPOUR: I understand. So, you need to establish deterrence again. I want to ask you something about the enemy, your enemy, and that is Hamas. To
"The New York Times," the military -- Hamas self-declared military commander, Mohammed al-Deif, said in a recorded message, the enemy, i.e.,
Israel, will understand that the time of their rampaging without accountability has ended. How do you respond to that?
BARAK: You know, the Hamas is -- it's hard to compare them to any organization we have known in the past. It's like Daysh (ph). They are --
some of them are quiet -- got a better level of performance than in the past and it also raised the price and made this attack successful beyond
all our failures, and we have to take them more seriously. They surprised with their success.
But basically, it is -- they are a tough enemy, unlike other enemies. We fought very hardly with the Jordanians, with Egyptians. At the end, we
could make peace with them. There is no way to make peace with Hamas. So, they should be somewhat paralyzed for being able to come again as a
fighting force against Israel, and that will take a lot of work and a lot of effort and a lot of sacrifice. I hope not too much time and too high
AMANPOUR: So, how did -- when you look at it, and I know you've said it, this was the worst day in our history and a huge failure, as everybody has
been talking about, of -- you've just said it, of intelligence and all the way up the political spectrum.
I spoke to the former Mossad director, Efraim Halevy, who said to me yesterday, the system has suffered a very, very seismic shock. So, the
sentiment inside your country is also just in terrible shock. And like everybody wondering how this could have happened. How does Mohammed Deif
and his brigades do this? How, without your -- you know, we've grown up believing that we you have like a superpower there in Israel, politically,
militarily, and intelligence wise.
BARAK: No. Israel remains a superpower compared to Hamas, but it's too -- it's a matter of faith (ph), that if determined youngsters are trained
systematically and they are even improving through the continued friction with us, because usually the best of them remain and climb up, they learned
their lessons and clearly, they improved. We have to take their capabilities to be higher than what we assumed until two days ago. And we
will do it.
But having said that, it basically -- it remains a murderous organization, even if the individual toll is better trained or better equipped, and we
have to deal with them. You -- no modern civilized country can have such a neighbor who initiate and execute such an operation. We cannot afford
having it once again.
If I care on one thing, it is the upper echelon of our command, the inner covenant within the government, it is now relatively weak. We have the
minister of defense, another minister who secretary -- or was head of the secret service and Netanyahu himself, that's a weak combination, a weak
team to lead such a crisis. And I think there should be a change in the cabinet, probably through this emergency unity government.
BARAK: But that -- some more serious people, more heavyweights should be brought into the cabinet in order to leave the crisis calmly and with cool
headed. And I always request in strategic issues, especially boiling blood is not a good recipe for successful strategic decisions.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you one last question? Because this has come up many, many times, that you have had engagements against Gaza and against Hamas.
The civilians are also attacked, whether or not you say you intend it, they are. There are some, according to the ministry there in Gaza, nearly 800
people killed, including more than 100 children, 4,000 people have been wounded. And your own government, your own defense minister has declared
Gaza under siege, which the U.N. is saying is actually illegal under international law, stopping water, food, fuel, electricity. How much and
how long will your government -- how long will it go once as you know it will happen? There will be criticisms of the carnage we also see inside
BARAK: We will try to make it clear, we announced in advance, everyone who knows that in his building there is any activity of the Hamas should, in
order to protect themselves, to leave the place. We try to pass this kind of warning. We do not see it on the same level. We are a civilized country.
We're not going to -- there is certain collateral damage. Every country who operated under such situations knows it. But that's the whole difference.
We are doing it to help and extend in every table result of having to attack them where they deliberately deployed themselves among citizens.
While they came into kibbutz and other settlements and to cities deliberately in order to massacre and --
BARAK: -- maybe --
AMANPOUR: And we're going to --
BARAK: -- (INAUDIBLE) human beings --
AMANPOUR: We're going to talk to --
BARAK: -- elderly, some of them -- yes.
AMANPOUR: Yes. No, I know. Because actually, our next guest --
BARAK: It's more important.
AMANPOUR: No, no. No, no. We are going to an Israeli guest who has suffered, as you mentioned, there. Ehud Barak, former prime minister, thank
you for your strategic expertise there.
Now, as I said, Israelis have been shaken to the core. And just look at these pictures from Saturday that we've just seen taken by AP photographer,
Hatem Ali. These are Palestinian gunmen driving away into the Gaza Strip with captured Israeli civilians on golf carts, including elderly women
whose faces we are blurring here.
There are also, as you saw, you know, they are taking them away on a motorcycle as well in other ways. Abbey Onn is an American Israeli whose
world fell apart over the weekend, like so many others, when she says five of her family members were kidnapped by Hamas and taken to Gaza. Three of
them are children, 16 or younger. And Abbey Onn is joining me now from Jerusalem.
Firstly, Abbey Onn, thank you for being with us. Tell me what actually happened, having five members, they must have all been in the same place.
How did they get taken and snatched?
ABBEY ONN, RELATIVE OF FIVE ISRAELI HOSTAGES: Thank you for having me. We - - everyone woke up to sirens on Saturday morning and we have a family WhatsApp group and we began getting messages from our family in Nir Oz,
which is a kibbutz, very close to the Gaza border, that Hamas was there.
And then, we began getting photos and videos in general that there had been a massive infiltration of terrorists. And we got messages from the family
that they were in the house and that they could hear gunfire and that they were afraid for their lives. They were actually in two different locations.
It's a grandmother, three of her grandchildren and her son-in-law. Noya (ph) is 13 and she has special needs. Carmela is 80. She is matriarch of
the family, an elderly. And we lost contact with them around 11:00 or 12:00. The last thing they wrote us is that, this is a holocaust and we are
afraid we won't live.
And we know once the army took control of the Nir Oz that the physical place of Nir Oz had been burned to the ground. The kibbutz is no longer.
And that almost half of the residents had been slaughtered in cold blood. And that the people that they didn't find had been taken hostage.
AMANPOUR: Abbey, one of those appears to be, as you've just said, a 12- year-old member of your family. Erez Calderon (ph).
AMANPOUR: Because we have a video, and I know you have wanted us to show this video so that people can see what actually happened. Here's a little
12-year-old Erez (ph) being manhandled as he appears to be taken captive.
AMANPOUR: He is one of them, right? Tell me a little bit about Erez (ph)?
ONN: Look, I have a 12-year-old son in the other room, and I think it is important for people to see this because it is a parent's worst nightmare,
it is the worst thing imaginable to think a terrorist would put their hands on your child and to pull them and to push them and to take them away from
their home and their family.
Erez (ph) is a 12-year-old, like my son, playing video games and riding his bike and a brother to his sisters and a son to his parents and a grandchild
and a loved member of his family. And this was a horrific, horrific act of terrorism against civilians.
AMANPOUR: Abbey, have you had any support from -- have your family been, you know, approached by the government, the military, you know, officials?
Do -- are you getting any direction or any help as to what they might be doing, what might happen next?
ONN: We are trying to do the best on our own right now to -- Carmela is both American and French, and we're working with both governments to try to
put pressure where we can. We are trying to speak to as much media and as many languages as we can.
We are working with consulates to make sure that everything is identified and we're trying to follow whatever protocol. But we don't have more
information in that video that Hamas posted.
AMANPOUR: Abbey, can you -- you just mentioned Carmela, she is 80 years old, Carmela Dan.
AMANPOUR: What is her history? You said she's a survivor?
ONN: She's -- her father was born in the United States and he moved to Israel almost 100 years ago to build the country. She was born on a kibbutz
in the north and she fell in love with Orrie (ph), who is from Nir Oz. His family was from Nir Oz from the beginning, and they've been living there
for more than 60 years. She's the matriarch of the family and she is the happiest, funniest, most loving woman. And she was deeply, deeply connected
to this place and to this land and to her family.
And she was an American and she also lived in France representing Israel. So, she's also a French citizen. This is an issue of global urgency.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Indeed. And the president of the United States is expected to speak shortly. We will see if he mentions American hostages and other
international hostages as well as the Israelis. Abbey Onn, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.
ONN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And here's just one scene unfolding in Gaza. A warning that the footage is graphic and upsetting. This is in a morgue overwhelmed with the
dead. The Palestinian ministry of health says more than 800 people have been killed and more than 4,000 injured. This was the funeral procession
today for two local Palestinian journalists who lost their lives in an airstrike. People on the ground are in a constant state of fear for what
may be coming.
As Gaza is under siege, which the U.N. Human Rights Commission says is prohibited under international law, and you heard us -- heard me talk to
the former prime minister about this who says that they are doing everything they can to warn civilians inside Gaza.
So, let us go to a Dr. Khamis Elessi. Welcome to the program from Gaza City. Dr. Elessi, can you tell me what kind of warnings, what kind of time
you have to escape? What are you doing under this current circumstance?
DR. KHAMIS ELESSI, PROFESSOR OF NEUROREHABILITATION AND EVIDENCE-BASED PAIN MEDICINE : Yes. Thank you so much for inviting me in, into your program.
Well, the warning, usually people receive before their home is being demolished or before the building is being toppled down is a rocket from
the military jets. So, it's a small sized rocket that causes some issue -- to maybe one floor or two floors.
And within 10 minutes, then the second rocket. It depends on the pilot and it depends on the one who is taking the -- giving the orders, whether he
will give 10 minutes or five minutes or sometimes one minute only.
This warning, you just run away with your things. And sometimes people run away without taking their things, because she's able to carry one with her,
but others are in the other room or in the second floor or in the third floor, no time, and the house will be demolished on top of them.
This is -- if it's -- the pilots who is planning to bring down this building have some mercy on those people. But the many occasions,
especially yesterday and the day before and today, so many buildings were brought down to the ground without any prior warning, and that blows up the
number of Palestinian deaths from 400 yesterday to 870 today, including seven journalists. Three of them were trying to video a building which was
hosting international news agencies and they thread in that building. They've given them 20 minutes to evacuate. Imagine to evacuate a 12-story
building in 20 minutes. This is unbelievable.
And while trying to film this building from far away harm this building from far away, the F-16 targeted those journalists, killing three of them
today. This will add up to the other five who were killed in the other two days. And this will add up to the eight paramedics and one doctor who were
killed in the previous three days.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Elessi --
DR. ELESSI: Fortunately --
AMANPOUR: Dr. Elessi, let me just ask a question here. There's also, as you've heard and as the Israeli defense minister announced yesterday, a
complete siege of Gaza. No food, electricity, fuel, water. That's what the Israelis themselves announced.
DR. ELESSI: Yes.
AMANPOUR: Are you experiencing that lack yet? What is the situation in terms of food and water?
DR. ELESSI: Totally. To be honest with you, since 17 years, we are experiencing lack. And this, as a doctor and as a fellow of Oxford
University (INAUDIBLE) I can speak with numbers. We've been experiencing this for the last 17 years. We have a population of children under five
suffering severe anemia. And this percentage reach 6 to 7 percent of all children suffering from severe anemia. Can you imagine? This will lead to
something and a problem with growth.
65 percent of all childbearing women suffering from anemia. 70 percent of Palestinians suffering from malnutrition because not enough food is coming
into Gaza. And we are not allowed to import from other countries aside from Israel.
But the good thing, maybe two years ago, three years ago, Egypt started sending some fruits and vegetables into Gaza. And this time, alleviated the
problem on availability of these crops. But again, medicine, since 15 years since this moment, the (INAUDIBLE) which contains drugs for kidney
dialysis, target patient, cancer problems and these things is zero stock. 50 persons demanding. When you're speaking about 2020, 2022, and you have
50 persons of all (INAUDIBLE) drugs are lacking. So, people are dying.
With this siege, we have more than 570 individual civilians inside while waiting to get their meds to go out to Gaza. But this will never justify
the killing or oppression of any civilian, whether it's Palestinians, Israeli, Indian, American. So, no way will justify this. And tackling the
root cause of the issue, I think, will lead to a lasting solution, which is ending the occupation and giving the Palestinian people their rights for
self-independence and for self-determination, because this occupation is a long-lasting occupation ever been in history.
It's been 75 years Palestinian were killed, we maimed, were imprisoned. We have our children under the age of 10 put on solitary isolation in prisons
until they reach the age of 17 and then they are sentenced to life imprisonment or maybe 15 years, 20 years in prison.
So, I think, Palestinians have suffered a lot. Palestinians have endured wars repeatedly over the last 15 years, more than six wars and more than
seven incursions, which lead to the death of more than 12,000 Palestinians over the last 10 years and more than 100,000 injuries.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Mr. Elessi -- Dr. Elessi, can I ask you --
DR. ELESSI: Yes.
AMANPOUR: Can I just ask you on this issue.
DR. ELESSI: I wanted to give you a glimpse --
DR. ELESSI: -- our health system here.
DR. ELESSI: Unfortunately, many of the medical equipment right here is not functioning well. So, it needs (INAUDIBLE), but they are not allowed in.
Many of the medicines are not available. Many hospitals have been demolished.
Yesterday, demolished the eye (ph) hospital, the eye (ph) international hospital. Part of Shifa (ph) unit was demolished. Part of the high therapy
(INAUDIBLE), a medical center was demolished when they bombed the building. So, these acts will only breed small violence. Because violence breeds
violence. I think the only solution is a peaceful solution is a diplomatic solution.
AMANPOUR: That is clear. Obviously, that's far off and has been far off. I just want to ask you this. Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist
organization by the U.S. and the E.U. took the war into Israel and massacred nearly 1,000 civilians. And now, you, you civilians, you, doctor,
you know, and your friends and your families are paying the price, as you have done in all the previous situations. I know this one is different.
DR. ELESSI: Yes.
AMANPOUR: And you've all said it's worse. I know that you are living in what's been described as the biggest open-air prison in the world, and you
are probably are not free to speak. But do you ever think that you can shake off this group that has brought this hell down on you?
OK. I think our line was cut there or we lost the line.
Now, some Israeli parents have been told today to remove social media from their children's phones with horrific videos spreading online, and of
course, for fear of grisly hostage videos emerging. The misinformation and hate speech that can fill these platforms created dangerous environment
that extends well beyond the internet.
Imran Ahmed is the CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate. And he is joining Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the challenges of regulating this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Imran Ahmed, thanks so much for joining us.
Your Center for Countering Digital Hate works kind of overtime when it comes to wars and propaganda campaigns that are happening. What have you
seeing online over the past 48, 72 hours as this war has broken out?
IMRAN AHMED, CEO, CENTER FOR COUNTERING DIGITAL HATE: We've seen a wave of disinformation that is really to speak of the information on social media
platforms. I mean, it's kind of unusable at the moment. We are seeing, you know, two different things. We've got bad actors, and that's, you know,
foreign states, it's extremists, both foreign and domestic. There are cloud chasers, people who are literally trying to sort of get as much engagement
as possible to boost their followers, which is incredibly cynical, but it's a business model for some people.
And also, people who just enjoy causing pain. So, hate actors, trolls, et cetera. And then you've got a bad platform problem. We have platforms in
which their algorithms amplify the most extreme content which gets the most emotion. So, that will get amplified into lots of newsfeeds. They don't
enforce their rules.
And in the very worst case, in the case of X, once known as Twitter, Elon Musk himself, the owner, told people to follow an anti-Semite and a
disinformation actor to get the real truth. So, you see sort of -- this tidal wave of disinformation amplified by the way the platforms work, and
it is really overwhelming us.
But I don't think we are ready for what happens next, because these platforms, which have been shedding trust and safety staff hand over first
in the last few months and years think what will happen once Hamas starts live streaming executions.
SREENIVASAN: Do you think that is plausible? Or technologically, I don't know actually the way to stop it. I mean, YouTube says that they've gotten
better at algorithm. They're trying to figure it out. But usually, you can't predict what is going to be on a live stream. So, I don't know how
you stop it.
AHMED: I think that's the problem, is that the platforms have never spent any time thinking about the safety by design. They have prioritized the
amount of content that they can get out there. They can place ads next to it.
But, you know, I've just come from a meeting with advertisers where I've warned them that we are going to be seeing adverts next to a child, an
elderly person, a woman being hurt. And I don't think we're ready for the way in which corporate, monetized disinformation is going to disfigure our
society, our geopolitics, in this instance, even further.
SREENIVASAN: You know, so I want to point out, I know that Elon Musk, I think, deleted those specific tweets, and then he tweeted, as always,
please try to stay as close to the truth as possible, even for stuff you don't like.
Now, I mean, going to the platform that is X, that is controlled by him, his role in spreading disinformation seems singular. I mean, you don't see,
you know, Sundar Pichai or Mark Zuckerberg or anyone on their platforms doing the kind of stuff that he does.
AHMED: But he's a personification of a systemic problem. Like, you know, he's a single figure that we focus our attention on. I have no real issue
with Elon Musk, the man. I'm sure that he is a quite brilliant engineer. And I'm sure that to his many, many children he's a great dad. But, you
know, I don't know about the industry that he represents.
And really, what he represents is the indifference to human safety. The indifference to the harm done on these platforms. And the greed that
prioritizes advertising bucks over human safety. And I think that that's why he's been the focal point, because he is saying out loud what Mark
Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook and Instagram, Sundar Pichai, the head of Google and YouTube, haven't ever set out but actually do all the time,
which is profits before people.
SREENIVASAN: So, in the case of X, now there has been, in the past six months, a sort of total flip. I once had a verified blue check mark because
I was a journalist, I proved who I was. That check mark went away and was replaced by people who are willing to pay a few dollars a month for that
check mark, myself not included. So, what does that do to how we think of a fact or something that is verifiable?
AHMED: So, I mean, this is something that's been going on for some years. And when I set up CCDH seven years ago what had become apparent to me was
that the primary place in which societies around the world now, you know, do things like share information, set and develop norms of attitude and
behavior, negotiate our values, but most importantly, negotiate the information that we decide to call facts had shifted to online spaces, to
groups, to the discourse that was controlled by social media algorithms. And that what was being prioritized, one of the most extreme voices, to the
lens through which you see the world was actually distorted to bring the fringes further towards the middle.
You know, I kind of liked -- but without any warning like you would get in a rearview mirror. You know, things may appear closer than they really are.
Actually, what you were being told was, this is the global debate. And as a result, a lot of people were fooled into thinking that things that really
are quite framed are quite mainstream, and it has reshaped our politics globally as a result
Now, that's true. That's affected journalists, politicians, as well as members of the public. So, none of us can say that we saw the problem and
not we dealt with it out of time.
SREENIVASAN: So, when this misinformation and sometimes disinformation spreads as rapidly as it does on these social platforms, walk us through
the consequences here. What does that do to, I guess, the consumer of the information? But what does that also do to kind of actors in the field if
they also fall prey to it?
AHMED: So, I mean, there are sort of different modes of disinformation. There's the disinformation that is drip fed overtime. The drip, drip of
disinformation that recolors the lens through which someone sees the world, makes them see the world in a different way and it gives them the
precursors to hate.
You see, lies and hate have always been deeply interconnected. They actually reflexively -- so, lies underpin hate, they create the conditions
for hate, then they lead to the operationalization hate, they lead to -- they give people the motivation that act in a hateful way as well. The
creation of fake emergencies of, you know, threats to life and say, well, we must do something about these people that I've been telling you about
for a long time.
So, the truth is that -- and no one knows that better than Jewish people, believe me, whether it be the (INAUDIBLE) 2,000 years ago or it be the
protocols of the Elders of Zion that informed Adolf Hitler's ideology. Lies have always been a critical part of hate.
Now, we've worked with platforms over the years urging them to adopt the most strict standards possible of not amplifying or monetizing the lies
that underpin hate, the incredibly familiar conspiracy theories because we know they lead directly to people doing terrible things.
And, you know, let's take the Great Replacement theory, which is the theory that most -- that Jews are trying to bring in Muslims and black people to
destroy the white race through migration. That led to the slaughter of Jews in Pittsburgh, the Tree of Life synagogue, it led directly to the slaughter
of Muslims in Christchurch, that very conspiracy theory, and it led to the murder of my colleague, Jo Cox, MP, a 35-year-old mother of two, in the
British E.U. referendum, which started me on my journey in this work seven years ago.
SREENIVASAN: So, now, I guess in the past 72 hours, have you seen examples of anti-Jewish social media content, anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian?
AHMED: There's an overwhelming wave of it. I mean, the truth is that because platforms in the last few years have become worse at that, that
they've reduced of the amount of staff that they have working on trust and safety. And because they've become less transparent. In part, as a reaction
to the growing awareness amongst legislators, the media, and others that these platforms are actually quite problematic at times.
They've actually made themselves harder to study. So, one -- you know, and in the most extreme cases, suing people who try to study them as acts has
have (INAUDIBLE), that actually it's very difficult to me to quantify in this particular war (ph) what things actually look like in terms of the
overall universal disinformation.
What I can say though is that if you speak to anyone, as you and I have, and you and I both use social media, if you look at your news feed, it's
almost unusable, because there is such a huge amount of disinformation intermingling seamlessly with good information that it makes it almost a
job onto itself to read social media and trying to work out what is actually true here.
You know, it's the first conflict I can remember where my first instinct to switch on social media, you know, very quickly I switched it off and turned
on instead CNN or the BBC, because I needed to have access to high quality, maybe not super, super up to date, but still timely fact-checked and well
SREENIVASAN: You know, I don't want you to amplify disinformation or misinformation that you are seeing, but give me some examples of the kinds
of things that you are seeing online now.
AHMED: We have a policy internally not to talk about individual memes and to only ever talk about themes. But we are seeing things which dehumanize
Israelis and dehumanized Jews. And so, it is the typical stuff which will be to inflate the numbers of dead on one side, to deflect the numbers of
dead on the other side, but there are a lot of images. And the truth is, it's been very difficult to pass between reality and falsehood.
But the truth is that we are -- you know, we are also seeing real images which are beyond human understanding. You know, atrocities, women raped,
people murdered. And we are also seeing people reacting to those with joy.
Now, in any other walk of life, if you reacted to seeing someone being murdered brutally by yippee-ing and jumping for joy, if you did it in a
park on the street, anywhere else, you very quickly realize that there are consequences for behavior like. On social media, what it gives you is more
amplification, more clout, more followers, more money. That is a series, you know, dangerous incentive which are misaligned with the public good.
SREENIVASAN: Now, I should mention that Elon Musk's platform basically is trying to sue you. And they say that you are unjustly, I'm just quoting
from their blog here, targeting people you don't agree with, attempting to affect their business by attacking free speech and illegally gained
So, I know you have to respond legally in some cases, but what can you say about not just their lawsuit but what was the initial report that drew this
AHMED: The initial report that drew the action was a study that we did on Twitter looking at the number of times that seven of the most extreme slurs
against black people, the N-word, against gay people, against women, against Jews were used on the platform on a daily basis, on average, how
often a day in the year before he took over and the month after he took over.
And what we found was that the use of the N-word tripled after he took over. Because he put up the bat signal, did he not, to hate actors. He lets
thousands of them back onto the platform who previously been suspended. He said, this is a free speech zone.
And in doing so, he gave them license to be as racist as possible, saying, we are not really going to enforce our rules anymore. And as a result,
there was an increase in hate. And we quantified it. Now, I think that that was basically us putting up a mirror to these platforms saying, do you like
the reflection you see in it? And whereas, you know, most people, you or I, if we don't like to reflect in the mirror, we comb our hair or go on a
diet, you know, he sued the mirror. He said, this mirror, how dare you show my image to be ugly because I must be perfect, for I am Elon Musk. And I
think that's the problem. He's literally suing us because he is annoyed that we reflected back the reality of his platform to him.
There's bit question of, you know, he's taking us the court. We have absolutely every bit of confidence we will defeat him in court. And that
the truth -- thankfully, that the truth still matters in that -- in the courts of the United States. And so, we hope that when he takes his
argument off Twitter where he is king of the castle and he can say whatever nonsense he wants and, you know, literally reprogram the algorithms to
boost himself, in a thought, I have an equal voice.
SREENIVASAN: You know, Jim Jordan, a representative in the U.S. House, he also subpoenaed your organization because he believed that you were working
with a government and big tech to censor Americans. Now, you've turned over those documents.
AHMED: We've done it. We've sent him about 100 e-mails. So, in total, three or four years, we've had 100 e-mails or so between us and the government,
both the Trump administration and the Biden administration.
With the Trump administration, we worked on reducing the amount of antisemitism online. And, you know, Mike Pompeo wrote me a very nice letter
saying, thank you for the work you're doing combatting hate. And we've had similarly cordial but not friendly conversations with the government.
The truth is I'm very critical of the governments all around the world for failing to get to grips with social media and the harms there. Now, the
E.U. and U.K. have legislated now, I'm very proud of that. We don't take any money from governments or from tech companies. We are that rarest of
flowers an independent organization that represents the people.
SREENIVASAN: You know, I'm wondering, considering how you are working with legislators in the U.K. or the E.U., what is the role for the regulatory
environment? And what can the United States do? Because it seems that across the pond, so to speak, there is -- there are attempts to try to
figure this out, whereas in the U.S., not so much.
AHMED: It's really interesting, actually. You know, five or six years ago, I said to the British government, if you could just give me a law that said
that if the company -- that companies have to abide by their own rules, I would go off and retire to Antigua with my cat and leave you alone.
And, you know, five or six years later, they've delivered us something which is really interesting. It basically says there are four components to
safety online, to a healthier and more productive and more prosperous existence online, transparency. And without transparency, you can't have
meaningful accountability to a democratic body.
Now, Lindsey Graham and Elizabeth Warren actually have a bill, a joint bipartisan bill for a new accountability regulator in the U.S. The U.K. and
the E.U. have one now. But you need the transparency, otherwise, they are not looking at the correct data. And then, if they are harms and the
platforms that clearly negligent in not doing anything about it, they should be held partly responsible. Because then you create an economic
disincentive for them doing the wrong thing.
Now, across all three of those components, transparency, accountability and responsibility, if you get them in place, then you actually don't need them
anymore because you create a culture of safety by design. And that's what every other industry has. Every other industry has to think about safety
before they release products. It's uniquely social media companies that believe they're free a bit.
And that star framework, safety by design, transparency, accountability, responsibility is what governments around the world are implementing, and
we'd like to see it in the U.S. too. I think we are some years away from it. But I'm going to spend the next few years showing its work overseas. It
hasn't restricted freedom of speech. What it's actually is healthier platforms online, in which the algorithms, the enforcement, the way that
they run actually helps humanity, it doesn't hinder it.
SREENIVASAN: Imran Ahmed, co-founder and CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, thanks so much for joining us.
AHMED: It was my pleasure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And as we said, it is terrifying what is going on on social media as these atrocities come to light. But let's go now to the U.S. National
Security Council Spokesman John Kirby. Welcome back to the program. You are at the White House. President Biden is due to make a public statement.
Can you -- without, I suppose, having seen what he is saying, I don't know, can you tell us what the -- you know, the important parameters are of what
he is going to say?
JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Well, I've had a chance to take a look at the draft speech.
I can tell you that the president will make it very, very clear that we stand solidly behind our good friend and partner Israel and the Israeli
people, and that they will continue to get the necessary security assistance they need, not just to defend themselves but go after these
Hamas terrorists. We know that that's a heavy responsibility they bear, and we are going to help them bear that with appropriate weapons and munitions
and tools, and that kind of thing.
Number two, he's going to talk very plainly about all the uncertainty and the anxiety, of course, that's going on around the hostage crisis. And the
fact that the United States also stands strongly behind Israel as they try to grapple with what is going to be a very difficult effort to get hostages
In fact, we are offering additional U.S. advice and counsel. We have lots of hostage expertise here in the United States, and we are offering some of
that expertise to Israel should they desire it and should they find it appropriate.
Last thing, Christiane, I think you're going to hear the president talk very plainly to the American people about the potential rise here as a
result of these attacks, of antisemitism, around the world, but certainly here on American streets. And that he understands the anguish and the fear
that many Jewish people here in the United States might be feeling, and that we're going to continue to say lashed up at a local level, to monitor
the intel picture domestically here at home to make sure that the Israeli can feel safe going to the synagogue, worshipping, going to committee
centers, being out and about. We know a lot of Jewish people in the United States are fearful right now in the wake of these attacks.
AMANPOUR: And can I just ask, you spoke about hostages, and obviously, you've probably come across of what was a press conference by American
Israelis today about their loved ones who've been taken there. There are Americans. I don't know. Do you know how many Americans? Do you know a
figure of how many Americans have been taken hostage?
KIRBY: No, we don't, Christiane. As a matter of fact, I did see that press conference, and it's just heartbreaking. But we cannot even confirm -- we
don't have independent verification that there are Americans being held hostage by Hamas.
That said, just given the numbers and the scope of Americans and dual nationals that live in Israel, we have to assume, sadly, we have to prepare
ourselves for the very real likelihood that there are Americans in that pool of hostages. And that's another reason why we want to offer recovery
expertise to the Israelis.
AMANPOUR: So, I just want to play a soundbite from one of the family members, American who is actually appealing to your administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAHAR NETA, SON OF AMERICAN WOMAN MISSING AFTER HAMAS ATTACK: I want also to speak about the responsibility that the U.S. administration, President
Biden and the Secretary of State Blinken, has for the lives of every U.S. citizen that is out there and they are responsible to bring the U.S.
citizens back home safe and sound. We expect nothing less from the U.S. administration and from President Biden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What do you think he might say to them?
KIRBY: The president would say directly to them that he understands the fear and the anxiety, the uncertainty, that he has no higher priority than
the safety and security of Americans overseas, particularly those Americans who have been held hostage or wrongfully detained.
We have secured the release of almost 40 Americans that are wrongfully detained overseas. Well, obviously, we are mindful that there is a very
real possibility that Americans are amongst those being held hostage, and that we will continue to work with the Israelis to do everything that we
can to get them home.
We have to understand, and I know that gentleman understands it as well, this isn't just a normal wrongful detention, these people are being held
hostage at gunpoint with threats to their lives in places that we don't all know where they are, and they're probably be moving around. And it's a
conflict zone. It's a war zone. So, any hostage recovery effort is going to be complicated by that.
But if the president had the opportunity to speak to that gentleman and the other families that were there at that press conference, he would tell them
KIRBY: -- he understands their fear. He shares that fear. And we are going to do everything we can to get those Americans home.
AMANPOUR: OK. Can I ask you this? CNN's Manu Raju reports that the president's -- in the president's speech, he will not urge Israeli
restraint in whatever is coming next, their current air campaign and potentially a ground invasion. And we've had on this program, you know,
dire reports from Palestinian civilians. I spoke to a doctor, he's been through many of these rounds before. This is the very, very worst. And
there's at least 800 Palestinians, according to their officials, who have been killed in these retaliation raids.
So, what are -- I understand the president just had a call with the prime minister. What do you expect to see in terms of trying to protect civilian
innocent lives inside Gaza? And is it possible? What did he say to the prime minister on his phone call?
KIRBY: Nobody wants to see any more innocent civilians killed. That's -- obviously, that's a baseline. There's been too much death as it is, and we
are now up near 1,000 Israelis butchered and slaughtered here in these first few days. Nobody wants to see additional civilian casualties.
Look, we understand that Israel has to defend itself. They have to conduct these operations. They have to go after Hamas. I mean, given the barbarity
of the last couple of days. But we also recognize that as two vibrant democracies, the United States and Israel, we share some common values. We
share some common respect for innocent life. We share a common interest, and we share respect for the rule of law. And the law of war. And we
understand, we operate together, our relationship gets better. We are stronger together when we show the world that we are not like Hamas, that
we don't indiscriminately go after civilian life
I mean, Hamas is making a mockery of the respect for human life. And of course, the Israeli people, they don't share that same mindset.
AMANPOUR: John Kirby, thank you so much, as we all await President Biden. Thank you for being with us.
And finally, tonight, an act of solidarity, as Israelis have answered the call to donate blood for the injured, a special donation drive is organized
in Tel Aviv following the devastating attack by Hamas. People are lining up to give blood with some waiting hours to donate. And as we have heard in
Gaza from the doctor there, it is incredibly difficult to reach and treat the injured there, the injured civilians.
That is it for now. If you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. And remember, you can always
catch us online, on our website and all across social media. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.