Our Take

China’s new aggressive information strategy that blames the United States, spreads disinformation, and amplifies conspiracies about the coronavirus could backfire and undermine any positive image China has managed to develop, Director Laura Rosenberger argued in Foreign Affairs.

The Chinese Communist Party has developed a sophisticated set of tools and a well-defined body of doctrine to maintain unchallenged power by “uniting friends” and “isolating enemies,” China Analyst Matthew Schrader wrote in a new ASD report.

The Chinese embassy in France is using a tone on social media that reflects a more aggressive brand of Chinese information manipulation reminiscent of Russia’s, Research Assistant Etienne Soula said in an ASD blog post.

China and Russia are using donations of medical supplies as fodder for information operations that exacerbate existing divisions within Europe, Research Assistant Tom Morley wrote in an ASD blog post.

The Iranian regime is using missteps in the United States’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic to deflect attention from its own failures, Fellow for Middle East Ariane Tabatabai wrote in Vox with Colin P. Clarke.

Read ASD’s latest coronavirus and information manipulation work here.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russia Toplines

The leading topic of the Russian media ecosystem last week was once again the coronavirus. The virus has now occupied this position for 14 straight weeks. Basic news updates on the pandemic accounted for much of this coverage. Some content addressed anti-lockdown protests around the world, coming down on both sides of the issue—RT in particular focused on the perspectives of the protestors themselves. In non-coronavirus output, articles on U.S.-Iran tensions saw significant engagement on websites, while the steady drip of updates related to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on RT YouTube channels continued.

China Toplines

Chinese state media outlets continue to focus on the coronavirus epidemic. As the war of words between China and the United States has escalated, Chinese state media has focused increasingly on deflecting blame onto the United States and highlighting what it characterizes as the United States’ failure to respond effectively to the virus. This included messaging contrasting China’s embrace of a multilateral, WHO-centered approach with what state media characterized as U.S. attacks on the organization and multilateralism itself. Many tweets and state media pieces also spotlighted pain, dissatisfaction, and dissent in the United States caused by the epidemic, with a particular focus on protests over coronavirus lockdowns.

Read the rest of the analysis here.

News and Commentary

U.S. intelligence officials say China spread false coronavirus narratives through text messages and social media, according to The New York Times: Chinese operatives amplified disinformation across Facebook and text messaging apps, saying there would be a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus, according to New York Times reporting on interviews with intelligence officials. In addition to amplification techniques, China reportedly created fake social media accounts to spread disinformation aimed at sowing confusion and discord within online audiences – the type of narratives favored by Russian Internet trolls. Director Laura Rosenberger has argued that these efforts reflect changes in Beijing’s messaging and its tactics. (The New York Times, The Verge, Foreign Affairs)

Privacy advocates call for stronger protections as tech companies collect personal data to track coronavirus spread: Tech companies, policymakers, and privacy advocates continue to raise flags about the collection and use of personal data in ongoing attempts to map the spread of the coronavirus. Apple and Google say their joint effort to create a decentralized contact tracing system mitigates some privacy risks, however, concerns remain about the lack of a protective legal framework for the use of surveillance technologies. Last week, Microsoft executives also called for a federal privacy law that would include increasing transparency on what data is collected, limiting data to public health applications, and deleting it after the pandemic subsides. Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman has underscored the need to strike a meaningful balance between protecting privacy and civil liberties in developing tools to combat the coronavirus. (Business Insider, Foreign Policy, Tech Crunch, The Washington Post, Twitter)

In case you missed it:

  • Last Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report unanimously supporting the intelligence community’s 2017 conclusion that Russia directed a hacking and influence campaign aimed in part at helping elect President Trump.
  • France called on Apple and Google to lift privacy limitations around digital contact tracing, including limitations on what data can be provided to public health entities.
  • The People’s Bank of China introduced a new digital currency, marking a milestone on the path towards the first electronic payment system by a major central bank.
  • Facebook announced that it will display the location of high-reach pages and Instagram accounts not based in the United States, making it easier for users to spot where election-related posts originated. Google also said that it will make identity verification a required part of its ad buying process.

ASD in the News

Quote of the Week

“Russia’s aggressive interference efforts should be considered ‘the new normal’…That warning has been borne out by the events of the last three years, as Russia and its imitators increasingly use information warfare to sow societal chaos and discord. With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it’s more important than ever that we remain vigilant against the threat of interference from hostile foreign actors.”

  • Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said when releasing the Committee’s fourth, penultimate report resulting from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Newsletter Sign Up

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.