Our Take

Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine co-authored a new report, “Ensuring Safe Elections: Federal Funding Needs for State and Local Governments During the Pandemic,” which was published in partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice, the R Street Institute, and the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security. It was featured in the Washington Post, The Hill, Trib Live, Election Law Blog, UPI, Georgia Recorder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Route Fifty, Government Executive, and University of Minnesota’s Election Academy.    

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is using the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to project itself as the guardian of public health and the champion of the fight against the invisible enemy, Fellow for the Middle East Ariane Tabatabai argued in Foreign Affairs.

The EU needs cross-national media engagement to build resilience against disinformation, Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova argued in Euractiv.

It is essential that all states have backup plans in place to conduct their elections entirely by mail if the state of the pandemic this fall makes it too risky for even limited in-person voting, Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine wrote in The Fulcrum.

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

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russia Toplines

Coronavirus maintained its position as the most prominent topic for the Russian media ecosystem last week, though its dominance declined from the previous week. Much of this coverage focused on basic news updates, with some emphasis on related geopolitical tensions. In non-coronavirus coverage, Russian government and diplomatic accounts on Twitter began a World War II messaging push emphasizing the Soviet role in the war and its cooperation with Allied countries ahead of the 75th anniversary of VE Day. A small number of these tweets relayed familiar accusations that other countries were “rewriting” history, but the majority highlighted individual heroes or specific events.

China Toplines

China’s information competition with the United States continued unabated this week, with the most engaged-with content blasting the United States for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The two most liked and retweeted tweets of the week both featured a viral video from Xinhua News Agency framing the U.S. response as incompetent and its efforts to blame China as contradictory and desperate. Variations on these themes also played out across YouTube and state-backed websites, where top content blamed the United States for the outbreak of coronavirus in Canada, accused Washington of spreading conspiracy theories to cover for its own “political dysfunction,” and generally framed China as a victim of “scapegoating” from the West. Beyond coronavirus coverage, “human interest” stories also comprised a significant portion of the top content, including tweets and stories mourning the passing of Bollywood legend Irrfan Khan.

Read more here.

News and Commentary

Pressure from China reportedly prompts European External Action Service to water down its report on coronavirus disinformation: On April 24, EU officials released a special report assessing narratives and disinformation around the coronavirus. The New York Times reported that EU officials had “softened their criticism” of China in the text and raised questions as to whether it had been revised to “focus less explicitly on China and Russia to avoid accusations of bias.” The public report finds that “official and state-backed sources” from governments, “including Russia and – to a lesser extent – China, have continued to widely target conspiracy narratives and disinformation both at public audiences in the EU and the wider neighbourhood.” The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has denied that the report was watered down and insisted Beijing had no influence on the EU agency’s thinking. Head of Research and Policy Jessica Brandt has argued that if confirmed, the episode evidences a larger pattern of Chinese behavior to lean on international institutions to control its image abroad. (EUvsdisinfo, The New York Times, EUobserver, RFE/RL, The Associated Press)

Mail-in voting process causes confusion in Ohio primary, while other states grapple with voting procedures during the pandemic: Last Tuesday, Ohio held its first vote-by-mail primary election, following the Governor’s March order to cancel in-person voting due to the coronavirus outbreak. The primary was complicated by postal delivery delays, which possibly disqualified hundreds of thousands of ballots. Additionally, the lack of clear communication between elected officials and members of the public, including the date of the primary itself, generated confusion that may have contributed to low voter turnout. Due to the outbreak, some states are considering relatively new, untested methods of Internet-based voting. However, experts say the pandemic will likely lead to a significant expansion in voting by mail, which may lead to similar disruptions as those seen in Ohio. Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine has said that more federal funding is needed to help states develop the infrastructure to support changed voting practices throughout 2020. (ABC News Cleveland, The National Memo, Cleveland.com, NPR, The Washington Post, Brennan Center)

In case you missed it

  • According to a new poll, nearly three in five Americans reported that they are unable or unwilling to use the infection-alert apps being developed by Apple and Google to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Consumer Reports found that platforms including Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Webex retain the ability to store user data from videoconferencing sessions that could be used to build consumer profiles or potentially train facial recognition systems.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee announced that it will introduce legislation to require tech companies to obtain consent before collecting personal data, allow users to opt out of its tracking programs, and delete the data when the pandemic subsides. The bill may also be rolled into the upcoming “Phase 4” stimulus package.
  • China introduced new rules for buyers of technology equipment, requiring operators of “critical information infrastructure” to undergo a cybersecurity review when ordering services or goods that could affect national security.

ASD in the News

Pathogen to War, Net Assessment. Comments by Co-director Zack Cooper

Democracy Talks, George W. Bush Presidential Center. Comments by Director Laura Rosenberger

How China is ruthlessly exploiting the coronavirus pandemic it helped cause, Vox. Comments by Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt

The Cybersecurity 202: Ohio primary marks a major test for mail-in voting, Washington Post. Comments by Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman and Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine

Chinese diplomacy ramps up social media offensive in COVID-19 info war, Politico EU. Comments by Fellow for Media and Digital Disinformation Bret Schafer and Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

We will never agree on what happened during the first wave of the pandemic – and that will make it harder to survive the second, BuzzFeed News. Comments by China Analyst Matthew Schrader and Non-resident Fellow Aviv Ovadya

U.S.-Iran Tensions Continue To Simmer Through Coronavirus Epidemic, NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Comments by Fellow for the Middle East Ariane Tabatabai

Deep Dish: US-Iran Tensions Escalate Amid COVID-19, Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Comments by Tabatabai

Quote of the Week

“We have several examples of statements coming from Moscow and Beijing, which are not correct, which try to undermine the cohesion of NATO allies, and also portrays NATO in the absolutely wrong way…as if we are unable to, for instance, protect our elderly people or that we are not able to work together. We are working together. That’s exactly what we do.”

 

  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said a video roundtable with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (April 27, 2020)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.