Our Take

China is attempting to portray itself as an altruistic partner to the world, double down on efforts to divide Europe, and repair its image in European countries where it has recently encountered friction, Director Laura Rosenberger and Director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund Julie Smith argued in Newsweek.

The voices promoting discredited anti-American conspiracy theories are growing louder in the social media space, and democracies must move rapidly to rebut and repeatedly counter such narratives with facts and evidence, Non-resident Fellow Clint Watts wrote in an ASD blog post and further explained on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Instead of banning Chinese students from participating in academic and scientific research, U.S. concerns and policy responses to intellectual property theft should focus on how to counter the tactics and mechanisms that Beijing exploits for tech transfer, wrote Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman with Elsa B. Kania in Foreign Policy.

NATO needs to create a comprehensive political, economic, and security strategy to respond to the strategic challenge posed by China’s rise, Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova wrote in a Women in International Security policy brief with Gabrielle Tarini.

State and local leaders, in partnership with social media platforms, must prepare the information space for the onslaught of disinformation that epidemic-necessitated changes to the election process could generate, Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt argued in an ASD blog post.

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

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russia Toplines

The coronavirus, while still the most prominent topic in the Russian media ecosystem last week, continued to decline in prominence for the third week in a row. At the same time, World War II Victory Day messaging predictably reached its zenith on the day itself (May 9). Like in previous years, it largely emphasized the Soviet Union’s role in the war, general celebratory themes, and cooperation with Allied countries. However, accusations that the United States was rewriting history by downplaying the Soviet contribution trended—a familiar theme emanating from the highest levels of the Russian government. Finally, a small amount of coverage addressed the week’s developments regarding former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn, playing up claims that cast doubt on the significance (or even existence) of Russian interference in 2016. This narrative resembles previous Russian state-sponsored media coverage of U.S. investigations into Russia’s operation against the 2016 election.

China Toplines

This week saw a particularly strong push to undermine the reliability and credibility of U.S. authorities. Many of the most engaged-with tweets painted the United States’ response to coronavirus in hyperbolic terms and blasted the country’s alleged hypocrisy and scapegoating of China. By contrast, Chinese efforts to fight the virus were portrayed in the usual upbeat and vaguely heroic tone. This messaging dynamic was particularly pronounced after American intelligence agencies announced that Chinese cyber attackers were trying to steal coronavirus research. Beijing portrayed the announcement as yet another dastardly plot by a former superpower gone rogue.

Read more here.

News and Commentary

Twitter, Facebook introduce warning labels to flag coronavirus-related misinformation on their platforms: Last Monday, Twitter announced that it will add new labels and warnings on posts with misleading information related to the coronavirus, particularly that which conflicts with guidance from public health experts. The labels will provide links with additional explanations of the content in cases where the “risk of harm from the tweet is not severe enough to be removed” but could still mislead users. Facebook also said that it put misinformation warning labels on roughly 50 million pieces of content related to the coronavirus using upgraded artificial intelligence systems to detect false or misleading information in April. Still, representatives from social media companies, including Twitter’s head of site integrity, have stated that enforcement action cannot be taken on every post with incomplete or disputed information about the coronavirus. Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman has argued that tech companies’ response to the coronavirus shows what aggressively confronting a disinformation challenge looks like when there is a strong will to act. (Twitter, Reuters, Facebook, The Washington Post, TIME, NPR)

States consider internet voting options that federal officials and experts describe as “high risk” technology: As more states explore the use of electronic voting, federal officials and cybersecurity experts continue to warn that internet voting is vulnerable to foreign interference. The Department of Homeland Security recently released new guidelines reinforcing that electronic ballot returns “create significant security risks to voted ballot integrity, voter privacy, ballot secrecy, and system availability.” The guidelines, co-developed with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and other federal agencies, described the technology as high-risk and a method that has not yet demonstrated it is secure against interference. Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine has said that internet voting is not ready for implementation and has advised states to be prepared for foreign attempts to hack into the 2020 elections. (The Hill, The Guardian, CISA, Twitter, SiriusXM)

In case you missed it

  • Leading up to the 2020 election, a top S. counterintelligence official, Bill Evanina, will provide “intelligence-based threat briefings” for Republican and Democrat candidates, campaigns, and political organizations, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
  • More than a quarter of the videos most widely viewed on YouTube that are related to the coronavirus contain “misleading or inaccurate information,” according to new research by the BMJ Global Health
  • The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation warned of attempts by Chinese government-backed hackers to targetS. organizations developing treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus.
  • Last Thursday, Microsoft announced that it will make the threat intelligence it has collected on coronavirus-related hacking campaigns public in order to boost awareness about attackers’ shifting tactics.

ASD in the News

Lessons from Slovakia—Where Leaders Wear Masks, The Atlantic. Comments by Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova

Coronavirus: China’s new army of tough-talking diplomats, BBC News. Comments by Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

DHS memo: ‘Significant’ security risks presented by online voting, CyberScoop. Comments by Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine

When the World Wasn’t Looking, the Henry Jackson Society. Comments by Director Laura Rosenberger

Friends and Enemies: Making Sense of the CCP’s Overseas Political Interference, The Diplomat. Comments by China Analyst Matthew Schrader

China’s role in the COVID-19 infodemic, “Democracy Works.” Comments by Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt and Fellow for Media and Digital Disinformation Bret Schafer  

U.S. Authorities: China Is Trying To Steal Covid-19 Vaccine Research, Newsy. Comments by Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman

An unprecedented situation has arisen in European relations with China. An interview with a German Marshall Fund researcher, Latvian Radio. Comments by Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

COVID-19 has divided the world into several categories, Bursa. Comments by Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova

Citizens Take Over Europe, Alliance4Europe. Comments by Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova

What GMF is Reading, German Marshall Fund. Comments by Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova

Quote of the Week

“Cyber touches nearly every part of our society, which means the authority to oversee these challenges are splintered. We need to take steps to get the structure right, so we have the right processes and personnel to tackle these threats…our adversaries have paid little price for attacking us in cyberspace. That needs to change, and it must become clear that if you attack the United States in cyber, there will be a response.”

  • Cyberspace Solarium Commission Co-chair Angus King (I-ME) testified in a virtual hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee presenting the Commission’s recommendations for improving the United States’ cyber posture (May 14, 2020)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.