Today, Director Laura Rosenberger, Hon. Dominic LeBlanc, President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, and Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, announced that the Government of Canada has joined Microsoft and the Alliance for Securing Democracy in co-championing the Community on Countering Election Interference as part of the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace. This community is a multi-stakeholder effort that brings together representatives from government, industry, and civil society to highlight best practices in countering cyber threats to elections and democracy and build partners’ capabilities to defend against these threats. You can watch the video here.

Deputy Director David Salvo and Non-resident Fellow Heidi Tworek said that by leveraging our respective strengths and working closely with likeminded partners around the world, ASD, Microsoft, and the Government of Canada will provide a template that can make democracies more resilient and more secure.

Our Take

While Congress has provided some election security funding, more is needed to address the twin priorities of combating foreign interference and making pandemic-related election adjustments, ASD’s Election Integrity Fellow David Levine argued in a new report with the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Elections Project Director Matthew Weil, 20 for 20: 20 Ways to Protect the 2020 Presidential Election. The report, which identifies 20 ways states could further protect the presidential election with additional funding, was featured in Election Line, The Fulcrum, and The Election Law Blog.  

As decision makers focus on shoring up public health systems and economies, Russian and Chinese information campaigns are having a mutually reinforcing effect; both countries are actively spreading conspiracy theories and obscuring the distinction between fact and fiction, Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt wrote with Torrey Taussig in a Brookings Institution blog post.

Deepfakes can erode the trust necessary for a democracy to function by injecting misleading content into the information environment and by making the public question the very nature of truth itself, Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman told Girl Security.

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

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russia Toplines

The coronavirus remained the most dominant topic for the Russian media ecosystem last week, with no change in the amount of coverage from the previous week. In non-coronavirus coverage, two other topics of interest emerged: messaging (largely from government and diplomatic Twitter accounts) highlighted reports of rising anti-Semitism in the West, and coverage of the Biden-Poroshenko tapes sought to cast doubt on Ukrainian independence and the legitimacy of former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s efforts to remove a former Ukrainian prosecutor general. Meanwhile on YouTube, RT America covered privacy and surveillance concerns surrounding coronavirus track and trace apps in the United States and negatively portrayed U.S. foreign policy in various regions.

China Toplines

The coronavirus remained ubiquitous in Chinese state media and government communications in the first half of last week. However, China’s annual parliamentary meetings, commonly referred to as the “Two Sessions,” featured prominently in Beijing’s messaging in the second half of the week. Announcements out of the Two Sessions and their subsequent promotion by Chinese officials and state media emphasized the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) empathy toward the suffering of Chinese citizens, as well as a corresponding ruthlessness towards anyone who would challenge the CCP worldview. On a different matter, China’s propaganda apparatus has also been mobilizing to defend the government’s plan to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong.

Read more of the analysis here.

News and Commentary

Controversy over absentee voting continues, while bipartisan support grows among some state elected officials: Last week, Republican officeholders in at least 16 states that do not have all-mail elections, including Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, and West Virginia, encouraged residents to vote absentee due to the coronavirus outbreak. Some state elected officials on both sides of the aisle have supported expanded absentee voting, despite President Trump’s vocal opposition to it and his recent criticism of Nevada and Michigan’s decisions to mail absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications, respectively, to all registered voters. Experts and election officials say they expect a significant increase in voting by mail this fall and are expressing concerns about the logistical and economic challenges of adjusting voting practices. Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine outlined in a new report various ways to mitigate the potential risks of administering more voting by mail due to the coronavirus; he recommends that states share guidance on best practices with their localities. (The Washington Post, Politico, PolitiFact, ASD)

Apple, Google roll out “exposure notification” software to be used in apps tracking the spread of the coronavirus: Last Wednesday, Apple and Google launched an “exposure notification” tool that will allow public health authorities to create apps that notify users of potential exposure to others diagnosed with the coronavirus. The tech companies emphasized that the new system is not an app for tracing the spread of the virus, but rather a tool developers can incorporate into their own applications, which will leverage Bluetooth sharing signals. Local health authorities in states like North Dakota, and other countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have asked for more control over the data their apps can collect; they say the new software does not provide them with enough information to improve their contact tracing efforts, such as necessary location data, which Apple and Google have declined to provide due to privacy concerns. 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. (The Washington Post, TechCrunch, The Verge, Twitter).

Tech companies face challenges as coronavirus misinformation spreads to new platforms: Misinformation about the coronavirus is spreading on new, unexpected sites such as the popular video app, TikTok, the digital library, Internet Archive, and productivity tools like Google Drive. These platforms have recently become conduits for material such as the viral “Plandemic” video, which recast conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and gained more than eight million views on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram just over a week after it was released. Although the video was banned by various online platforms and its claims widely debunked, researchers say it has resurfaced; clips and trailers were found on multiple social media platforms with links to the full video. Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman and Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg have argued that online platforms’ response to the growing coronavirus “infodemic” is their strongest attempt to police disinformation to date; although, the actual results have been mixed. Gorman and Kohlenberg advocate for even and uniform enforcement of these new policies and a greater reliance on automation. (The Washington Post, The New York Times, ASD)

In case you missed it

  • According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, nearly half of the Twitter accounts spreading messages online about the coronavirus are likely bots, and their posts appear to be aimed at sowing division within the United States.
  • The Chinese Communist Party will impose a national security law in Hong Kong to criminalize “foreign interference,” secessionist activities, and subversion of state power, officials said last Thursday; U.S. lawmakers have since announced plans to introduce bipartisan legislation that would sanction Chinese officials who enforce the new national security law.
  • The UK government is conducting a review into the impact of allowing Huawei equipment to be used in British 5G networks following the United States’ recent decision to bring sanctions against the Chinese telecom giant.
  • Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called upon the European Union to lead in establishing a legal framework for regulating online platforms.

ASD in the News

Canada takes leading role in global cybersecurity effort to counter election meddling, Features ASD

Government of Canada leading globally to promote cybersecurity and counter disinformation online, Features ASD

China launches new Twitter accounts, 90,000 tweets in COVID-19 info war, NBC News. Comments by Fellow for Media and Digital Disinformation Bret Schafer. This research was also highlighted in Fox News, Daily Caller, and Outlook India

China’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats are ready to fight, The Wall Street Journal. Features ASD Research

COVID19 Disinformation and the Global Battle of Narratives: A U.S. and EU Perspective, German Marshall Fund. Comments by Director Laura Rosenberger and Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova

COVID-19: Liberal views and responses worldwide – responses from Europe, Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Comments by Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova

Iran Quietly Lowers the Temperature With U.S., The New York Times. Comments by Fellow for the Middle East Ariane Tabatabai

Quote of the Week

“This year, we should prepare for the strong possibility that the price we pay to protect the health of our people and our democracy is a long wait after Election Day. Taking the time for an accurate count will enhance the legitimacy of the election, not undermine it.”

  • Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission Ellen Weintraub and Princeton University Professor of History Kevin Kruse wrote in an op-ed about adjustments being made to voting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic (May 18, 2020)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.