Announcements

The German Marshall Fund’s first virtual Brussels Forum begins today. For 15 years, Brussels Forum has been the preeminent forum for generating ideas and alignment across the Atlantic. Join us throughout June as we discuss the most pressing issues: brusselsforum.org.

Our Take

When the United States does not show its citizens that the government works and is providing results for them, it becomes more vulnerable to foreign adversaries’ efforts to undermine the democratic process, Director Laura Rosenberger said on CBS News’ “Intelligence Matters” podcast.

Authoritarian regimes adopt technology-centric strategies primarily due to their own insecurity. Digital authoritarianism is not so much a strategic choice, as it is a strategic necessity, Non-resident Fellow Katherine Mansted argued in a new ASD report.

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

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

In the 48-hour period from Friday to Sunday night, #GeorgeFloyd was the most-used hashtag by Russian diplomatic and state media accounts, with #Minneapolis and #GeorgeFloydProtests also registering in the top five. Over the same time period, #GeorgeFloyd was the third most-used hashtag by Chinese state media and diplomatic accounts. To date, however, there is little evidence that either country has engaged in mis- or disinformation or attempted to promote violence. Instead, these efforts seemed targeted at undermining U.S. credibility, both at home and abroad.

Russia Toplines

The coronavirus continued to be an important topic for the Russian media ecosystem last week, though pandemic-related content declined overall, most notably on Twitter. Coverage of the killing of George Floyd in police custody and subsequent nation-wide protests in the United States received increasing attention throughout the week, with the focus on systemic racism and police brutality—much like coverage in other foreign as well as domestic outlets. Russian state-backed media leaned particularly heavily on images of destruction and violent incidents during the demonstrations, while the Russian embassy in the United States posted a series of tweets condemning treatment of press covering the protests following an incident involving a Russian journalist in Minneapolis. Prior to these events, Russian diplomatic accounts on Twitter put out messaging for Africa Day emphasizing Soviet support for independence movements in Africa.

China Toplines

While the coronavirus remained at the top of the data charts last week, China’s official messengers slowly shifted their messaging away from the virus. The uptick in interest around Hong Kong that we noted in last week’s report continued, and even intensified, throughout last week. And while Chinese state media and diplomats were initially focused on defending Beijing’s new security law by portraying the city’s protesters as violent rioters, they progressively shifted their attention to the United States as the killing of George Floyd sparked protests throughout the country. By the end of last week, Chinese media and government officials focused less on defending Beijing’s national security law and more on highlighting factually accurate coverage of protests in the United States as a means of calling out the U.S.’ “hypocrisy” and “double standards.”

You can read more here.

News and Commentary

State, local election officials prepare for largest single day of voting since onset of coronavirus pandemic: Today, seven states plus the District of Columbia will hold their presidential primaries, some of which were rescheduled because of the coronavirus outbreak. While states continue to adjust their methods for running elections, including by expanding access to voting, President Trump has claimed that voting by mail will result in massive fraud in November. In spite of this rhetoric, numerous Republican state parties, including those in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and New Mexico, are encouraging voters to cast ballots by mail or absentee. Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine has argued that while vote-by-mail presents more opportunities for votes to be lost, tampered with, or intercepted than does in-person voting, perceptions of the vulnerabilities far outpace reality. (ABC News, Bloomberg Government, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican, ASD)

Twitter attaches fact-check warnings to President Trump’s tweets, also adds warning to Chinese government official’s posts: Last Tuesday, Twitter added fact-check labels to a pair of tweets by President Trump claiming that mail-in ballots are likely to be “substantially fraudulent.” According to the company, the tweets violated its civic integrity policy because they “could confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process.” It was the first time Twitter chose to label a tweet from President Trump. In a recent interview, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sought to separate his company’s approach—which leaves the same comments from the president unchanged and unlabeled on Facebook—from Twitter’s. Last Thursday, the president issued an executive order on “preventing online censorship” that allows federal regulators to reexamine part of a law that protects tech platforms from legal liability for the content users post on their platforms. Additionally, Twitter added a fact-check label to posts from a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman that contained “potentially misleading content” about the coronavirus. Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman and Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg have analyzed the policies that social media platforms use to combat potentially misleading information on subjects including elections and the coronavirus outbreak. (Politico.eu, Twitter, Fox News, Whitehouse.gov, The Washington Post, The Hill, ASD)

UK government rethinks Huawei’s role in its next-generation networks, reliance on Chinese technology: The United Kingdom’s cybersecurity agency announced on May 24 that it would launch an emergency review into Huawei’s role in building out the country’s 5G networks. The Chinese company was previously approved for inclusion in roughly one-third of the least-sensitive components of Britain’s 5G infrastructure in January. Prior to the review, reports surfaced that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson intends to shrink Huawei’s presence in Britain’s next-generation networks to zero by 2023. Last Friday, the United Kingdom also proposed that 10 democratic countries form an alliance to reduce their reliance on China for crucial 5G wireless technologies. The UK’s recent actions against Huawei come amidst growing backlash within its Conservative Party over how China has managed the coronavirus outbreak. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina, Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman, and Fellow and Program Manager Nad’a Kovalcikova have strongly urged European countries to diversify their supply chains to minimize the role of high-risk vendors such as Huawei. (Cyber Scoop, The Guardian, Tech Crunch, The Times, The Telegraph, GMF)

In case you missed it

  • The National People’s Congress nearly unanimously approved a plan to extend many of mainland China’s security practices to Hong Kong. Amid the ongoing controversy over the national security law, President Trump announced that his administration is preparing changes to the full range of agreements between the United States and Hong Kong and said the territory no longer appeared autonomous from China.
  • The U.S. National Security Agency issued a public advisory last Thursday warning government partners and private companies that hackers linked to Russia’s military intelligence agency have been targeting email servers around the world.
  • A hacking group with ties to the Russian government has been targeting German companies across multiple sectors, according to a memo sent by German intelligence and security agencies to operators of critical infrastructure last week.

ASD in the News

Russia and China target US protests on social media, Politico EU. Comments by Fellow for Media and Digital Disinformation Bret Schafer 

US adversaries highlight unrest to undercut criticism, Associated Press. Comments by Fellow for the Middle East Ariane Tabatabai

Partners, not Proxies, in Hybrid Warfare Environments, CSIS. “Smart Women, Smart Power.” Podcast featuring Director Laura Rosenberger

China launches new social media offensive in COVID-19 information war, Newsy. Comments by Fellow for Media and Digital Disinformation Bret Schafer

How China Is Planning to Win Back the World, The Atlantic. Comments by former China Analyst Matthew Schrader

COVID-19 Infodemic: EU Grapples with Conspiracies, Euranet Plus. Comments by Fellow and Program Manager Nad’a Kovalcikova

COVID-19 Infodemic: Push and Pull Factors, GLOBSEC. Panel featuring Fellow and Program Manager Nad’a Kovalcikova

An infamous Russian hacker group is hijacking mail servers, Salon. Comments by Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman 

Canada to lead global effort to counter election interference, The Hill. Features ASD research. This was also covered in CBC News, The Logic, and in Canadian Press here and here.

Quote of the Week

“[The Chinese government] has twisted AI in ways that are in direct conflict with the values of the U.S. and its allies…This COVID crisis has put in focus a stark choice. AI must not be a tool to repress people and invade their privacy.”

  • U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios announcing that the United States plans to join the Global Partnership on AI, an international organization that will advise companies and governments on the responsible development of artificial intelligence. (May 28, 2020)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.