Our Take

On June 11, the Alliance for Securing Democracy expanded the Hamilton 2.0 Dashboard to include the tracking of Iranian government-backed messaging and narratives promoted on social media and state-sponsored websites. You can access the expanded Dashboard here.

ASD Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine’s assessment of the Georgia primary was cited in the Washington Post. He recommended that Georgia’s Secretary of State and local election officials publish an after-action report evaluating how the primary election was administered to help bolster confidence in the legitimacy and security of the state’s elections processes.

During the Democratic primaries, foreign actors, including Russian state-sponsored media outlets, seized on narratives claiming that U.S. election processes are rigged and cannot be trusted. Those narratives will likely be amplified in the lead-up to the general election, Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson and Deputy Director David Salvo said during a webinar event with the Tennessee World Affairs Council.

Absent strong scrutiny and an expanded understanding of information manipulation, TikTok’s new membership in the European Union’s Code of Practice on Disinformation  risks prematurely legitimizing the platform as a responsible information space actor and providing cover for suspected political censorship, Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina, Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman, and Fellow and Program Manager Nad’a Kovalcikova wrote in the EUobserver.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russia Toplines

Both the coronavirus and the global anti-racism protests touched off by the killing of George Floyd were prominent topics for the Russian media ecosystem last week. Amid broader protest coverage, Russian media weighed in on various sides of the debate over the removal of monuments to historical figures involved in slavery, colonialism, and similar activities with lasting impacts on systemic discrimination. They largely highlighted the spectacle of statue removal and related claims about whether or not doing so constitutes historical revisionism. Russian diplomats on Twitter also marked Russian Language Day and Russia Day with a spate of messaging, some of which emphasized Russia’s multiculturalism and unity.

China Toplines

With Beijing’s interest in the protests in the United States fading, last week marked a return of coronavirus-related stories at the top of Hamilton’s charts. In particular, a Harvard study using satellite imagery to suggest that the virus had appeared in Wuhan as early as August 2019 provoked a strong reaction from the Chinese government and media accounts monitored on the dashboard. In addition, a string of stories last week on Australia, Taiwan, and Xi Jinping’s visit to Ningxia province suggests that Beijing may be refocusing its attention on issues closer to home.

Iran Toplines

Iranian state-controlled media divided its focus this week between covering turmoil in the United States (both the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing protests against racism and police violence) and attacking American foreign policy for disregarding international laws and norms. These threads were occasionally woven together, as when President Hassan Rouhani declared that the United States has had its knee on the neck of Iran for years—a thinly veiled reference to the killing of George Floyd. A third minor thread in the narratives trumpeted achievements in furthering Iranian cooperation with Venezuela, casting the two countries as a bulwark against American pressure

Read more here.

News and Commentary

Georgia primary election complicated by long lines, voting problems, and shortage of poll workers: Numerous logistical issues disrupted Georgia’s primary election last Tuesday, providing yet another example of the issues states may confront in adapting their elections to the coronavirus outbreak. The problems reported in Atlanta and surrounding areas included hours-long lines that were exacerbated because many voters who requested mail-in ballots never received them. Some precincts also opened late because poll managers were not given correct access codes to set up the new touchscreen ballot-marking devices. In addition to a reduced number of poll workers and their struggles with operating the new voting machines, some equipment was also delivered late or to the wrong locations. Georgia’s Secretary of State said there was no evidence the machines technically malfunctioned and that he would launch an investigation into the issues confronted on Election Day. Over the weekend, however, voting security advocacy group Coalition for Good Governance highlighted problems with mail ballot scanning and counting, saying the machines failed to detect and count some votes. Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine has argued that a report should be written following the state’s election to diagnose what went well and could be improved, and also to develop next steps for conducting future elections during the pandemic. (The Washington Post, Atlanta Journal Constitution, NPR, Coalition for Good Governance, Twitter)

European Commission strengthens action to tackle coronavirus-related disinformation, calls for greater international cooperation and transparency from social media companies: Last Wednesday, the European Commission and European External Action Service issued a “Joint Communication” analyzing the European Union’s ongoing efforts to tackle the “infodemic” of false facts related to the coronavirus and proposing concrete steps for combating such disinformation. The report recommends greater strategic communication within and outside the EU and coordinated action with international partners, such as NATO and the World Health Organization, among other key proposals. The Commission also mentions China by name for the first time as having engaged in targeted disinformation campaigns throughout the EU in an effort to “undermine democratic debate and exacerbate social polarization, and improve their own image in the COVID-19 context.” Notably, the Commission called for an “intensified role” for online platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter to increase transparency. The EU has asked that the online platforms provide monthly updates on their efforts to address coronavirus-related disinformation. Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova has underscored the importance of increasing transparency regarding efforts taken to combat the coronavirus infodemic. (EUR-Lex, European Commission, Politico EU, The Guardian, OpenEUdebate)

In case you missed it

  • Twitter announced that it removed more than 23,000 accounts tied to the Chinese Communist Party spreading propaganda to undermine pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and counter criticism of China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Last Friday, videoconferencing app Zoom admitted that it suspended the accounts of human rights activists at the behest of the Chinese government. The announcement follows recent accusations that the platform disrupted or shut down the accounts of three activists holding online events related to Hong Kong and the Tiananmen Square massacre.
  • Apple and Google’s “exposure notification” software for use in apps tracking the spread of the coronavirus reportedly strikes the right balance between protecting privacy and combating the outbreak, according to a majority of cybersecurity experts.

ASD in the News

Lie Machines: How Disinformation Threatens Democracy and How to Save it, National Endowment for Democracy. Comments by Director Laura Rosenberger

U.S. Election Security, SiriusXM’s “Press Pool with Julie Mason.” Comments by Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine

Congress: Don’t let safe elections fall victim to COVID-19, The Hill. Features ASD research

Zoom capitulates to Chinese censorship, shutting down activists’ accounts, Salon. Comments by Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman

Disinformation in Europe After COVID-19, OpenEUdebate & Agenda Publica. Comments by Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova

Brussels is stepping up to fight against misinformation, Rozhlas a televízia Slovenska. Comments by Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova

Senate Intelligence Committee wants DNI to investigate commercial spyware threats, CyberScoop. Features ASD research

Democrats press Intel chief for answers on foreign efforts to exploit US racial tensions, The Hill. Features ASD research

Désinformation : l’Europe veut réagir après l’électrochoc du Covid-19 (“Disinformation: Europe wants to react after the electroshock of Covid-19”), Les Echos. Comments by Research Assistant Etienne Soula

Quote of the Week

“Disinformation in times of the coronavirus can kill. We have a duty to protect our citizens by making them aware of false information, and expose the actors responsible for engaging in such practices. In today’s technology-driven world, where warriors wield keyboards rather than swords and targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns are a recognised weapon of state and non-state actors, the European Union is increasing its activities and capacities in this fight.”

  • EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell rolling out a new proposal for combatting coronavirus-related disinformation (June 10, 2020)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.