Should Chinese diplomats be banned on Twitter? Tune in for GMF’s 30-minute live snap debate with U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher and Member of the European Parliament Miriam Lexmann, moderated by ASD’s Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman, on Thursday, September 10 at 10:15-10:45 ET / 4:15-4:45 CET.

Our Take

Covert foreign money is the most under-appreciated external threat ahead of the November election, with authoritarian financial interference having been deployed more than 100 times around the world and the United States being the most common target, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph said on CSPAN’s Washington Journal.

Democracies conducting elections during the coronavirus pandemic should take steps to ensure that pandemic-related changes do not come at the expense of election security, Junior Fellow Jennifer Gurev and Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine argue in EUObserver

Russian, Chinese, and Iranian officials and state-backed media coverage of pro-democracy protests in Belarus contrasts sharply with each countries’ recent coverage of racial justice protests in the United States, reflecting their universal aversion to popular protests—except when those protests take place in democratic countries, ASD’s Amber Frankland, Nathan Kohlenberg, Bret Schafer, and Etienne Soula write in the latest Hamilton 2.0 blog post

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

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

As with most major dates in World War II, Russian diplomatic and government accounts last week put out a spate of messaging marking the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 and the recently changed date Russia recognizes as the end of the war, September 3, 1945. As usual, content emphasized Soviet contributions to the war, celebrated the Allied victory, and warned against the “falsification of history.” Chinese government officials and state media also emphasized World War II narratives, particularly highlighting cooperation with Russia to “safeguard WWII results.” Alongside more conciliatory messaging about the need for China and the United States to “recapture the spirit of cooperation,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying published a series of tweets with veiled threats to those who might try to interfere in China’s internal affairs. Russia’s other major messaging push last week was to deny involvement in an attempt to discredit Germany’s determination that opposition leader Alexei Navalny had been poisoned by a Novichok nerve agent. Iran last week again focused mainly on regional issues, including continued critique of the UAE-Israeli deal with the promotion of the hashtag #UAEstabsMuslims. Iran’s Supreme Leader also peddled anti-Semitic content claiming connections between “Zionist elements” in the United States and Israel on several of his Twitter accounts. 

Read the full analysis here.

News and Commentary

U.S. intelligence officials warn that Russia is trying to undermine confidence in mail-in voting: On September 3, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an intelligence bulletin warning that Russia is “likely to continue amplifying criticism of vote by mail and shifting voting processes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine public trust in the electoral process.” Since March, Russian state media outlets and proxy websites have alleged that mail-in voting in the United States would create opportunities for voter fraud and open vulnerabilities to outside tampering, according to the bulletin. It also warns that Russia is likely to increase its efforts to promote allegations of U.S. election system corruption, failures, and foreign interference to reduce public confidence in the upcoming election. Apart from disinformation targeting mail-in voting, the FBI and DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency announced last week that they had not seen evidence of attacks on voting infrastructure, while the Director of National Intelligence noted that there have been no signs of foreign governments attempting to interfere in mail-in voting processes. ASD Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine has argued that mail-in voting is a secure process that is challenging to interfere with, while warning that foreign adversaries could amplify disinformation about the process to sow public doubt about election integrity. (ABC News, The Washington Post, The Hill, The Wall Street Journal, ASD)

Facebook, Twitter implement new policies to counter disinformation amidst criticism that their platforms harm democracy: Following warnings from the FBI, Facebook and Twitter announced last week that they removed a network of fake accounts and a website set up by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA). The IRA operation sought to create an appearingly legitimate left-wing news organization, even going as far as hiring real Americans to write for the site, called Peace Data, and using personas with computer-generated images to avoid detection. Apart from the takedown, Twitter also said last week that it would add more context to topics that trend on its service to help better inform users. Meanwhile, Facebook shared that it will block new advertising the week before the presidential election, following ongoing criticism that the platform is not doing enough to address its role in spreading political disinformation. ASD Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt and Program Manager Bradley Hanlon have argued that cross-platform and cross-sector coordination is key to combating information operations that often stretch across multiple online platforms. (The New York Times, The Washington Post, ASD)

In Case You Missed It

  • China is launching an initiative to set international standards on data security, countering U.S. efforts to persuade allies and partners to safeguard their networks from Chinese technology. 
  • Australia’s last two accredited reporters in China fled the country amid worsening diplomatic relations between the two countries.
  • The Norwegian parliament was hit by a significant cyberattack, according to the parliament’s chief administrator. 
  • Russia-linked actors are orchestrating the election campaign for one of Georgia’s opposition parties, according to a recent investigation by the Dossier Center.
  • The Department of Homeland Security issued a directive requiring all federal agencies to develop and publish cyber vulnerability disclosure policies. 
  • A group of Democratic senators asked the Trump administration to impose immediate sanctions on Russia and other countries that are seeking to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election. 
  • Hackers are increasingly targeting the websites for President Trump’s reelection campaign and business.
  • Microsoft released two new technologies to help authenticate videos and identify manipulated media. 

ASD in the News

Foreign threats and the 2020 election, The City Club of Cleveland. Virtual forum with Co-Director Zack Cooper and Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Misinformation, disinformation: What to expect from election 2020, NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Interview with Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts

Russia’s 2020 election manipulation looks a lot like 2016, Axios. Features data from Hamilton 2.0 and comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer 

Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle, The Hill. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine 

Racial tensions roiling U.S. pose target for election meddling, Associated Press. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Germany under pressure to hit back at Russia after Navalny poisoning, BBC Newshour. Interview with Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Quote of the Week

“There are foreign adversaries obviously spreading disinformation and misinformation on the election, really the best recommendation I would have for the average citizen…is to really block out that noise and focus on the basics, getting registered to vote, making a plan on how to engage in the process.”

  • Election Assistance Commission Chairman Benjamin Hovland said in an interview with The Hill.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.