Announcements

On 5G, is Germany selling out Europe to China? Tune in for GMF’s 30-minue live snap debate with MEP Reinhard Bütikofer and the Atlantic Council’s Julia Friedlander, moderated by Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina, on Wednesday, January 27 at 11:00 a.m. EDT / 5:00 p.m. CET. Register here.

Co-Director Zack Cooper will testify before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on the state of U.S.-China relations in 2021 on Thursday, January 28 at 10:30 a.m EDT / 4:30 p.m. CET. Watch the livestream here.

Our Take

Unless Congress and the new administration act quickly to close loopholes in U.S. laws governing political campaigns, future elections could be undermined by foreign interference that is technically legal. In a new report, Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt and Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph lay out ten policy recommendations to close gaps in two key areas: counter-intelligence measures and campaign finance reforms.

In the wake of the U.S. Capitol riots, Chinese, Iranian, and Russian state-backed media coverage has focused intensely on social media companies’ responses to the attack, in particular portraying Facebook and Twitter’s decisions to ban Donald Trump as a step towards censorship, showcasing the growing prominence of Big Tech as a U.S. wedge issue, Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer writes in a Hamilton analysis blog post.

The United States fails to acknowledge and use its diversity for what it is: a strategic advantage, China Analyst Bryce Barros writes in Foreign Policy

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian state media and diplomats last week focused on the arrest of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, with official statements characterizing Navalny as a criminal, criticizing Western support for him as a distraction from domestic problems, and continuing to cast doubt on the circumstances surrounding his poisoning. Russia’s coronavirus vaccine coverage continued to highlight logistical problems affecting Western coronavirus vaccines and reports of adverse reactions to them. Meanwhile, Russian state media and diplomats touted claims that a second Russian vaccine known as EpiVacCorona has 100 percent efficacy.

On the China dashboard, accounts monitored by Hamilton reacted strongly to Twitter’s decision to block the Chinese embassy in the United States from its platform following an earlier tweet complimenting China’s repression of its Uyghur minority. Chinese state media and diplomatic coverage of Joe Biden’s inauguration last week was generally positive. However, an undercurrent in the reporting was that the heavy military presence in Washington and threats of widespread violence were representative of the decline of the U.S. system.

In a significant development on the Iranian dashboard, Twitter suspended @khamenei_site, which many journalists initially reported was the Supreme Leader’s English-language account. This was later corrected to suggest that the account was not regime-controlled and was in fact suspended for being a fake account. Oddly, however, @khamenei_site was retweeted more than 80 times over the past year by other official Iranian accounts, including by the Supreme Leader himself. In another indication that the Supreme Leader may have been covering his tracks to avoid a Twitter ban, many of his more provocative tweets last week—especially those referencing revenge for the assassination of Qasem Soleimani—were deleted from his various accounts.

Continue reading here

News and Commentary

Congress takes steps to scrutinize social media platforms: On January 21, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, asked the FBI to conduct an investigation into the right-wing social media platform Parler in order to understand the site’s role in the attack on the Capitol, its policies, and its ties to Russia. Maloney also stated that the Oversight and Reform Committee will launch a separate investigation into the platform. Her letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray highlighted reports that Parler is now working with a Russian-owned technology company, DDoS Guard, which has Russian government clients. Meanwhile, dozens of members of Congress sent letters to the CEOs of FacebookYouTube, and Twitter calling on the platforms to address the “fundamental design features of their social networks” that promote disinformation and extremism. The letters specifically urge a reexamination of the algorithms used by these platforms to sort and promote news and information. On January 22, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) said that he will reintroduce legislation that exposes social media platforms to greater liability when algorithmic content-amplification results in physical violence. ASD Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman supported the call for social media platforms to address issues in their underlying architecture that promote divisive and false content.

Biden administration signals prioritization of cybersecurity: On January 21, President Biden ordered Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines to conduct a comprehensive review of U.S. intelligence on Russian interference in the 2020 election and Moscow’s role in the SolarWinds hack, a cyber espionage campaign that impacted multiple federal and private entities. During her confirmation hearing on January 19, Haines stated that the SolarWinds hack was “a major concern” and emphasized the importance of strengthening cyber defenses and coordinating with allies to impose costs on adversaries who carry out cyberattacks. During his confirmation hearing, Alejandro Mayorkas, the nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security, underscored the need to strengthen the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in order to improve the United States’ ability to detect, prevent, and recover from malign cyber activity. The chairs of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees both voiced similar support for elevating cybersecurity policies. Meanwhile, a group of Democratic senators requested additional information on the SolarWinds intrusion from the Department of Justice and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The ASD Offset Strategy Task Force, for which DNI Haines served as a co-chair, recommended increasing coordination between government and the private sector to bring technical expertise into government and improve U.S. cyberdefenses.

In case you missed it

● The Russian government threatened U.S.-funded independent news outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty with million-dollar fines and potential criminal charges against the company’s employees.

● Twitter rolled out a pilot of its new “Birdwatch” feature aimed at combating disinformation by allowing users to discuss and provide context to Tweets.

● Facebook announced it will launch a new tool that gives researchers access to data on targeted advertising used around the 2020 presidential election.

● President Biden asked the Director of National Intelligence to review ongoing foreign interference campaigns targeting COVID-19 vaccines and public health efforts.

● Russia and other malign foreign actors are spreading disinformation on social media designed to harass and discredit women politicians, according to a new study by the Wilson Center.

● The Chinese Communist Party’s talent-recruitment program has recruited more than 300 Australian scientists and scholars over the past decade, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

● Google threatened to leave the Australian market if the country passes legislation requiring technology companies to pay news providers for their content.

ASD in the News

TikTok is Joe Biden’s problem now, Bloomberg. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

No decisions yet on any changes to TikTook or Huawei cases, White House says, CyberScoop. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

How did US President Donald Trump impact Europe during his four years in office?, EuroNews. Comments from Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Social media faces reckoning as Trump ban forces reset, AFP. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Episode 43: Clint Watts, “The Infotagion Podcast.” Interview with Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts

Quote of the Week

“Online disinformation is not just about removing bad content. I see it as largely a product design issue. The algorithmic amplification and recommendation systems that platforms employ spread content that’s evocative over what’s true.”

  • Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) said in a press release on January 21.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.