Our Take

President Biden should establish a Presidential Commission on Election Resilience and Trust to identify best practices and make recommendations to ensure that more Americans believe our elections are legitimate, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and the Center for Democracy and Technology’s William T. Adler write in a new report. The report is covered in The Washington Post’s Cyber 202, CyberScoop, and The Fulcrum.

Analysis of Hamilton 2.0 data provides evidence that the @khamenei_site account, which Twitter permanently suspended on January 19, was, if not officially sanctioned by the supreme leader, linked in some way to the Iranian regime, Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer and Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg write in a blog post.

Five overarching principles should govern U.S.-China relations: presenting a positive vision, avoiding grand bargains, targeting collective pressure, building discrete coalitions, and leveraging universal values, Co-Director Zack Cooper said in testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Independent journalism is one of the best tools to respond to the deterioration of the information space, GMF Senior Fellow Jamie Fly explains in a Q&A.

Following the passage of the Corporate Transparency Act, the campaign to create a transparent business environment inhospitable to illicit financial activity moves from Washington to the 50 states, Non-Resident Fellow Josh Kirschenbaum writes in a blog post.

What can the Biden administration do right now to reset transatlantic relations? ASD and GMF experts provide eight quick-start initiatives on economics and transatlantic security issues and five recommendations for a democracy and tech agenda that could lay the foundation for Biden’s planned Summit for Democracy.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

The Russian embassy in Mexico’s Twitter account produced half of the top ten most-retweeted and most-liked tweets among all Russian accounts monitored on Hamilton after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador discussed Mexico’s impending procurement of 24 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine during a January 25 phone call. This coverage reflects the broader pattern of Russian state media and diplomats highlighting positive developments related to Sputnik V, while attempting to counter “false” information about the vaccine and railing against alleged biases against it. State media also elevated claims made by Russian officials who accused the West of hypocrisy and meddling in the wake of mass protests against the detention of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny.

Chinese state media also backed Russian claims that protests against the detainment of Navalny were both insignificant and being orchestrated by the West, while China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs raised concerns about U.S. interference in Russian affairs. Chinese accounts also provided  substantial pushback against the U.K. government’s insistence that Hong Kong citizens with British National Overseas (BNO) status should be able to apply for a special visa allowing them to work and live in the U.K. After China announced last Friday that it would no longer recognize the BNO passport as a valid travel document, Chinese state media suggested that the BNO passport was as good as “waste paper” and threatened that those who leave on BNO passports would “regret it one day.”

On the Iran dashboard, much of the social media traffic last week was directed at the United States for suggesting that it will return to the nuclear agreement when Iran returns to compliance. Foreign Minister Zarif stressed that having been the first to abrogate the agreement, the United States must be the first to return to compliance. Iranian officials also continued to claim that Iran is producing the only side-effect free coronavirus vaccine, with promises that it will be available by Nowruz (Persian New Year), which begins on March 21. Like Russia and China, Iranian state media also selectively highlighted negative information about Western vaccines.

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News and Commentary

Huawei linked to covert Twitter influence campaign in Belgium: Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei benefitted from a covert influence campaign on Twitter that aimed to undermine public support in Belgium for plans to limit the access of “high risk” suppliers to the country’s 5G network, according to a report by social media monitoring organization Graphika. The cluster of inauthentic accounts posed as writers and academics using computer-generated profile pictures and shared articles that were then amplified by Huawei officials. The telecommunication company’s official account in Europe, which has more than 5 million followers, retweeted the fake profiles more than 47 times over three weeks in December. Meanwhile, a separate investigation by the Financial Times found that multiple Huawei officials in Europe had gained outsized followings on Twitter. All the accounts tracked in the investigation lost thousands of followers after Twitter was alerted about the phenomenon. ASD Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt noted that Huawei’s attempts to shape public opinion on 5G policy highlights the broad range of political activities targeted by authoritarian influence campaigns.

Social media platforms roll out policies, features to combat misinformation: On January 28, Facebook’s Oversight Board made its first set of rulings, overturning the platform’s actions in four of the five cases it reviewed and recommending the development of clearer content moderation policies. The independent board, which is comprised of 20 members from 16 countries, is also considering Facebook’s ban of former President Donald Trump, though a decision is not likely for months. Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the platform is considering steps to reduce the amount of political content in its news feed and will permanently stop recommending civic and political groups to users. This move came years after Facebook executives became aware that the platform’s groups feature was amplifying partisanship and calls for violence, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation. Also last week, Twitter opened full access to its archive for qualified researchers and launched the pilot of its Birdwatch program, which allows participating users to fact-check tweets. Snapchat also rolled out a new digital literacy program to teach users about issues around data privacy. ASD Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman contributed to a recent blog post that recommends the United States and Europe create and enforce a democratic code of conduct for social media platforms.

In Case You Missed It

  • Roughly one-third of the U.S. government and private sector servers breached as part of Russia’s sweeping cyber espionage campaign were compromised by vulnerabilities outside of those found in the widely used SolarWinds software.
  • British, Canadian, European, and U.S. law enforcement agencies announced they took action to shut down the Emotet botnet, one of the most pervasive international crime groups.
  • Ukraine’s ruling party expelled lawmaker Oleksandr Dubinskiy after he was sanctioned by the United States for election interference.
  • The National Counterintelligence and Security Center warned that Chinese efforts to steal U.S. health data, including DNA, have increased during the pandemic.
  • A group of European Union lawmakers in favor of stronger ties with China was suspended amid concerns that the group was too close to the Chinese government’s foreign policy apparatus.
  • Chinese authorities have imprisoned more than 50 individuals over the past three years for using Twitter and other banned social media platforms.
  • A Chinese bot network has been linked to disinformation targeting the U.S. election, including a fake video of burning ballots that Eric Trump shared.

ASD in the News

Biden shows his hawkish side on China, Financial Times. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

How Russia Divides America, “Trust but Verify.” Video by Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts

Six Blind Men, the Elephant, and the Defense Budget, “Net Assessment.” Co-hosted by Co-Director Zack Cooper

Impfkampagne in China: Nationalismus und Propaganda (Vaccination Campaign in China: Nationalism and Propaganda), ARD. Comments from Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt

美学者建议:体现美国多样化优势,拜登应任命黑人驻华大使 (American scholar suggests Biden should appoint a Black ambassador to China to reflect the diverse advantages of the United States), VOA Chinese. Interview with China Analyst Bryce Barros

MAGA influencer Brandon Straka arrested in connection with Capitol assault, NBC News. Cites ASD research

Parsing Differing U.S. Views on Japan’s Approach to China, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Written by Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“We are going to be most effective in advancing our vision for what a free, prosperous, equitable society looks like if we are doing so in lockstep with democratic allies and partners… It provides us a chorus of voices that can drive the argument that says, we are going to stand up for a certain set of principles in the face of aggression and the kinds of steps that China has taken.”

  • National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said at the U.S. Institute of Peace on January 29.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.