Announcements

Today we launched the 2021 German Elections Dashboard, an interactive open source tool that will provide summary analysis of topics and themes promoted by influential foreign and domestic messengers during this year’s regional and federal elections in Germany, in partnership with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Try out the dashboard here, and learn more about our work on the 2021 German elections here.

Our Take

The Arizona audit should be stopped until it has the proper people and procedures in place. Otherwise, it risks legitimizing conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine writes in the Arizona Daily Star.

Democracies, social media platforms, and civil society must develop a nuanced strategy to address mal-information, genuine information that is presented without proper context to deceive audiences, which can be far more difficult to fact-check and moderate than disinformation, Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt and Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer write in Power 3.0.

States and their localities should livestream the vote counting process to lessen voters’ fears about fraud and boost their confidence in election processes, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner write in The Hill.  

Follow us on Twitter for more quick takes @SecureDemocracy.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media predictably used the Facebook Oversight Board’s decision to uphold the company’s ban on former President Trump to advance claims of Big Tech censorship and amplify Trump’s anti-Big Tech talking points. Russian state media also highlighted scenes of chaos and examples of police brutality at protests in Colombia. Some coverage decried the United States as having double standards in its human rights responses to the protests, noting ties between the Colombian government and the United States. As usual, Russian diplomats and state media marked World War II Victory Day (May 9) with a spate of messaging emphasizing celebratory themes and the Soviet Union’s role in the war. Russian President Putin’s speech, as usual, decried alleged efforts to “rewrite history,” a theme also taken up by some state media, while Russian embassies in the Baltics highlighted flowers placed at Soviet monuments that have been the subject of  past controversy.

On the China dashboard, Chinese diplomats and state media criticized last week’s G7 gathering by condemning the group’s joint statement, promoting an illustration of G7 members in colonial outfits, and attacking G7 governments for being unable to manage Covid-19 and for not doing enough to help developing countries. Also last week, Chinese state media and diplomats accused U.S. media of malignly influencing global public opinion over reports that a Chinese rocket’s uncontrolled descent risked causing damage on the ground. For the first time in months, Xinjiang was not the most mentioned topic in tweets by Chinese officials and diplomats last week; although, they continued to promote common themes about the benefits of Beijing’s policies in the region. 

The escalating conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, along with Al Quds Day, dominated the Iran dashboard last week, with many of the top tweets coming from the supreme leader. Most of the top ten key phrases were related to the conflict, with one popular tweet from Khamenei simply stating, “Today, the balance of power has shifted to benefit the world of Islam #PalestineWillBeFree.” Another of his tweets dismissed Israel as a #TerroristCamp. Fallout continued from leaks of an interview Foreign Minister Zarif recorded that was not intended to be aired publicly, with hardliners blasting Zarif over criticism of Soleimani’s foreign policy influence and Russian involvement in the country. 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Facebook’s Oversight Board temporarily upholds suspension of former President Trump: On May 5, Facebook’s Oversight Board determined that the company was right to ban former President Trump from its platform but wrong to make the suspension indefinite, and the board gave Facebook six months to make a final decision on Trump’s account status that is consistent with the rules applied to other users. Facebook suspended Trump’s account following his posts about the January 6 Capitol insurrection, which the board found had violated the platform’s standards and “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.” The board also noted that the “ongoing risk of violence” justified extending the suspension. However, the oversight body said that an indefinite ban was “not appropriate” because the penalty is not defined in Facebook’s policies and called on the company to apply a standard punishment. Additionally, the board called on Facebook to review its “potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud” that culminated in the January 6 insurrection. It also noted that Facebook refused to answer seven of the board’s questions about Trump’s case. ASD Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt argued for more transparent and consistently applied content moderation policies, while Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman noted that the six month review period could set a precedent that undermines Facebook’s ability to quickly address the challenges it creates. 

Biden administration takes steps to strengthen cybersecurity: On May 5, the Department of Homeland Security said that it will hire 200 new cybersecurity professionals by July in order to help address foreign espionage operations and ransomware attacks. The Department of Defense also announced last week that it will expand its “Hack the Pentagon” program, which offers awards to hackers that identify and disclose security flaws that might leave the U.S. military vulnerable to state-backed hacking campaigns and cybercriminals. Meanwhile, a top Justice Department official said that U.S. intelligence agencies have begun a review of technology supply chain vulnerabilities stemming from Russian companies and U.S. companies that do business in Russia. The FBI and other intelligence agencies will share the review with the Commerce Department to determine if any vendors should be excluded from U.S. supply chains. President Biden is expected to issue an executive order in the coming days to establish a series of cyber safety standards for federal agencies and contractors, according to the New York Times. ASD Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner has argued that minimum cybersecurity standards should be included in the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan to help replace outdated and vulnerable systems around the country. 

In Case You Missed It

  • The United States’ largest fuel pipeline shut down most of its operations after being hit with a ransomware attack that was carried out by a Russian-based cybercriminal group. 
  • The Justice Department under the Trump administration secretly obtained the call records and attempted to obtain the email records of multiple Washington Post journalists over their reporting on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. 
  • Chinese diplomats and state media have used an army of fake accounts to covertly amplify their messaging on Twitter, according to an investigation by the Associated Press and Oxford Internet Institute.    
  • Facebook took down a network of inauthentic accounts seeking to influence Ukrainian politics linked to Andriy Derkach, who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for election interference. 
  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint paper that identified three primary threat vectors associated with 5G technology: policy and standards, supply chain, and 5G systems architecture. 
  • Belgium’s parliament, government agencies, and universities have been hit by an unattributed distributed denial-of-service cyber attack.
  • India will not let the Chinese telecom equipment providers Huawei and ZTE conduct a six-month trial of 5G technology within the country.

ASD in the News

Chinese Communist Party leveraging India’s COVID-19 surge to boost its own image, new report claims, Fox News. Comments from Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt  

Ruling on Trump Ban Marks Defining Moment for Facebook Panel, AFP. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Cost of corruption in Norway; Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation declared extremist and meet “Mr. Mmmmmm Xxxxxxxxxxx”, Coda. Comments from Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Virginia GOP embraces election changes at nominating convention, The Fulcrum. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

All Quiet on the Newsfront? Part 2, EUvsDisinfo. Cites ASD research

Fear of a Chinese attack on Taiwan are growing, and Taiwan isn’t sure who would help if it happened, Business Insider. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“It’s been clear for years that our nation’s cybersecurity hasn’t kept pace with our ever-increasing reliance on digital systems and internet connectivity across all sectors. The result has left us vulnerable to foreign adversaries & cyber-criminals, alike.”

  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote on Twitter on May 10
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.