Join ASD and GMF Berlin for an interactive event on foreign interference in Germany’s election with Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of the Interior Günter Krings (CDU), Bundestag Member Nils Schmid (SPD), Brookings’ Constanze Stelzenmüller, Open Society Foundations’ Daniela Schwarzer, and ASD’s Laura Thornton on September 2 at 9:00 a.m. EDT / 3:00 p.m. CET. RSVP and choose your breakout session here.

Our Take

RT Deutsch is the most influential account for tweets about covid-19 vaccines in Germany, David Metzger finds in the latest analysis of data from our German Election Dashboard. Read more about Russian, Chinese, Turkish, and Iranian state-backed media and diplomats’ engagement with German online political discourse throughout July here.  

Authoritarian regimes can exploit Apple’s child safety initiatives to suppress dissidents and undermine democratic institutions through targeted censorship, Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner writes in an ASD blog post.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media and diplomats continued to criticize the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, highlighting chaotic scenes on the ground, amplifying tension between the United States and its allies, and circulating attacks on Biden from Republican lawmakers, former Trump administration officials, and the Chinese government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s final visit to Russia was well received by diplomats and state media, while her calls for the release of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and her visit to Ukraine gained little traction. Diplomatic accounts circulated a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release on the one-year anniversary of Navalny’s poisoning that claimed the assassination attempt was carried out to discredit Moscow and dismissed new sanctions from the United States for the poisoning. In coronavirus coverage, Russian officials and state media highlighted Australian anti-lockdown rallies and the lockdown-related mental health crisis. They also asserted the Russian Sputnik V vaccine has adapted to better confront the Delta variant.  

Chinese officials and state media last week described the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as  chaotic and last-minute and emphasized the unpopularity of the war in the United States, as well as the United States’ failure to replace the Taliban. Chinese state media also conducted an interview with a Taliban spokesperson and provided commentary that aimed to differentiate China’s approach in Afghanistan from that of the United States and NATO. Beyond Afghanistan, Chinese diplomats heavily amplified a tweet from Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying that stated that the United States and its allies should not be solely able to define democracy and that Chinese democracy is less corrupt and more representative of the people. Finally, the Global Times interviewed RT America host Lee Camp to discuss Fort Detrick coronavirus origin conspiracies, as well as how political interests dictate U.S. media coverage of Xinjiang and China. 

Iranian state media and diplomats last week covered Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s farewell speech, including his acceptance of responsibility for Iranian policy failures. State media and diplomatic accounts also highlighted Zarif’s bilateral meetings with Chinese and Japanese envoys and described the crisis in Afghanistan as a “catastrophic US-engineered situation.” Zarif, along with state media accounts, also accused the United States of destabilizing Afghanistan and called on the United States and NATO to make amends. Meanwhile, state media emphasized newly inaugurated President Ebrahim Raisi’s foreign policy leadership and highlighted bilateral engagements with China’s president and Japan’s foreign minister. State media also noted that Raisi spoke with Russian President Putin to request additional shipments of Russian vaccines. 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Facebook’s new top-performing content report sparks criticism: On August 18, Facebook released its first quarterly “Widely Viewed Content Report,” which includes curated rankings of the platform’s most viewed content in the United States. The report, based on content collected between April 1 and June 30, showcased an eclectic mix of posts, from local news stories and cat GIFs to a Green Bay Packers alumni website. The report also showed that the Epoch Times, one of the largest purveyors of 2020 election disinformation, managed to elevate its subscription link among the most viewed content on the platform despite being banned from advertising. Experts noted that Facebook’s report likely sought to refute claims that the platform is dominated by conspiracy theories and misinformation. Journalists also noted that the report’s focus on “reach” rather than “engagement” is potentially misleading. Critics, including a former vice president of product marketing for Facebook, argued that the new report amounts to little more than a “PR stunt” to counter bad press. On August 20, the New York Times revealed that Facebook had shelved an earlier version of the report out of public relations concerns after it showcased vaccine misinformation among the most-viewed content in early 2021. In response to the reporting, Facebook published the report the following day. The reports come weeks after reporting revealed that the company has been searching for ways to minimize bad press stemming from data transparency. ASD Program Manager and Analyst Bradley Hanlon argued that Facebook’s new report is a public relations effort to showcase transparency rather than show the public that the platform is serious about combating disinformation.

IMF awards Belarus $1 billion in coronavirus reserve funds despite international pressure: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) did not heed calls from U.S. lawmakers and others to cut or at least condition the nearly $1 billion that Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s government received this week from the fund. As part of the “special drawing rights,” IMF memberswith the exception of Afghanistan and Venezuelareceived an allocation proportional to their quota share from the fund designed to help governments respond to the economic crisis stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. But some commentators raised concerns that the funding will enable Lukashenko to skirt sanctions placed on his regime by the United States and the European Union in response to the suppression of pro-democracy activists over the past year. Lukashenko has been seen as increasingly erratic following last year’s presidential election, which independent observers labeled as neither free nor fair. ASD Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina recently wrote that because Russia is often a guarantor of stability for the dictatorship in Minsk, the EU’s issues with Belarus should be thought of as part of its wider set of problems with the Kremlin.

In Case You Missed It

  • The U.S. National Association of Secretaries of State approved a series of bipartisan recommendations for post-election audits, many of which were not followed during the 2020 election recount in Arizona.    
  • A report with findings from the Arizona GOP’s partisan 2020 election audit has been delayed after members of the firm hired to conduct the recount contracted coronavirus.
  • China’s National People’s Congress passed a law designed to protect user data, but analysts note it is unlikely to curb Beijing’s surveillance power.
  • Unidentified hackers breached the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this year but did not access the 2020 Decennial Census results, according to the bureau’s Office of Inspector General. 
  • The State Department endured a serious cyber incident in recent weeks, though the impact is unclear, Fox News reports.
  • Georgia’s State Election Board appointed a panel to investigate election management in Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold, taking a potential step toward a state takeover of the county’s elections.  
  • Twitter is testing a new tool for users in the United States, Australia, and South Korea to flag tweets and report alleged misinformation.
  • A high rate of mail-in voting for Germany’s September elections could make election night projections less accurate but will not impact the legitimacy of the final outcome.
  • T-Mobile announced that hackers accessed approximately 55 million individuals’ personal information, including names, phone numbers, addresses, dates of birth, and phone data.

ASD in the News

Russia is pumping a lot less natural gas to Europe all of a sudden — and it is not clear why, CNBC. Comments from Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

The Cybersecurity 202: There was another massive data breach. People will probably forget it in a week, The Washington Post. Comments from Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner

China eyeing power grab off chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan,  Fox News. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Afghanistan Debacle, War on the Rocks’ Net Assessment. Co-hosted by Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“Cyber is now officially important. It is something that our national security, economic vitality and personal actions all fundamentally depend on. We need to get it its proper placement. Not simply for the private sector, but within the government,”

  • National Cyber Director Chris Inglis remarked at the CyberScape National Security conference on August 19.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.