In the lead up to the Summit for Democracy, join the Alliance for Securing Democracy for two exciting discussions as part of the Global Democracy Coalition Forum: The first will focus on how democracies can respond to digital authoritarianism, and the second will center on how democracies can better regulate enablers of malign finance. Register today! 

We’re recruiting for our spring 2022 research internship! Interns will assist our fellows with research on autocratic actors’ attempts to undermine democracies. Apply here.

Our Take

Russia is using the Belarusian-manufactured migrant crisis to launch a propaganda campaign meant to protect an autocratic ally and discredit its democratic adversaries, Research Assistant Joseph Bodnar finds in a new Hamilton 2.0 analysis blog post.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main topics:

  • Migrant crisis: Russian officials and state media continued to draw attention to the Belarusian-created migrant crisis, highlighting Poland’s mistreatment of migrants and framing the EU as hypocritical on human rights. 
  • Ukraine: Moscow-backed accounts denounced Western concerns about the potential for a new Russian invasion of Ukraine and accused NATO of “gross provocations.” 
  • Rittenhouse: Kremlin-funded outlets covered Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal in Wisconsin, showcasing protests against the ruling and comparing the outcome to police shootings of unarmed Black men. 

Chinese diplomats and state media covered the following topics:

  • Biden-Xi: Most Chinese government-backed accounts provided favorable coverage of last week’s virtual meeting between Presidents Biden and Xi, with some emphasizing Biden’s commitment to the one-China policy. 
  • Peng Shuai: Chinese state media attempted to show that star tennis player Peng Shuai was safe despite her disappearance after making a public sexual assault accusation against a former vice premier. 

Iranian diplomats and state media focused on two subjects:

  • Hamas designation: Iranian officials and state media denounced the United Kingdom for designating Hamas as a terrorist organization. 
  • Election interference: Tehran-linked media framed U.S. sanctions against Iranian nationals for election interference as illegitimate and a continuation of former President Trump’s “maximum pressure policy.” 

Read the full report here

News and Commentary

Wisconsin Republicans attack state election commission: Last week, Wisconsin GOP officials, led by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), urged the state legislature to “unilaterally assert control of federal elections” and to direct local election officials to ignore guidance from the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commissionthe latest in a string of assaults on the state’s election system, which has also included a recommendation to bring felony charges against five state election commissioners. ASD Director Laura Thornton broke down the implications to the Dispatch: “This action would be a five alarm fire if it occurred elsewhere. Having nonpartisan election management bodies is preferred international best practice. Multi (or bi) partisan is acceptable, as it provides a degree of checks and balances. But suggesting one political party should control the election processand having the candidates up for election also managing the electionis unheard of in a democracy. The United States would condemn such actions in another country, frantic cables would be written, and foreign aid threatened. Such a power grab is not how we build trust in our elections.” 

U.S. indicts Iranian hackers for 2020 election interference: The Department of Justice indicted two Iranian nationals for allegedly attempting to interfere in the 2020 election, including by sending intimidating messages to voters and hacking a major local newspaper chain. ASD Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg said, “One of the biggest challenges in securing elections from foreign interference attempts is timeliness. Iran increasingly uses private sector actors, like the two who were just indicted, in its interference schemes, which can make it harder to quickly and confidently determine who is responsible. Nevertheless, in this instance, U.S. Cyber Command, the NSA, and the Justice Department did quickly identify the perpetrators and warn potential targets, limiting the impact of the attack.”

Facebook, Google inadvertently fund global disinformation: Thousands of clickbait farms around the world use Facebook and Google’s ad platforms to monetize disinformation, which they spread not for ideological reasons but because the platforms’ algorithms favor hyperpartisan news, allowing the content to reach more people and increasing the spammers’ revenue, according to an MIT Technology Review investigation. ASD Junior Fellow Elen Aghekyan told the Dispatch, “This research emphasizes a critical and understudied aspect of the digital public sphere—the nested financial incentives that enable the creation of not just spam, but also disinformation. The line between financially and politically motivated content is often unclear, and the importance is not in this distinction but in the ease with which inauthentic actors monetize and amplify their messages. Correcting these financial structures, and not just specific content and user behavior, is key to mitigating manipulation of public discourse.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • During his final month in office, former President Donald Trump approved a covert Pentagon campaign to conduct sabotage and information operations in Iran, though it is unclear if the Biden administration has implemented the program. 
  • The United States is a “backsliding” democracy, according to International IDEA’s new Global State of Democracy report
  • Apple sued Israeli surveillance company NSO Group and its parent company for surveilling its users and is seeking an injunction to permanently prevent the company from using Apple products. 
  • A federal judge ordered two Colorado lawyers who filed a lawsuit challenging the outcome of the 2020 election to pay nearly $187,000, arguing that the large fine would deter others from pursuing future cases that undermine democratic processes. 
  • China downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania after Taiwan opened a de facto embassy in the country; Lithuania expressed regret over China’s move but defended its right to expand activities with Taiwan.
  • The Marriott Hotel in Prague refused to host the World Uyghur Congress, a conference of activists and leaders from the Uyghur diaspora, citing “political neutrality.”

ASD in the News

Voting case should be referred to prosecutors. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine published in InsideNoVa

Truth or lies: The expat YouTubers praising China. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Deutsche Welle

China’s Content Manipulation Reaches New Frontiers. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer and Junior Fellow Elen Aghekyan’s piece “Deep in the Data Void” cited in The Diplomat

Quote of the Week

“The world desperately needs bold, tangible action from the community of democratic nations. Failure to deliver could mean the dismal trends of the past 15 years will continue, and the world will become much less free and much less safe for us all.”

  • Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, and David J. Kramer, senior fellow at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University, wrote in the Washington Post on November 23, 2021.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.