Our Take

Despite their free access to information, some Americans have fallen susceptible to the same Kremlin lies about the war in Ukraine that have traction in Russia, Director Laura Thornton writes in The Hill. 

As the world unites around Ukraine, the risk of a Russian cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure grows, Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman said on CBS News. 

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media highlighted the following narratives last week:

  • Mariupol: Russian diplomats and state media mentioned “Mariupol” or “Azovstal” in more than 800 tweets as they celebrated Mariupol’s “liberation” and claimed that most of the Ukrainian fighters in the Azovstal plant want to surrender.
  • NATO provocations: Russian diplomatic accounts amplified the Defense Ministry’s accusation that the United States and NATO are “preparing provocations” to accuse Russia of using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.
  • Mali: Russian state media made a small push to frame French forces for filling a mass grave in Mali, while the French military said it had videos of Russian mercenaries burying bodies in Mali and evidence that those mercenaries set up fake Twitter accounts to blame the atrocities on France.  

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main narratives last week: 

  • Ukraine: Chinese diplomats and state media accused the United States of fanning the flames of war in Ukraine and denied U.S. claims that China is amplifying Russian disinformation about the war. 
  • U.S. racism: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs used the shooting of a Black man in Michigan to criticize “systemic issues” in the United States, while state media highlighted gun violence in the country and diplomats portrayed the country as oppressive, corrupt, and irredeemable. 
  • Boao Forum for Asia: The forum—an annual conference in Beijing during which Chairman Xi Jinping echoed the Kremlin’s calls for a “global security initiative” to oppose “the wanton use of unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction”—was the most mentioned key phrase and second most mentioned hashtag in Chinese diplomatic and state media tweets last week.

Read the full report here.

French Election Dashboard Analysis

Foreign actors focused on the following topics last week: 

  • Russia: As has now become the norm, the Russian Embassy in Paris was the main messenger for Russian propaganda in France last week. Nine of the top ten most retweeted French language Russian tweets last week came from the embassy account. Coverage of the second round of domestic French issues, including the election, played second fiddle to Ukraine-related issues despite some attempts by RT France to retread old themes like yellow vest protests or the treatment of Julian Assange.
  • Qatar: In the week running up to the second round of the election, AJ+ Français shared a story about the murder of a Black man by a supporter of Marine Le Pen’s father in the 1990’s. The captions drew a clear line between that racist incident and the coming vote. The outlet also produced several tweets warning about “the rise of the far right” and the possible increase in police brutality a Le Pen presidency would bring.
  • China:  French-language Chinese state media continued to promote Russian narratives on Ukraine, including threats against those who help Ukraine; Putin claiming victory in Mariupol and showing clemency to Ukrainians holed up in the city’s steel plant; and a special report on French companies who have chosen to stay in Russia despite sanctions.

Try out the French Election Dashboard here

News and Commentary

Intelligence alliance warns of heightened risk of Russian cyberattack: The Five Eyes intelligence alliance—the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand—warned that Russia is contemplating significant cyberattacks against critical infrastructure in countries that have supported Ukraine amid a series of Kremlin-suspected attacks against European wind energy companies. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar told the Dispatch, “Russia’s push to carry out destructive cyberattacks is going to grow as the Kremlin becomes more desperate to project strength. Moscow could roll out its most destabilizing digital tools out of frustration with a war of choice that has damaged its military, economy, and reputation. The Five Eye’s warning highlights this threat and should help motivate cyber defenders.” 

EU approves law to force Big Tech to police content: Last Saturday, the European Union reached a deal on the Digital Services Act, a landmark piece of legislation that aims to combat disinformation and other harmful content by requiring tech giants to more aggressively police their platforms for illegal content, or risk multibillion dollar fines. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer  explained, Once again, the European Union has taken the lead on writing the rules of the road for tech legislation. As with the passage of GDPR, even if parts of the act are not adopted elsewhere, the impacts are likely to be felt far beyond the EU’s borders and could significantly reshape social media as we know it.

Michigan GOP selects 2020 election denier for secretary of state nominee: On April 23, Michigan Republicans selected Kristina Karamo, a candidate who denies the outcome of the 2020 election, as the party’s nominee for secretary of state, an office that oversees the administration of Michigan’s elections. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Election officials are the people in our democracy charged with refereeing our elections. If we begin removing and replacing them with individuals who call the game so that the team they favor wins, Americans would be right to wonder if their democracy is at risk of failing. Those who claim that the 2020 election was rigged betray a basic lack of knowledge of how elections work.” 

In Case You Missed It 

  • The EU is considering a tariff or a price cap on Russian oil in its sixth sanctions package against the country despite some member states’ reluctance to aggressively target Russian energy.    
  • A network of more than 600 fake Twitter accounts amplified positive narratives about China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and actively targeted foreign audiences, according to the intelligence company Nisos.
  • Russian forces are capturing transmitter towers, switching off national Ukrainian news programs, and using the stations to broadcast Russian propaganda and disinformation in occupied areas of Ukraine.
  • The United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, and Taiwan formed the Global Cross-Border Privacy Rules Forum, an organization that will promote international data sharing and digital privacy. 
  • House Democrats requested information from election officials in Texas, Arizona, Florida, and Ohio on their efforts to counter election-related disinformation.
  • China’s Foreign Ministry and the Hong Kong government condemned YouTube for blocking a campaign account for chief executive candidate John Lee, which the platform did to comply with U.S. sanction law.

ASD in the News

The Integrity of French Elections Could Be on the Line This Sunday. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine wrote for ASD

Russia’s Navalny accuses Le Pen of Kremlin ties before vote. ASD research cited in AP 

Ukraine: A Proxy War? Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on France 24

From Ukraine and Beyond: Unpacking the Sino-Russian Relationship. Co-Director Zack Cooper interviewed on War on the Rocks

They’ve leaked terabytes of Russian emails, but who’s reading? Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The Verge 

Bridging the Atlantic: Transatlantic Security. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Bridging the Atlantic

Cities Fortifying Democracy: A Conversation with the Mayor of Warsaw. Director Laura Thornton moderated a GMF Event

Pentagon chief holds first talks with senior Chinese military official. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in The Financial Times 

China In Eurasia Briefing: The Limits Of The Russian-Chinese Partnership. ASD research featured in RFE/RL  

Débat Macron-Le Pen : ce qu’il faut savoir sur l’emprunt russe du RN (Macron-Le Pen debate: what you need to know about the National Rally’s Russian loan). ASD research cited in Le Figaro

Quote of the Week

“Solving the disinformation problem won’t cure all that ails our democracies or tears at the fabric of our world, but it can help tamp down divisions and let us rebuild the trust and solidarity needed to make our democracy stronger.”

  • Former U.S. president Barack Obama said during a keynote address at the Stanford Cyber Policy Center on April 21, 2022.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.