Pennsylvania friends: Join us in Pittsburgh on July 26 and in Westmoreland County on July 27 for in-person events with ASD’s Deputy Director David Salvo and Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson on disinformation and potential foreign interference in Pennsylvania’s midterm elections. See you there!

Our Take

Dissidents living abroad are often victims of harassment and intimidation by China, Russia, and other autocratic countries, and the problem is likely to get worse, Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg writes in an ASD blog post

Legislation establishing physical security for voting equipment and IT systems might be the solution to insider election threats, argues Brandi Bantz, director of elections for Mesa County, Colorado, on the latest episode of Ballots and Bagels with Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine.

Russian accounts saw a drastic drop in engagement on Facebook and Twitter last month, while the Chinese consul general in Belfast earned more Twitter engagements than any other Chinese state-backed account, the Information Manipulation Team finds in their monthly analysis of Hamilton 2.0 data

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main topics last week: 

  • Biden’s Middle East Trip: “Biden” was the most frequently used key phrase by Kremlin-linked accounts as they used the president’s Middle East trip to paint him as submissive to dictators, a threat to peace, and mentally unfit. 
  • Ukraine: Russian propagandists continued to portray Ukrainian soldiers as war criminals who are responsible for the looming food crisis and to claim that the West is losing a proxy war against Russia. 
  • Russia’s new laws: State media covered Russian President Vladimir Putin signing more than 100 new laws, which ranged from bans on “self-walking pets” to laws against foreign agents. 

Chinese diplomats and state media highlighted three narratives last week: 

  •  Xinjiang: “Xinjiang” was the most frequently used key word and hashtag by Chinese propagandists as they covered President Xi Jinping’s trip to the region by quoting his speeches about ethnic cohesiveness and painting an upbeat picture of life in Xinjiang.
  • Biden’s Middle East trip: Biden’s comment about a possible power vacuum in the Middle East led Beijing-linked accounts to frame the United States as an imperial power, and they hammered home that point by criticizing former US national security adviser John Bolton’s claim that he had “helped plan coups.”
  • Sri Lanka: While Chinese propagandists largely tried to avoid commenting on Sri Lanka’s political and economic crises and Beijing’s role in them, some accounts attempted to blame the United States for the country’s chaos. 

Read the full report here

News and Commentary

State-backed hackers targeted US-based journalists: State-sponsored hackers from China, North Korea, Iran, and Turkey targeted and impersonated journalists and media organizations to gain access to sensitive information and to spread compromising information; for example, Chinese hackers targeted journalists for insight on US politics ahead of the January 6 insurrection. Non-Resident Fellow Heidi Tworek said, “Unfortunately, journalists have long been targets of hacking and harassment. News organizations and civil society need to continue developing strategies of support, prevention, and awareness-raising about this pervasive problem.”

Election deniers go door-to-door to verify 2020 voter information: Citizens who believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen are reportedly knocking on doors in some neighborhoods across the country to verify voter information; the canvassing is loosely organized by an effort called the US Election Integrity Plan. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine told the Dispatch, Such efforts to verify voter information are ill-conceived, unofficial, and potentially illegal in many instances. Unfortunately, they are also an indication of how widespread the election denial movement has become. Rebuilding trust in our elections will require a whole-of-society effort.”

In Case You Missed It   

  • Democracy and voting advocacy groups are pushing federal officials to ban the discredited election auditing firm Cyber Ninjas and its CEO from doing business with the federal government, citing its work “fell below election-auditing standards.”  
  • The United States and Saudi Arabia agreed to expand bilateral cooperation on cybersecurity and on the deployment of secure 5G and 6G cellular networks, including cloud-based Open RAN technologies.
  • Pennsylvania’s top election officials sued three county election boards for refusing to include undated mail-in ballots in the certified primary results. 
  • China’s surveillance regime has expanded to censor private writings on word processing programs that authorities may find threatening.
  • A federal appeals court blocked an effort from the Federal Communications Commission to direct broadcasters to ask sponsors whether a foreign government paid for air programming.
  • The European Commission’s 2022 Rule of Law Report urged eight EU members to protect media freedom and proposed new measures to improve access to information. 

ASD in the News

Congress races to save $52bn in subsidies for chipmakers. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in Financial Times

Digital Bridge: Russia’s stalled disinformation- Transatlantic data- London digital blues. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Politico

County election boards pick new fights with states over voter fraud claims. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in NBC

America’s democracy is still in peril: Chuck Ardo. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in 

Three essential initiatives to defend democracy against corruption. ASD research cited in The Hill

Quote of the Week

“The only thing we need for democracy to survive is the knowledge that you can vote, that that vote counts, and we live with the winner and loser. If half the country believes that that wasn’t accurate, you can’t expect democracy to survive.”

  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) said on Meet the Press on July 17, 2022.

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