Our Take

After spiking at the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine, engagement with Russia’s Spanish-language media accounts is consistently declining, in part due to platform bans, Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar explains in his latest. But Ahí les Va, an RT-affiliated Spanish-language program, has managed to circumnavigate platform bans and reach a significant audience, Communications Intern Isabela Motta finds.

Elections must end in a final decision, so democracy can function, Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson said on the Arizona Republic’s politics podcast. 

Russian propagandists received 13 percent fewer retweets and 15 percent fewer likes on Twitter in July than in June. Meanwhile, China’s messengers shared heavily from Western influencers who are sympathetic to China’s narratives on Twitter, ASD’s Information Manipulation Team finds in their July 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: 

  • Trump and the FBI: After the FBI searched former President Donald Trump’s home, Kremlin-linked accounts amplified Republican criticism of the agency, argued that Democrats were on the “path of Civil war,” and said the FBI’s search “likely secured a Trump 2024 win.”
  • Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant: As fighting continues near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Russian propagnadists accused Ukraine of “nuclear terrorism” and said Kyiv was “ready to stage another Chernobyl” and “hatching a plan to sabotage the plant and blame Russia.”
  • Taiwan: Kremlin-backed media showcased Chinese military drills around Taiwan as a US delegation arrived in Taipei, suggested House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s earlier visit to Taiwan was related to her son’s business interests, and highlighted a Chinese report that said the country could use force to defend against foreign meddling.

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three narratives this week:

  • Taiwan messaging shift: Nine out of the ten most used key phrases by Chinese accounts were related to Taiwan, but mentions of “Pelosi” were down 75 percent and mentions of “PLA” (People’s Liberation Army) fell by 80 percent.
  • Taiwan question: The most frequently used key phrase by Chinese diplomats and state media was “Taiwan question,” a phrase meant to indicate the supposedly inevitable annexation of the island by the Chinese state and part of the title of a new, widely shared Chinese white paper about China’s reunification. 
  • Trump and the FBI: Some Chinese state media and diplomats defended the former US president, with one commentator saying the raid was depriving Trump “of his equal right” to enter the 2024 election; however, most Chinese messaging around Trump remained broadly negative, and the Global Times used the news to suggest that the United States “has degraded into a banana republic.”

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Estonia, Latvia withdraw from China’s “16+1” group: Estonia and Latvia followed in Lithuania’s footsteps and withdrew from the China-led “16+1” trade group that aims to bolster Beijing’s ties with Central and Eastern European countries, amid strengthening Sino-Russian relations and escalating Chinese military pressure in Taiwan. Research Analyst Etienne Soula told the Dispatch, “When the 16+1 format launched to much fanfare in 2012, the EU saw it as a Chinese attempt to divide Europe and deal with Central and Eastern European countries in a way that strengthened Beijing’s bargaining position. Since then, underwhelming Chinese investment in 16+1 countries has progressively led the format to lose steam. Beijing’s economic coercion against Lithuania and its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have further strained ties. Estonia and Latvia’s latest move suggests that the format is in its death throes.”

House report highlights threats to election workers: A recent House Oversight Committee report detailed the impact of disinformation and violent threats on election workers in Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and Texas, and called for emergency funding to address the increased costs to secure the upcoming elections. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Election worker threats and disinformation are the two greatest challenges to this year’s midterms. Additional funding from the federal government could go a long way toward countering these problems and supporting evidence-based elections. When Congress provided grant funding to states in 2018, 2019 and 2020, many states were able to retire their paperless voting machines and deploy auditable paper-based systems, which helped validate the 2020 election results.”

TikTok incubator of election disinformation, researchers warn: TikTok is becoming a prominent and dangerous incubator of election disinformation, fueled by the platform’s large user base, short video-based content, and tightly-held algorithm, researchers warn. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said,It was naïve to assume, when TikTok was rising to popularity, that a platform known for dance videos and cat memes would not become a locus of political speech. We’re now witnessing the real consequences of ignoring warnings from researchers about the potential for election-related disinformation on TikTok.”

In Case You Missed It   

  • Microsoft disrupted an operation targeting defense and intelligence organizations in NATO countries linked to the Russian-backed hacking group SEABORGIUM. 
  • Three hundred current employees of TikTok and its parent company ByteDance previously worked for Chinese state media outlets, revealing the close connections between the platform and China’s propaganda machine.
  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a cybersecurity tool kit designed to help election officials mitigate and protect against cyberthreats targeting the midterms. 
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz supported a proposed gas pipeline that would pass through Spain and France to connect Portugal to Central Europe in an effort to cut reliance on Russian gas. 
  • Pro-Russian hacking group Killnet conducted a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that briefly took down the Latvian parliament’s website after lawmakers designated Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism.”
  • Twitter will label and demote misinformation, including false claims on how to cast a ballot or election results, to combat “misleading information about elections and civic events” before the midterm elections. 

ASD in the News

The Information Battleground. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in the New York Times 

China’s Washington diplos outmuscle Taiwan’s reps with media blitz. Research Analyst Etienne Soula quoted in Politico China Watcher

China Likely to Instigate Taiwan Confrontation When Xi Feels ‘Backed into Corner’. Co-Director Zack Cooper interviewed on SupChina

State error prompts meeting with judge over Lancaster County mail-in ballot case. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Lancaster Online 

Urgent action on mail-in ballots sought to avoid Maryland general election delays. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in The Herald Mail 

裴洛西訪台後的安全新局勢 (New security situation after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan). China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros interviewed on Radio Taiwan International 

What I’m reading. ASD research highlighted in Axios China

China Pushes Anti-Pelosi Narrative on Taiwan Across Global Media. ASD research highlighted in China Digital Times

Can We Move Beyond Disinformation Studies?. Non-Resident Fellow Heidi Tworek wrote in CIGI

Quote of the Week

“John Adams talked about [how] facts are stubborn things. We live in a world where facts are not necessarily as stubborn as they used to be.”

  • CISA Director Jen Easterly said at a press conference at the DEF CON cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas on August 12, 2022.

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