Milwaukee friends: Join ASD’s Bret Schafer tonight at 7:00 p.m. CDT for a conversation in partnership with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the University of Milwaukee Institute of World Affairs on how mis- and disinformation are shaping US elections. Learn more here.

Our Take

Chinese accounts monitored on the Hamilton 2.0 Dashboard drew nearly 40 percent more likes and retweets in August than in July, mostly due to the entire propaganda network’s coordinated response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, the Information Manipulation Team finds in their August analysis of Hamilton 2.0 data. 

In her State of the European Union speech, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen conveyed urgency around a very clear, cross-cutting theme: securing democracy, Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas and Research Analyst Etienne Soula write on ASD’s Interference Matters blog. 

With polls indicating that a coalition of hard-right parties will win a parliamentary majority in Italy, the question is whether Italy’s next government will enact policies that endanger the country’s political standing and credibility in Europe, Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas and Istituto Affari Internazionali’s Andrea Dessì write in a joint ASD-IAI piece. 

Follow us on Twitter for more quick takes @SecureDemocracy.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main narratives: 

  • Military Mobilization: Moscow’s propagandists echoed President Putin’s speech, which ordered a partial mobilization of the Russian military and framed the war in Ukraine as being between Russia and the West, but state media also amplified critical commentary, raised questions about the mobilization, and showed the Russian stock market plummeting and flights out of the country selling out.
  • Referendums: Kremlin-affiliated accounts showcased quotes and polls indicating that people in occupied areas of Ukraine wanted to formally join Russia, and some propagandists warned that after those regions voted to become Russian, any attack on their territory would lead to war between NATO and Russia.
  • Izium: State media and diplomats sent fewer than 100 tweets attempting to discredit reports of Russian forces committing war crimes in Izium, which marks a sharp contrast from the flood of Russian propaganda surrounding the atrocities uncovered in Bucha earlier in the war. 

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

  • SCO: Nine of the ten most used key phrases by monitored Chinese accounts related to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, with propagandists highlighting President Xi’s meetings, including one with Putin that received positive but far from effusive coverage.  
  • Xinjiang: Beijing-affiliated accounts continued to push back on criticism of China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, with diplomats insisting that people in the region receive generous social security benefits and state media pointing to new infrastructure projects.
  • Taiwan: Chinese propagandists put forward surprisingly subdued complaints about President Biden’s statement that the United States would send troops to defend Taiwan, and they criticized the Taiwan Policy Act being considered by the US Congress. 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Russia raises stakes in the war in Ukraine: On September 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a “partial mobilization” of 300,000 reservists and voiced support for proxy leaders who pledged to hold “referendums” to join Russia in four separatist regions in Ukraine. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar broke down the implications to the Dispatch: “Putin’s moves are a sign of weakness. He started a war of choice and is now left with only bad options. Partial mobilization likely won’t be enough to regain initiative on the ground in Ukraine, especially in the short term, but it was enough to motivate unrest within Russia. Moscow’s propagandists constantly warn about how difficult Europe’s winter will be. It seems like it will be a tough season in the Kremlin, too.”

Politicians and influencers spread election-related lies in Italy: Despite concerns that Russia may attempt to interfere in Italy’s election this weekend, local politicians and social media influencers have emerged as key spreaders of election-related mis- and disinformation online, including by sharing misleading claims on postal voting. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Autocratic actors in Italy and elsewhere are increasingly using election mis- and disinformation to try and alter the outcome of an election or simply have a harmful impact. Until the costs for undertaking such actions clearly outweigh the benefits, we should expect such activities to increasingly be the norm, not the exception, going forward. Governments must be ready to counter election-related mis- and disinformation, voters need to have greater situational awareness of such rhetoric, and media outlets must take care to avoid being manipulated.”

New details: Russian influence campaign sowed division ahead of Women’s March: The Russian-backed Internet Research Agency directed an influence campaign to undermine the 2017 Women’s March, creating hundreds of fake accounts to sow division around the movement’s aims, create rifts between its participants, and generate controversy about its leader. Director Laura Thornton told the Dispatch, “This is right out of the authoritarian playbook, and not Russia’s first influence campaign related to gender issues in the United States or elsewhere. Autocratic attacks around gender are a strategy, exploiting traditional hierarchies to divide society and create pecking orders. The Kremlin has witnessed the power of women’s movements to challenge strongmen and demand democracy, and thus they have launched campaigns undermining domestic violence legislation, the Istanbul Convention, or even use of the word ‘gender’ in international documents.”

In Case You Missed It  

  • Iran restricted internet access in parts of Tehran and Kurdistan, and blocked access to social media platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp, amid mass protests against the government. 
  • The House passed legislation that would reaffirm the vice president’s ceremonial role in certifying elections and increase the threshold for lawmakers to object to state electoral votes. 
  • TikTok will test out a mandatory verification system for accounts of government officials, politicians, and political parties, and ban campaign fundraising on the platform.
  • China continues to expand its efforts to influence global media narratives and suppress critical news coverage, with democracies demonstrating an “alarmingly uneven” ability to respond, a Freedom House report finds
  • The Pentagon directed a full review of the military’s psychological information operations following reports that major social media platforms dismantled fake accounts  pushing US foreign policy interests abroad.
  • German police raided 24 properties linked to Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, a close ally of President Putin that has been accused of breaching sanctions and money laundering rules.

ASD in the News

Data breaches at American Airlines, Uber raise cybersecurity concerns. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on CBS News 

Gaffe or not, Biden’s Taiwan defense remarks stir confusion. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Japan Times

In Focus This Week: Midterm Monitor. ASD’s Midterm Monitor highlighted in Electionline

The West is testing out a lot of shiny new military tech in Ukraine. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in Vox

Podcast: Key takeaways from the Arizona Primaries with Pima County’s Constance Hargrove. Ballots & Bagels featured in The Fulcrum 

Yhdysvaltalaistutkija Laura Thornton herättelee maailmaa puolustamaan demokratiaa – ”Ukrainan sodan pitäisi toimia muistutuksena” (US researcher Laura Thornton wakes up the world to defend democracy – “The war in Ukraine should serve as a reminder”). Director Laura Thornton quoted in

Eksperti za Rusiju i tajno finansiranje: Višedecenijska praksa davanja podrške “poželjnim” političarima (Russia experts and secret financing: Decades of practice supporting “desirable” politicians). Senior Fellow for Malign Finance Josh Rudolph interviewed in Voice of America Serbian

Come i media russi parlano delle elezioni italiane. L’analisi di Bodnar (Gmf) (How the Russian media talk about the Italian elections. Bodnar’s analysis (Gmf), Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar quoted in Formiche

Opinion: La victoria de Ucrania: paz y seguridad en las Américas (Opinion: Ukraine’s Victory: Peace and Security in the Americas). ASD research cited in Confidencial

Galvanizing America’s Defense Industrial Policy. Co-Director Zack Cooper hosted War on the Rocks’ Net Assessment

Quote of the Week

“What authoritarian regimes do best is to divide and conquer. It is only when we work together and support one another, that we can succeed in fending off the expansionist goal of authoritarian regimes.”

  • Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said during the 2022 Concordia Annual Summit on September 19, 2022.

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