Georgia friends: Save the date for October 17 in Atlanta! Senior Fellow Bret Schafer will walk through the anatomy of a disinformation campaign at this event co-hosted by ASD at GMF, the Carter Center, and the World Affairs Council in Atlanta. RSVP here

Arizona friends: Join Director Laura Thornton in Phoenix on October 18 for a discussion on how and why foreign adversaries are impacting US elections at the national and local levels, co-hosted by ASD at GMF, the McCain Institute, and the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations. Register here!

Our Take

While it’s clear election denialism among secretary of state candidates drives engagement online, the vast majority of tweets containing potential mis- or disinformation keywords from secretary of state candidates—from both parties—were aimed at counteracting false narratives of widespread fraud. The first Midterm Monitor report reviews data from secretary of state accounts followed on the monitor, and dives into the battleground states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Tweets mentioning “Nord Stream” by Russian diplomats and state media generated more engagement in the week after the blasts than they did in the 214 days of war that led up to the explosions, Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar finds in a new analysis of Hamilton 2.0 data. The popularity of this Nord Stream-related propaganda marks a high point in a monthslong Russian narrative about the United States’ drive to escalate the war and control Europe.

In this week’s Monitoring the Midterms newsletter, we look at Pennsylvania, a state that could prove to be a target for malign actors in November due to intricate state laws that slow the vote counting process. Read the latest edition and subscribe here. 

Follow us on Twitter for more quick takes @SecureDemocracy.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Putin’s speech: Kremlin-affiliated accounts amplified a conspiratorial speech by President Vladimir Putin, which laid out his justification for seizing parts of Ukraine and railed against the West. After the speech, one Russian outlet argued that “the world will never be the same – we are beginning to wage a holy war.”
  • Attempted annexations: Much of the propaganda around Russia’s attempted annexations was triumphant, but some outlets were critical of Russian forces retreating from newly claimed areas and noted that the Kremlin didn’t know where Russia’s borders began or ended.
  • Nord Stream: Russian propagandists claimed that Washington had stated intent to destroy the Nord Stream pipelines, put military equipment in place to do so, and then launched attacks to weaken Russia and control Europe’s energy market.

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main storylines: 

  • Nord Stream: Beijing-linked accounts relayed Russian messaging surrounding the Nord Stream explosions, including the denial of Russian culpability and strong insinuations that the United States was behind the attack. 
  • Anniversary: With October 1 marking the 73rd anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, diplomats on social media posted multiple tweets that juxtaposed bleak images of China before the revolution with upbeat pictures of modern China. One such post used the format to compare the violent 2019 Hong Kong protests with an image of calm Hong Kong streets today.
  • Criticizing the United States: Chinese diplomatic accounts shared an infographic highlighting “201 [US] wars” compared to the “0 conflict[s]” initiated by China, while state media emphasized the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, stating many Florida residents were financially ruined by the storm.

Read the full report here. 

News and Commentary

FBI warns of Russian and Chinese interference ahead of midterms: Federal officials warned that Russia is attempting to sow doubts about the integrity of US elections and China is seeking to undermine a “subset of candidates” that it views as adversarial to Beijing’s interests. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “While much attention is understandably focused on countering domestic threats to the upcoming November midterms, this advisory is the latest reminder that authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China remain interested in meddling in the midterms as well. It is imperative that those working on the front lines of elections continue planning for both sets of threats to ensure the midterms are successful. A failure to account for the myriad of threats could push American democracy to the brink.”

Hacktivists aid Iran protests with cyberattacks and privacy-enhancing tools: Anonymous and other global hacking groups have been conducting cyberattacks against Iranian officials and institutions, while also providing Iranian citizens with VPNs to bypass Tehran’s internet censorship. Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg said, “By taking such aggressive steps to block access to sites and services, including apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, that have been widely used in Iran for years, the regime is forcing an ever larger share of its citizens to seek out new tools for secure communication and uncensored information. Efforts by activists outside the country to provide Iranians with those tools should be encouraged and applauded, but their impact on the use of VPNs and other tools to evade censorship is probably small when compared with the impact of the government’s own draconian policies, or the achievements of the brave activists and organizers within Iran fighting against them.”

Biden administration unveils AI Bill of Rights: This week, the Biden administration released the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, a set of five principles that outline how to design, use, and deploy artificial intelligence technologies in ways that safeguard personal data, ensure transparency, and limit surveillance. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said, “The AI Bill of Rights is a strong step for the United States in articulating a vision for democratic, accountable, and equitable development of artificial intelligence. In words and in practice, democracies need to draw clear distinctions from authoritarians in how emerging technologies like AI are developed and governed if they want their model to be adopted. Like with the EU AI Act, however, the larger challenge here will be implementation and building buy-in from multiple stakeholders.”

In Case You Missed It  

  • Election workers in seven states where the 2020 election results were questioned  continue to experience high levels of threats ahead of the midterm elections.
  • The EU approved an eighth round of sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine that includes trade restrictions on Russian steel and technology as well as a price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil deliveries. 
  • The UN Human Rights Council voted down a proposal from mostly Western countries to hold a debate on alleged human rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
  • The Russian hacktivist group Killnet took responsibility for distributed-denial-of-service attacks that temporarily took down government websites in several US states. 
  • Russian state media has been disseminating propaganda videos on Russia’s war in Ukraine in 18 languages on a new Telegram channel, where (sometimes fake) users can share the videos on other platforms without attributing them to Russian state media, Nisos researchers found
  • Huawei has been supporting a secretive chip startup that may enable the company to evade US sanctions that prevent it from purchasing US chips and other critical technologies. 

ASD in the News

Election officials confront a new problem: Whether they can trust their own poll workers. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Politico

Election workers need to be protected and, sometimes, protected against. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine’s research highlighted in Washington Post

Experts alarmed by GOP secretary of state candidate’s conspiracy theorizing in NM. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Source NM

Despite attempt to slow officials, Maryland election stays on track. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Herald-Mail Media 

Defending Taiwan. Co-Director Zack Cooper interviewed on Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs 

In Focus This Week. ASD report highlighted in ElectionLine

Que reste-t-il des médias d’influence russe en France? (What remains of Russian-influenced media in France?) Research Analyst Etienne Soula writes in Le Rubicon

Quote of the Week

The original Marshall Plan should be a source of inspiration, but not an exact template, for Ukraine’s reconstruction and long-term economic recovery.”

  • GMF President Heather Conley made a call for a Modern Marshall Plan for Ukraine on October 3, 2022.

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