Our Take

Days after an errant Ukrainian missile tragically killed two civilians in Poland, Russian state-sponsored media began falsely reporting that Poland wants to annex three counties in western Ukraine, Deputy Director David Salvo finds in his latest analysis of data from our Yandex dashboard.

While most Republican members of Congress support Ukraine, anti-Ukrainian messages coming from the right flank of the party are dominating online spaces, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told the Guardian. 

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main narratives:

  • War in Ukraine: Kremlin-affiliated accounts provided bombastic but limited commentary on drone strikes that hit air bases within Russia, celebrated President Vladimir Putin driving across a repaired Crimean bridge, and claimed that Ukraine had suffered around a quarter million casualties throughout the war.
  • Price cap: Propagandists asserted that a Group of Seven-led price cap on Russian oil violated international agreements, would cause inflation and recession throughout the West, and would hurt Ukraine.
  • Twitter files: Moscow-linked accounts jumped on the release of Twitter’s internal deliberations about how to handle a story about Hunter Biden, with many arguing that the information proved that Twitter interfered in the 2020 election and that Democrats and the FBI were colluding with Big Tech to manipulate Americans. 

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main themes:

  • Jiang Zemin’s death: The death of former Chinese leader Jian Zemin was heavily covered by Beijing-linked accounts, which lionized the late leader as “immortal” and highlighted condolences from the UN Secretary General and foreign diplomats
  • European Union: Chinese diplomats used European Council President Charles Michel’s visit to Beijing as an opportunity to criticize US partnerships with Europe. 
  • Covid policies: Chinese-affiliated accounts accused the United States of funding anti-lockdown protests, compared high covid death tolls in the United States to lower ones in China, and announced that China’s covid policy had undergone “major adjustments.”

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

DOJ subpoenas local officials in key swing states over Jan 6: The US Department of Justice’s special counsel Jack Smith subpoenaed local election officials in Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin for all communication involving former President Donald Trump, his campaign, and aides and allies who assisted his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, These subpoenas appear to suggest, among other things, that the special counsel is scrutinizing a scheme involving fake electors, individuals who signed documents purporting they were their states’ rightful electors and asserting Trump was the victor in their states even though President Biden won. Any efforts by law enforcement to ensure full accountability for those who illegally sought to overturn 2020 election results should be welcomed and supported.”

TikTok videos promote Russian mercenary group Wagner: Hundreds of videos promoting the Russian military outfit Wagner Group and its actions in Ukraine have been viewed more than a billion times on TikTok despite platform regulations against hateful and violent content, according to a NewsGuard report. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar said, “The war in Ukraine has made it abundantly clear that TikTok is more than a dancing app. It has given analysts real-time information on the conflict, while also giving Russian propagandists a new way to reach people at scale. TikTok’s failure to remove content glorifying the Wagner Group’s violence, though, proves that the platform is not prepared for the role it has stepped into.”

Meta gives VIP users preferential treatment: Meta’s “cross-check” program gives preferential treatment to high-profile users such as politicians and celebrities, allowing them to share content on Facebook and Instagram that would have otherwise been removed for violating company policy, the Oversight Board found. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told the Dispatch, “This policy, as least as it relates to politicians, was relatively well known prior to the Oversight Board’s internal report. Facebook has always justified its preferential treatment of public figures by suggesting that those figures are subject to more intense media and public scrutiny than average users—a perhaps defensible position in countries with a free press but a less defensible position in countries where speech is already restricted. But more importantly, it’s a policy that seems to ignore the fact that high profile users present more, not less, risk to the community if they engage in violative behavior because of their outsized reach and influence.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • Latvian authorities banned Dozhd—an independent Russian television station, also called TV Rain, that has been working in exile in Riga since the start of the Ukraine war—from operating in the country. 
  • China is operating more than 100 police stations in at least 53 countries around the world to monitor and harass exiled Chinese citizens, according to a report by the human rights group SafeGuard Defenders. 
  • The Chinese government-linked hacking group APT41 stole at least $20 million in US benefits for covid-19 recovery, including small business loans and unemployment insurance funds. 
  • An Iranian-state backed hacking group has targeted at least 20 high-profile human rights activists, journalists, diplomats, and politicians working on Middle East issues in an ongoing phishing campaign.  
  • Agrocomplex, a family company of Russian oligarch and former agriculture minister Alexander Tkachev, seized the rights to some 400,000 acres of land from Ukrainian farm owners to become one of the largest farm operators in the country. 
  • The Group of Seven coalition, the EU, and Australia agreed to cap the price of Russian seaborne crude oil at $60 a barrel. 

ASD in the News

Top US conservatives pushing Russia’s spin on Ukraine war, experts say, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The Guardian

Why are top US conservatives giving aid and comfort to Putin? Senior fellow Bret Schafer interviewed on Background Briefing with Ian Masters

Showtime at the TTC: The EU and US Spar on Tech, Senior Fellow for Emerging Technology Lindsay Gorman featured in the Center for European Policy Analysis

Six Very Real Threats to Democracy, Head of External Affairs Rachel Dean Wilson quoted in Capital & Main

‘They are deleting our images’: Chinese protesters detail digital censorship, VPN struggles as fight over COVID lockdowns grows, China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros quoted in Daily Dot 

US risks falling behind foreign competitors on next generation vaccines. Congress must act now, Senior Fellow for Emerging Technology Lindsay Gorman quoted in The Hill

Le interferenze straniere: resilienza legislativa, norme elettorali e campagne di manipolazione dell’informazione (Foreign interference: legislative resilience, electoral rules and information manipulation campaigns), Senior Fellow for Malign Finance Josh Rudolph’s research cited in Interparliamentary Meetings Report of the Italian Senate and Chamber of Deputies

Quote of the Week

“Putin and others will try to turn our own open, democratic systems against us, through disinformation campaigns and influence peddling. European citizens have a wide variety of views, and European political leaders discuss and sometimes argue about the right way forward, especially during geopolitical and economic challenges. But these characteristics of our open societies are features, not bugs; they are the essence of democratic decision-making.”

  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz writes in the January/February 2023 issue of Foreign Affairs

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