Our Take

China’s proposal that the UN should criminalize the “dissemination of false information” is another example of how Beijing is trying to shape global regulations on digital expression to reflect its own authoritarian model, China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros said in Coda Story.

Czechs can be confident in the integrity of their elections as they head to the polls this week, but election administrators must remain vigilant of potential cyberattacks and disinformation, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine explained in a Tweet thread

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main narratives:

  • Tanks: “Tanks” was the fourth most used phrase by Kremlin-linked accounts last week as they highlighted Western debates over sending tanks to Ukraine. Russian propagandists showcased divisions between and within Western countries, framed Germany as isolated and the United States as an imperialist bully, and alternatively warned about escalation and played down the likely battlefield impact of the tanks.   
  • NATO: Russian propagandists drew attention to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s apparent rejection of Sweden’s bid to join NATO and explained why Russian President Vladimir Putin “considers Erdogan [to be] a real man.” Kremlin-affiliated accounts also claimed the EU was subservient to NATO, that NATO was encroaching on Russian territory, and that the alliance was set to fall apart. 
  • Mishandled classified documents: Russia-backed accounts attacked both President Biden and former vice president Mike Pence over their apparent mishandling of classified documents. Propagandists called Pence “the swamp” and claimed that the Department of Justice was trying to cover up “something much bigger” than Biden’s scandal around the documents, with some accounts linking the issue to conspiracies around Hunter Biden.   

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main topics:

  • Bashing the West: Despite the promotion of foreign minister Qin Gang’s appearance at an NBA game to offer seasonal greetings, accusations of US unilateralism persisted, as did Chinese state media commentators’ attacks on other democracies. 
  • Rallying the rest: Top-level Chinese messaging emphasized the strength of Sino-Russian relations, highlighting a joint Sino-Russian naval exercise with South Africa in February. Chinese diplomats and state media commentators also elevated voices critical of the United States’ role in Latin America. 
  • Chinese New Year: Chinese diplomats generated significant engagement with their end of the year celebratory wishes and tried to woo local audiences in Mexico, South Africa, and Serbia with receptions and galas.

News and Commentary

Zelensky ousts top officials in corruption crackdown: On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky fired or accepted resignations from four deputy ministers and five regional governors amid corruption scandals uncovered by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) and Ukrainian investigative journalists. Senior Fellow for Malign Finance Josh Rudolph said, “In the 11 months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, this is the first major test of how strongly the Ukrainian government will respond to credible allegations of corruption, which is essential for the future of dramatically heightened Western assistance. Some aspects of the response look strong, like Zelensky’s swift firings, while others look unacceptably weak, like the Defense Minister calling press reports ‘absolute nonsense’ and the Defense Ministry calling the accusations ‘unfounded and baseless.’ The strongest actors at this stage appear to be NABU and Ukrainian investigative reporters, and their ability to aggressively pursue potential corruption, even at a time of full-scale war, should give comfort to Ukraine’s international donors that they are investing in a system with powerfully independent accountability.”

India bans circulation of Modi documentary on social media: On Monday, the Indian government invoked an emergency law to block the circulation of social media posts with clips from a BBC documentary that examines the role Prime Minister Narendra Modi played in the 2002 Gujarat riots, which resulted in the death of about 1,000 Muslims. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told the Dispatch, “This is not the first time the Indian government has cracked down on what should be protected speech in a democracy. Back in 2021, the Indian government threatened jail time for employees of social media companies in an attempt to quash anti-government protests in the country. Unfortunately, this latest episode just reaffirms the point that attacks on speech and press freedoms are not only a problem in authoritarian countries.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • The former head of counterintelligence for the FBI’s New York field office was charged with taking more than $225,000 in secret cash payments from a foreign intelligence official and a representative of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties to the Kremlin. 
  • Meta announced that it will reinstate former President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts after having suspended them for his role in spreading false claims about the 2020 election and inciting the January 6, 2021 insurrection. 
  • A bipartisan group of US lawmakers plans to introduce legislation to increase the oversight of farmland purchases by foreign buyers, notably China.    
  • Ukraine urged the West to sanction Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom after  evidence showed it has been supplying the Russian military and sanctioned weapons manufacturers with technology and raw materials for missile fuel. 
  • The Chinese video-sharing platform TikTok confirmed that some of its US employees are able to bypass the platform’s algorithm by using an internal “heating button” to control what videos go viral. 
  • Political parties in Nigeria secretly paid social media influencers to spread disinformation about their opponents ahead of the general election, according to a BBC investigation.

Quote of the Week

“The United States and our democratic allies must show the authoritarian regimes of the world that the invasion and subjugation of free peoples is unacceptable in the modern world.”

  • Senator Bob Menendez said during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on countering Russian foreign aggression in Ukraine on January 26, 2023.

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