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Our Take

Chinese diplomats and state media have mounted a sizable influence campaign in defense of TikTok—seemingly calling into question the company’s independence, Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman and Research Analyst Etienne Soula find in an analysis of Hamilton 2.0 data. Read The New York Times’ exclusive coverage of the report here. 

Russia’s arrest of American journalist Evan Gershkovich further demonstrates that the Kremlin sees the free press as the enemy, Managing Director David Salvo said on LiveNOW on FOX. 

Not only is early voting beneficial for election administration and access; it also improves election security, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said on Dead Men Don’t Vote.

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Trump arrest: “Trump” was the most frequently tweeted key phrase by Russian propagandists last week, and the United States was the second most mentioned country—one place ahead of Ukraine. Despite that high volume of content, Kremlin-connected accounts produced few original takes on former US President Donald Trump’s arrest. Instead, they amplified domestic US voices that defended Trump. They also repurposed right-wing talking points claiming that the arrest marked the end of US democracy, that Trump could win the next election from jail, and that Presidents George W. Bush and Joe Biden should be arrested too. 
  • Attack on blogger: The Kremlin called a bombing that killed the Russian military blogger known as Vladlen Tatarsky a “terrorist attack”, and Russian officials blamed both Ukrainian intelligence and the Anti-Corruption Foundation, a non-profit associated with the imprisoned dissident Alexei Navalny. State media showed Russian President Vladimir Putin giving a state award to Tatarsky, the Wagner mercenary group “enlisting” the slain blogger, and Russian fighters avenging his death. 
  • Finland joins NATO: Russian diplomats insisted that Finland had “abandoned its self-identity and any independence it has” by joining NATO this week. They also threatened to take retaliatory “military-technical” measures to stop new threats emanating from Finland, and they announced Russia was moving missile systems to Belarus. Moreover, propagandists emphasized that Finland was a Nazi collaborator and argued that NATO is the “ideological successor of the Third Reich”.     

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main topics this week:

  • Trump arrest: “Trump” was one of the ten most-used key phrases and hashtags in tweets by Chinese state media over the past seven days. The bulk of the coverage on Trump’s arrest was factual, but a Pakistan-based diplomat and the consul general in Osaka, Japan amplified accusations that the prosecution was politically motivated, and CGTN America asked whether it constituted “political persecution”.
  • Europeans and Beijing: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s speech last week about worsening EU-China relations prompted displeased reactions from Chinese accounts. As she accompanied French President Emmanuel Macron on a trip to China this week, the Chinese ambassador to the EU, Beijing-based diplomat Wang Lutong, and state media outlets all pushed Europeans to turn the page.
  • Making Boao happen: For Chinese accounts, the main story over the past seven days was the Boao Forum, sometimes referred to as “Asian Davos”, that took place from March 28–31 in China. Chinese diplomatic accounts from all around the world, including the Embassy in Brazil, the ambassador to ASEAN, and the Embassy in India promoted statements about China’s positive role in the world made at the forum.

News and Commentary

Russia, China cooperating on internet control, censorship: Russian and Chinese officials regularly seek each others’ advice on internet control and censorship, a trove of communications verified by RFE/RL revealed, with Russia attempting to learn from China’s Great Firewall and China inquiring about regulating media and quashing dissent. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said, “Russia and China have been drifting closer ideologically and geopolitically, including on issues of technology and internet governance. We have observed a degree of mirroring when it comes to influence operations. This cooperation between the Cyberspace Administration of China and Roskomnadzor on internet censorship should raise significant concern about the intentions of the China-Russia ‘no limits’ partnership to re-shape the global internet.”

GOP-led legislatures propose steady flow of election bills: Republican-led legislatures in North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and other states have proposed a slew of bills that they say will boost faith in the electoral process, such as mandating proof of identification for mail-in voting and allowing citizens to request election reviews, but that experts say may allow for greater partisan influence in elections. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine told the Dispatch, “While some of these proposals, such as Georgia’s decision to restore the use of private funding for elections, are supported by evidence-based research, too many of them are justified largely on the basis of improving voter confidence, which is rarely a good idea. Efforts to improve elections should be rooted in scientific principles and justified in terms of convenience and security. Otherwise, the risk of a future election being inaccessible, insecure, and/or untrustworthy is likely to rise.”

In Case You Missed It

  • A United Kingdom-based media outlet spreads Russian state disinformation stories to millions of Arabic-speakers, sometimes distributing content mere hours after it is posted on Russian state media sites, according to BBC’s disinformation team.
  • Italy’s data protection authority banned ChatGPT and announced it will block its creator, the US company OpenAI, from processing Italian users’ data over privacy and disinformation concerns, as Germany considers a similar ban.
  • A secret contract finalized in November 2021, days after the Biden administration blacklisted NSO Group, gave the US government access to the firm’s geolocation tool that tracks mobile phones, according to the New York Times.
  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen asked China to use its ties with Russia to influence Moscow to rein in its war in Ukraine, and French President Emmanuel Macron said he “counts” on China to reason with Russia, as the two leaders visited Beijing this week.
  • Bard, Google’s artificial intelligence chatbot, substantiates conspiracy theories with content if prompted by user questions, a NewsGuard probe found.
  • Australia’s government banned TikTok on all work-issued devices at the direction of their intelligence and security agencies over the platform’s links to China, becoming the last of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to implement such a ban.

ASD in the News

Chinese Officials Flock to Twitter to Defend TikTok. ASD research covered exclusively in The New York Times

TikTok propaganda labels fall flat in ‘huge win’ for Russia. ASD research covered exclusively in Associated Press

Russia Arrests American Journalist. Managing Director David Salvo interviewed on LiveNOW on Fox

What’s so dangerous about TikTok? Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on MSNBC

Twitter’s labeling of NPR a boon for foreign propagandists, critics say. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar quoted in Washington Post

US ambitions of Bytedance. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on BBC 

US Deadline to Ban TikTok on Gov Devices. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies interviewed Lindsay Gorman on NewsNation

Surveillance State: China’s Digital Tools of Repression. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman on a  National Security Institute panel

Possible Kremlin-linked media accounts not labeled on TikTok. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar quoted in Washington Post 

Russia Using TikTok to Push Pro-Moscow Narrative on Ukraine. ASD research highlighted in Voice of America

David Levine – Election Integrity Fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine interviewed on Dead Men Don’t Vote

Disinformation may be one of Russia and China’s greatest weapons. Managing Director David Salvo quoted in The Hill

TikTok Creators Launch Sister App. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in Leaders

Here’s how TikTok is helping Russian propaganda. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar quoted in Formiche

Against its policies, Twitter began promoting Chinese state media accounts and tweets to users. Research Analyst Etienne Soula quoted in Voice of America

Orbán was informed about the D-summit – Hungary in a Russian trap. Senior Vice President of Democracy Laura Thornton interviewed on Info Vilag

Analysts: Hungary also fell into the trap set by the Russians – Interviews about the Democracy Summit in Washington, from which Hungary was excluded for the second time. Senior Vice President of Democracy Laura Thornton interviewed on Klub Radio

Georgia lawmakers add to the growing list of bans on outside election funding. ASD research highlighted in NPR

Talking Points: TikTok does a poor job of monitoring Russian propaganda. ASD research highlighted in Boston Globe

Business Highlights: TikTok; Banking regulations; FTX. ASD research highlighted in Associated Press

Quote of the Week

“Joining NATO is good for Finland, it is good for Nordic security and it is good for NATO as a whole… Instead of less NATO, he [Russian President Vladimir Putin] has achieved the opposite; more NATO and our door remains firmly open.”

  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a ceremony welcoming Finland into NATO alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.

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