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Our Take

Twitter’s decision to label NPR as state media simultaneously undermined the credibility of independent reporting and legitimized outlets backed by the Russian and Chinese governments, Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar writes in Tech Policy Press.

China and Russia see dominance in artificial intelligence as critical to global leadership, Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said on BBC. 

Democracy and autocracy are not limited by borders; people are fighting for democracy within autocracies around the world, and the United States should support the creation of a community for these democrats to exchange ideas, Senior Vice President of Democracy Laura Thornton said on It All Intersects.

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Leaked documents: Some Russian officials and propagandists claimed that leaked US intelligence documents could be part of a disinformation campaign, while others insisted that the documents are real and a sign that there are people in Washington who want to reduce US support for Ukraine. Kremlin-funded outlets have also amplified fact-based reporting on the leaks, which showcase US assessments about Ukraine’s limited arms supplies and US intelligence collection on allies.
  • Macron: Russian state media amplified French President Emmanuel Macron’s assertion that European countries should resist becoming “America’s followers”, with one account claiming “little Macron gained height” after the comments. Kremlin-linked accounts also highlighted US and European policymakers who were upset by Macron’s statements and suggested the comments have “harmed relations between US, Europe and Ukraine”.  

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

  • Macron: Chinese government and state-affiliated media accounts provided significant commentary on Macron’s visit to China. Macron was the top key phrase over the past week, with monitored accounts on Twitter mentioning the French president more than 550 times. Outside of a few soft power tweets documenting Macron’s visit and cultural activities, the top tweets almost all focused either on Macron’s call for France and the EU to reduce their dependence on the United States or the subsequent blowback to those comments from alleged “China haters”. The United States was the third most mentioned country in tweets mentioning Macron after France and China.
  • Twitter labels: Prominent Chinese state media figures celebrated Elon Musk’s decision last week to label the BBC as government funded media, a label that had previously been reserved for state-backed media outlets without editorial firewalls, like those in China. Three of the top 10 most retweeted tweets last week mentioned the BBC, with China Daily head Chen Weihua, who previously tweeted at Elon Musk requesting that his own state-affiliated label be removed, calling the BBC “U.K. govt propaganda” that “never has the guts to call out U.S. propaganda or urge the release of Julian Assange or the West war crimes”. Musk’s decision to label NPR received far less attention from Chinese accounts.
  • Gun control: After another week featuring a mass shooting in the United States, Chinese government officials, in a nod to US criticism over China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, used the hashtag #humanrightsprotection to call on the US to take action over gun deaths. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying and Pakistan-based diplomat Zhang Heqing both tweeted “the children’s lives matter” to criticize the United States’ inaction on gun control. Of the more than 80 tweets mentioning “gun” over the past week, all but three were in reference to gun violence or stalled gun legislation in the United States.  

News and Commentary

ChatGPT, generative AI face growing government skepticism: ChatGPT and other generative artificial intelligence technologies are increasingly facing government scrutiny, with the Biden administration proposing certification requirements and an auditing system to assess their risk of spreading disinformation, EU data regulators stepping up an investigation of alleged data abuses, and China outlining new rules for such tools’ development. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said, “ChatGPT and the dramatic rise of large language models represent a stress test for existing and planned legislation, as well as an urgent imperative for new efforts to steer this technology in the direction of democracy and human rights. It’s also no surprise that China is a first-mover in regulation as it seeks to clamp down on the ability of citizens to generate speech that the party sees as threatening. Control and maintenance of state security are its number one goal.”

Pro-Russia hackers accessed Canada’s gas network, leaked US documents say: Russia-backed hackers claim to have successfully accessed Canada’s gas infrastructure, according to a set of classified US intelligence documents that were leaked online last week; however, independent news organizations have not been able to verify this claim. Managing Director David Salvo told the Dispatch, “Russian state-sponsored actors have long been using cyber tools to penetrate critical infrastructure in democracies. It’s partly a demonstration of capability to Russia’s adversary, in essence a way to make the adversary think that Russia can cause energy or electrical grid disruptions, even if the possibility of that happening is small. Think back to the probing of US voting infrastructure by Russian state-sponsored actors in 2016; even though no votes were altered, the penetration created shock waves. Additionally, the use of proxy groups like hackers to wage an asymmetric attack on infrastructure offers plausible deniability in the event of escalation between Russia and a target state.”

United States sanctions Hungary-based bank over ties to Russia: The US government sanctioned the Hungary-based International Investment Bank (IIB), as well as three individuals linked to the bank’s leadership, over fears that the institution’s ties to the Russian government abet Moscow’s surveillance efforts in the EU, prompting Hungary to withdraw its representatives from the bank. Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas told the Dispatch, “This is a highly unusual but not unprecedented step, which marks a low point in an already fractious relationship between the two NATO allies. The announced sanctions package follows Washington’s decision not to invite Hungary to the recent Summit for Democracy, and comes amidst growing and increasingly vocal US criticism against the country’s rule of law issues and close ties with Moscow. It’s important to underscore that sanctions are not imposed on Hungary, as some narratives have already started to spin, but are targeted against the Russian-controlled IIB located in the country and specific individuals who serve as top officials in the bank. While a positive step, Hungary’s withdrawal from IIB only came under the weight of US sanctions, unlike a number of other EU member states that had ended their participation far sooner after Russia invaded Ukraine.” 

In Case You Missed It

  • Iranian authorities are installing more public cameras to identify and intimidate women who violate the country’s laws mandating that women wear veils in public.
  • Multiple governments have bought and used a new spyware produced by Israeli company QuaDream to target journalists, opposition members, and NGO employees by hacking phones, recording conversations, reading encrypted messages, and tracking locations, according to Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.
  • Cybercriminals posing as Chinese government officials are targeting Chinese nationals residing in the United States by threatening arrest or violence for refusal to pay ransom and sometimes even producing fake warrants, according to the FBI.
  • US cyber ambassador Nathaniel Fick said the State Department will propose a “cyber assistance” fund to assist allies facing cybersecurity crises.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin personally approved the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, whom the US Department of State this week designated as “wrongfully detained”, according to Bloomberg.
  • Roughly 26.2% of Americans were exposed to misinformation ahead of the 2020 elections, a marked decrease from the nearly 44.3% who saw misleading content ahead of the 2016 elections, according to Stanford University researchers who suggested that efforts around media literacy and content labeling helped drive the trend.

ASD in the News

NPR is Not RT: Twitter’s New State-Affiliated Media Policy is Misleading. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar writes in Tech Policy Press

Can we control Artificial Intelligence? Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on BBC

The Thing About Democracy. Senior Vice President of Democracy Laura Thornton interviewed on It All Intersects

U.S. officials believe ‘leaked’ U.S. classified documents about Ukraine war strength may be real. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in NBC News 

Electionline Weekly. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Electionline

Intel officials watching for signs Russia, China are trying to exploit Trump indictment to widen U.S. political divide. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in NBC News

Lemon8 — the TikTok sister app that is gaining traction in the U.S. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in Deseret News

Congress must take action to secure and invest in the 2024 elections. ASD research highlighted in Washington Examiner

Chinese Officials, State Media Had ‘Spike’ In Twitter Activity During Congress’ TikTok Grilling: Report. ASD research highlighted in International Business Times

Quote of the Week

“All the immense progress we see around us was built through conversation and compromise, discussion and debate, voting and inclusion. It’s an incredible attestation to the power of democracy to deliver the needs for all the people.”

  • US President Joe Biden said at Ulster University in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 12 during his visit marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

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