China and other authoritarian regimes are attempting to undermine Canadians’ confidence in democratic governance and the integrity of Canadian elections, Managing Director David Salvo said in testimony to the Canadian Parliament.
The violence at an opposition rally in Turkey last Sunday raises the ominous possibility that if the usual autocratic tactics fail to secure a clear victory in this weekend’s election, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government could rely on violence and intimidation to stay in power, Senior Fellow Josh Rudolph and Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg write in Just Security.
Turkish President Erdoğan is Turkey’s biggest troll, Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg writes on the Interference Matters blog. His government allegedly pays people to carry out disinformation campaigns against its perceived enemies, while also jailing opposition figures, journalists, and ordinary citizens for spreading narratives that the regime views as unfavorable.
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Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main narratives this week:
- Victory Day: The four most frequently used keywords in tweets by Kremlin-linked accounts last week were related to Victory Day, Russia’s annual commemoration of its World War II victory. Diplomatic and state media accounts amplified Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech, in which he pushed routine but baseless justifications for launching the war against Ukraine. State-backed outlets also complained about supposed efforts by Western states to stifle Russian patriotism in their countries.
- Wagner Group: Russia-affiliated accounts had a relatively muted reaction to Yevgeny Prigozhin’s attacks on the Russian Defense Ministry and his threats to pull the Wagner Group from fighting in Bakhmut. Kremlin-backed accounts posted fewer than 100 tweets mentioning “Wagner” or “Prigozhin”, signaling that Russia did not want to highlight the feud between its Defense Ministry and its most important mercenary force.
- Terrorism: Russian propagandists continued to argue that the United States was sponsoring Ukrainian terrorist attacks. State media pointed to recent comments by Ukraine’s head of military intelligence as proof that Ukraine is a terrorist state. They also blamed Ukraine and the United States for targeting a Russian writer with a car bomb, with RIA Novosti claiming that Kyiv was on “the hunt for Russian opinion leaders”.
Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main topics this week:
- NATO bombings: On May 7, many Beijing-linked Twitter accounts commemorated NATO’s accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Serbia in 1999. The consul general in Barcelona deplored the death of three Chinese citizens in the incident, and the ambassador in Serbia highlighted the “steely friendship” between China and Serbia that resulted from the incident. A Beijing-based diplomat denounced “NATO’s bloody crime”, while CGTN affiliate T-House vowed that China would “never forget NATO’s barbaric atrocities”.
- “Empire of Hacking”: On May 4, Chinese authorities released a report on the CIA called “Empire of Hacking”. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) explained that the US agency used “cyber weapons to carry out espionage” and “secretly conducted (…) ‘Color Revolution’ around the world”. The report was amplified by CGTN in English, Spanish, and Arabic, among others, as well as by Chinese embassies in Italy, Kazakhstan, and the Philippines.
- Ready to help: The MFA welcomed the Arab League’s reinstatement of Syria while berating US sanctions targeting Damascus. As Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with the Taliban in Pakistan, Chinese diplomats and state media proclaimed that “China is ready to help”, while the MFA called on “relevant countries” to “lift unilateral sanctions”. The most popular Chinese tweet last week mocked a US official for attacking China’s infrastructure efforts in Africa from inside a Chinese-built venue.
TikTok employees tracked journalist, flagged users who viewed “LGBT content”: Reporting revealed that TikTok employees used data from the app to track a UK-based journalist without her knowledge and to collect a list of users that engaged with “LGBT content” posted on the platform. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said, “The hits just keep on coming for TikTok, which is doing a poor job of showing regulators that it is up to the task of responsible conduct as befits a platform comprising critical information infrastructure in democracies. These actions of tracking journalists and users engaging with LGBT content have a distinctively authoritarian tinge to them. Can authoritarian-based social media apps show credible distance from authoritarian countries? If TikTok is the example, so far the answer is no.”
Canada expels Chinese diplomat for targeting lawmaker: Canada expelled a Chinese diplomat for allegedly targeting a Conservative opposition lawmaker who had sponsored legislation condemning the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) treatment of Uyghurs; in retaliation, China ordered a Canadian diplomat to leave the country. Managing Director David Salvo told the Dispatch, “The harassment of politicians Beijing perceives as anti-China is one of many tactics the CCP uses to try to influence policy and public discourse in democracies. The converse is true, too, in that the CCP cultivates politicians who might champion policies that mirror the CCP’s worldview. Canada has been facing this type of interference by CCP officials for several years. Increasingly, these operations target the Chinese Canadian diaspora and Canadian politicians of Chinese ethnicity. The expulsion of the Chinese diplomat who led this campaign is a good step for Ottawa to take, but strengthening defenses against authoritarian interference will require a more comprehensive strategy—and buy-in from Liberals and Conservatives alike.”
Ariz. county failed to report known errors before election certification: Pinal County, Arizona’s former elections director neglected to report glaring errors and other red flags that contributed to the exclusion of more than 500 votes from results sent to county supervisors for certification following the 2022 midterm election, according to a VoteBeat investigation. Senior Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “At a time when many Americans continue to have doubts about the integrity of US elections, Pinal County’s latest elections troubles could have ramifications that extend well beyond the county, and perhaps the state of Arizona. If they haven’t already done so, Pinal County should conduct an independent investigation into these errors to determine how they occurred, and what can be done to prevent them from recurring in the future. McGregor recently completed a thorough, independent investigation into the printer issues that affected some Maricopa County voter centers in the November 8, 2022 general election, and it is critical that Pinal County brings someone of her stature on to help get its house in order. Anything short of that risks creating even more doubt about Pinal County elections, which in turn could undermine efforts by election officials there and elsewhere to conduct future elections.”
In Case You Missed It
- The FBI disrupted a sophisticated Russian cyberespionage operation that has used malware to steal documents from hundreds of computer systems in more than 50 countries since 2004, according to the US Department of Justice.
- Twitter’s new paid verification rules changes have made it more difficult to distinguish local elections offices’ accounts from those using similar handles or posing as elections officials, increasing the risk of the spread of election disinformation.
- EU lawmakers called for a de facto ban on Pegasus spyware unless EU member states meet certain criteria by the end of 2023, singling out Hungary, Poland, Greece, Spain, and Cyprus for misusing the technology.
- Chinese police arrested a man for allegedly using ChatGPT to create a fake article about a train crash, marking China’s first such arrest under a new artificial intelligence law.
- Dubai has become a key market for Russian businesspeople looking to evade Western sanctions and purchase luxury goods, including Western car models, smartphones, and laptops, either for personal use or resale in Russia.
- Russian and Chinese information operations and propaganda would likely frame a US government default on its debt as evidence of US dysfunction, according to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.
“I think there’s a shared understanding that the relationship that we all have with China has aspects that are clearly competitive. There may be aspects that are adversarial, and it’s our determination to make sure that competition does not veer into conflict.”
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a press conference alongside Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares in Washington, DC on May 10.