Our Take

There’s never been a more important time for democracies to get together and defend themselves against the rise of autocracy that is being led by Russia and China, Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said on Channel 4 News.

The longer the war in Ukraine continues, the more likely Russia is to use more destructive weapons and tactics, Managing Director David Salvo said on Scripps News.

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Dam explosion: Russian propagandists insisted that Ukraine was behind the blast that severely damaged the Kakhovka dam, calling the alleged Ukrainian attack an “act of insanity”, terrorism, and a “crime against humanity”.  Russian diplomats pointed to their earlier warnings that Ukraine could target the dam and a Washington Post report from last year that showed a Ukrainian officer discussing such a strike as an option. Kremlin-linked accounts also amplified claims that Ukraine artificially raised the water level at the dam before destroying it and accused the West of being involved in the attack.
  • Ukrainian counteroffensive: Kremlin-affiliated accounts touted posts about Russia thwarting a Ukrainian counteroffensive, with tweets describing the number of Ukrainian casualties and the destruction of NATO-provided weapons. Propaganda accounts also praised the “heroism” of Russian soldiers and relayed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s call for Ukraine to end its offensive.  
  • BRICS: “BRICS” was the most frequently used hashtag by Russian propagandists last week as they highlighted foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s trip to Cape Town, where he met with officials from the BRICS group of nations, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Diplomatic accounts posted most of the content about the summit, showcasing Lavrov’s various meetings and the countries’ joint statement, in which the bloc pledged to uphold international law and oppose unilateral coercive measures.       

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

  • South China Sea tensions: Responding to a Chinese warship’s aggressive maneuvering around a US destroyer in the South China Sea, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) blamed the United States for sending its military “to China’s doorsteps”. Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying praised the Chinese military’s “restraint”, and state media claimed that Washington was “stirring up trouble” and accused Western media of having an anti-China bias. 
  • Shangri-La message: Chinese messaging provided significant coverage of China’s defense minister’s speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue. The minister threatened “Taiwan separatists”, blamed “certain countries” for rigging the rules-based order, and asked the United States to “meet China halfway” to stabilize the bilateral relationship. The MFA also had stern words for NATO following the summit, claiming “most countries in the Asia-Pacific” support China’s opposition to the organization’s increasing interest in the region. 
  • BRICS: State media was the main driver of China’s modest coverage of the BRICS gathering in Cape Town. The ambassador to South Africa was the only diplomat to actively promote it. Coverage focused first and foremost on China’s priorities, such as the de-dollarization of the global economy, and successes, such as the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. While South African and Brazilian officials were mentioned, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was conspicuously absent from most Chinese coverage of the gathering. 

News and Commentary

Deepfake speech of Putin declaring martial law airs in Russia: Pro-Ukrainian hackers broadcast a computer-generated speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring martial law and warning that he would order a full-scale mobilization on a number of radio and television stations in Russia’s border regions. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman told the Dispatch,The more deepfakes’ use in propaganda gets normalized, the harder and harder it becomes to tease out reality from the information morass. Unfortunately, that’s not a playing field that plays to democracies’ strengths–trust, transparency, accountability. Ultimately, if there’s no trust in information, it’s autocracies like Russia who end up benefiting.”

Big tech backtracks on social media disinformation rules: A number of social media companies have loosened their disinformation policies as the US presidential election cycle approaches, with YouTube reversing its policy against false content about past US elections and Meta reinstating some Instagram accounts that were previously banned for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. Managing Director Rachael Dean Wilson said, “The trend of social media companies moving away from politically sensitive policies altogether as opposed to trying to improve those regulations is problematic, especially as we head into the 2024 election. Content moderation policy and the line between truth and freedom of speech is complicated, but that means companies should spend more time trying to get it right, instead of throwing up their hands and declaring a free for all.”

United States, EU expand counter-foreign information manipulation work: At a meeting of the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, officials from Washington and Brussels emphasized the importance of helping countries in Africa and Latin America counter foreign information manipulation by supporting a standard for threat information exchanges, increasing preparedness throughout those regions, and calling for social media platforms to focus on the integrity of their products used in those countries. Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas said, For years, both the United States and the EU worked on collecting and analyzing data relating to foreign information manipulation and interference (FIMI) and disinformation campaigns, but they were not aligned on how to do this. Now, both sides have finally agreed to develop a shared standard for structured threat information exchange on FIMI. This is a key element in a package that was agreed during the June meeting that could be a game changer in unlocking new heights in US-EU cooperation for identifying, analyzing, and countering FIMI, not only across the transatlantic space, but in Africa, Latin America, and EU neighborhood countries as well.”

In Case You Missed It

  • China will build a spy base in Cuba, allowing Chinese intelligence to monitor US ships and electronic communications in the southeastern United States, where several US military bases are located, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • The European Commission asked large tech platforms to clearly label photos, videos, and text that were generated by artificial intelligence in an effort to combat the spread of disinformation.
  • A former ByteDance executive alleged the company gave Chinese Communist Party officials access to personal data from Hong Kong civil rights activists and monitored users who uploaded protest-related content.
  • China has an advantage over the AUKUS partnership countries—the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia—in 19 of 23 priority technology areas, including electronic warfare and undersea drones, according to an Australian Strategic Policy Institute report.
  • The FBI has observed an uptick in the use of images generated by artificial intelligence to extort victims online, including by doctoring sexually explicit versions of unrelated photos from chats and private messages.
  • The United States and Finland agreed to cooperate on the development and rollout of 6G wireless communication technology, with an eye to human rights and democracy standards, in order to reduce countries’ reliance on Chinese networks.

ASD in the News

Tussle in Texas over how elections are run could spread to other states. Senior Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Stateline

Elections in times of crisis. Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas on a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe panel

Russian Accounts Spread Fake News on TikTok. ASD at GMF research highlighted in Diálogo Américas

Quote of the Week

“We still seek a world where aggression is a sin. Where human rights are sacred. Where those who preach hatred, tyranny, and genocide are cast out. Where civilians are safe from the ravages of war. Where sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected. And where all states and peoples can pursue their own destinies in freedom.”

  • US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in his speech on June 6 at the Normandy American Cemetery, France, commemorating the 79th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II.

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