Our Take

The widespread use of AI-generated images and videos has made it difficult not just to tell whether something is fake, but also whether something is real, which is advantageous to autocrats trying to sow doubt and discord in the information space, Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman said on Face the Nation.

In a voting system as complicated as the United States’, mistakes are bound to happen, but they are not a sign of malfeasance. If and when mistakes occur, election officials must be ready to respond immediately to prevent further erosion of trust in US elections, Senior Fellow David Levine and Program Assistant Krystyna Sikora write in a new report.

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Riots in France: “Police”, “Riots”, and “Macron” were among the most frequently used key phrases in tweets by Russia-affiliated accounts last week as violent riots broke out across France. Propagandists amplified messages calling the unrest a coup and juxtaposing Putin’s handling of the Wagner rebellion with Macron’s alleged mishandling of the riots. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev capitalized on the unrest by stating that “the money spent in vain on weapons for the gang of the drug addict Zelensky could have been useful to ordinary French people”.
  • Attacks on the Bidens: President Joe Biden and his son Hunter were fixtures of Russian propagandists’ most retweeted posts last week. Russia-affiliated accounts retweeted news about cocaine being discovered in the White House and shared accusations of Hunter Biden’s drug use—with some claiming that many in Biden’s staff use cocaine. Propagandists also spread stories about alleged Biden family corruption, including by featuring a Tucker Carlson clip on the topic.
  •  The West and Ukraine: Russian-backed accounts continued to attack Ukraine, asserting that “Ukrainian forces are on the verge of collapse” and claiming that US weapons sent to Ukraine were sold on the black market and ended up in the “hands of French rioters”. Russian propagandists also amplified a video from the UN Security Council in which a commentator accused the US of “corruption and lies regarding the US proxy war in Ukraine”. 

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

  • Blonde hair dye: China’s top diplomat Wang Yi made headlines on Monday when he told Japanese and South Korean officials that “no matter how blonde you dye your hair (…), you can never become a Westerner”. While the ultra-nationalist Global Times repeated those exact words, Chinese diplomats around the world focused instead on Wang’s less controversial pleas to “cultivate a sense of strategic autonomy” and to “relaunch cooperation efforts” between the three Asian states.
  • Export controls: The Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced Monday that China would impose export restrictions on gallium and germanium, two metals used in computer chips. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) spokesperson assured reporters that the measures respected “common international practice” and did not “target any specific country”, China Daily accused the United States of hoarding germanium. Chinese messaging also warned that Beijing had “more tools for countermeasures” up its sleeve.
  • Riots in France: Chinese state media advised Chinese citizens about the riots in France, focusing in particular on an attack on a bus of Chinese tourists. CGTN and the Global Times blamed European countries’ exploitation of migrant workers for the unrest. Chinese diplomats criticized Western media’s supposed double standards by comparing their coverage of French rioters to that of Hong Kong protesters in 2019 and 2020. 

News and Commentary

Russian surveillance tech industry evolves: Russian companies are attempting to export new surveillance technology to Central Asia that the Kremlin has been using to track digital communication between individuals and monitor internet traffic. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman told the Dispatch, “This leak is a reminder that the threat of digital authoritarianism does not begin and end with Chinese telecommunications companies. The more plug-and-play and the more interwoven these spyware solutions across the digital stack get, the easier they are to export. Central Asia is primed to be a flashpoint for the convergence of Chinese and Russian techno-authoritarianism and the future of their digital ‘no-limits’ partnership.”

Prigozhin shuts down infamous Russian troll factory: Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin shut down the Internet Research Agency (IRA)—a Russian “troll factory” under US sanctions for its robust disinformation campaign before the 2016 US election—as he faces pressure from Russia’s government after the Wagner Group’s failed mutiny; it is not, however, clear if the IRA will remain permanently shuttered. Managing Director David Salvo said, “The Kremlin is heavily reliant on the Wagner Group both to fight its war in Ukraine and to conduct malign influence operations around the world, so it is hard to imagine its operations ceasing once and for all. I would expect Wagner to be reconstituted as smaller companies so no one person can amass the resources and power Prigozhin has had, and, therefore, no one person will be in a position to challenge Putin again. But I would not expect Wagner’s elite fighters to disappear from the battlefield in Ukraine forever, nor would I expect Russian efforts to undermine democracy and support autocracy in the Global South to stop.”

In Case You Missed It

  • The Chinese government restricted exports of gallium and germanium, two minerals used for producing semiconductors, and said it is “just the start” of such restrictions ahead of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s trip to China to discuss trade relations. 
  • The European Commission unveiled a proposal to bolster EU data rules in cross-border privacy investigations against big tech companies, setting rules to force national privacy regulators to share data with their counterparts.
  • A federal judge on Tuesday prohibited several government agencies from communicating with social media companies about “protected speech” in response to a lawsuit filed by Missouri and Louisiana alleging that the government overstepped in asking platforms to address mis- and disinformation online. 
  • Over 30 million users signed up for Meta’s app Threads—its alternative to Twitter—within half a day of its release in more than 100 countries as some Twitter users seek an alternative to recent turmoil on the site.
  • A new French Senate report recommended that TikTok be banned on the phones of staff at “strategic companies”, including energy, finance, water management, and transport organizations, concluding that ByteDance is too dependent on the Chinese government.
  • Bulgaria’s new prime minister said the country’s institutions must address persistent Russian interference, including the Kremlin’s concerted propaganda campaigns in the country and mysterious explosions at arms factories, among other events in recent years.

ASD in the News

TikTok’s parent company launches new social media app. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman interviewed on CNN

Why Putin should worry his propaganda machine broke down. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Politico

Ukraine’s Corruption Fight Faces Suspicions of Political Plot. Senior Fellow Josh Rudolph quoted in Newsweek

Yellen arrives in China as US seeks to stabilise ties. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in AFP

Quote of the Week

“The transatlantic community can only be stable and secure if Ukraine is secure. Ukraine’s entry into NATO, fulfilling the promise made at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, would achieve that.” 

  • Forty-six foreign policy experts argued in Politico on July 5, a week ahead of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.


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