ASD, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, is launching two initiatives to strengthen democratic resilience worldwide: one to foster the adoption of content authenticity technologies in newsrooms to address the proliferation of election-related content generated by artificial intelligence (AI), led by Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman, and another to convene civil society actors and policymakers to exchange perspectives on strengthening resilience to foreign malign influence, led by Visiting Senior Fellow Shanthi Kalathil.

Our Takes

It is imperative that the US and allies shield their communications networks from foreign actors like the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—lest they be “held hostage” during a time of crisis, Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman said in her testimony to the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

US President Joe Biden’s campaign joining TikTok risks “normalizing a platform that is essentially accountable, ultimately, to the Chinese Communist Party”, Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman said on CNN

Russia has found some willing partners in its “vast interference campaign in Europe” among the EU’s far-right—sometimes through malign financial ties. With many of these parties surging in the polls, Russia could stand to gain, Research Analyst Etienne Soula and Co-Managing Director David Salvo write for ASD.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Tucker Carlson: There were over 1,100 mentions from monitored accounts over the past week of Tucker Carlson’s “historic” interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian embassies around the globe promoted the event, and state media called it a “lesson in history and a propaganda victory”. Multiple accounts also claimed that the interview had broken the “information blockade” in the West, with state media elevating comments from Elon Musk who suggested, incorrectly, that other social media platforms had censored the interview, and Carlson, who bemoaned without irony the “lack of freedom of information in the West”.
  • Bioweapons: Multiple Russian outlets last week claimed that a construction team uncovered documents showing that Ukrainian authorities “used babies in a hospital in Mariupol as guinea pigs for Western pharmaceutical companies”. The allegations—which included claims that the testing was a “secret bioweapons” program to target “Slavic DNA”—continues a decades-long Russian campaign to promote conspiracy theories about supposed US bioweapons programs in the region. 

The People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s diplomats and state media focused on two main narratives this week:

  • Chinese New Year: Last week, the Spring Festival was the main topic of interest for PRC messaging on all monitored platforms. State media outlets used the celebrations to portray the PRC as prosperous and technologically advanced, arguing that the festival’s “global recognition” showed “China’s growing influence”. They also put forward PRC President Xi Jinping’s speeches that extended to “compatriots in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and overseas Chinese”.
  • US-PRC Relations: While many PRC state media outlets and diplomats seized upon the New Year festivities to highlight US-PRC friendship, others denounced “the rise of new McCarthyism in US politics” and dangerous “US non-stop military drills”. After the Biden campaign announced that it launched a TikTok account, multiple outlets also accused President Biden of double standards for using TikTok to “canvas for votes” after years of “seriously discriminat[ing]” against the PRC-linked platform.

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

  • Houthis: Iranian state-backed media claimed that the Houthis are embarrassing the US and UK navies as they work to protect shipping in the Gulf of Aden. They also claimed that Bahraini hackers penetrated the network of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
  • Israel-Hamas War: Iranian media continued to promote Iran as the primary sponsor and ally of Palestinian militant groups, while casting Israel as a puppet of the United States. They also claimed that Iraqis are increasingly interested in fighting US soldiers still stationed in Iraq.

News and Commentary

France uncovers network of 193 pro-Russian propaganda websites in Western countries: French authorities uncovered a pro-Russian propaganda network of at least 193 websites pushing Kremlin talking points defending the war in Ukraine and criticizing the West; the websites were found in a number of countries including France, Germany, and the United States, but yielded little engagement. Research Analyst Etienne Soula told the Dispatch, “It’s encouraging to see EU member states more actively monitor and root out Russian information manipulation campaigns. However, those campaigns are only a small part of the Kremlin’s interference in European democratic life. More should also be done to investigate Russia’s financing of populist parties that are projected to gain more influence after this year’s European elections.”

Pakistan, Indonesia underscore AI threats to elections: Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan—who is in prison for alleged corruption charges—declared his party’s victory in the general election, despite the ballots still being counted, using an AI-generated video in a campaign marred by violent protests, allegations of vote rigging, and delayed counting; days later, Indonesia’s Golkar party disseminated an AI-generated deepfake of a long-dead Indonesian dictator to appeal for votes in the country’s upcoming election. Senior Fellow David Levine said, “The elections in Pakistan and Indonesia are the latest reminders of how AI-generated content can threaten election integrity. It is imperative that technology companies serving countries conducting elections in 2024 work closely with trusted sources to ensure that their platforms aren’t weaponized to successfully manipulate large swaths of those countries’ electorates.” 

In Case You Missed It

  • State-sponsored hacking groups linked to the PRC, Russia, Iran, and North Korea have been using OpenAI’s large language models to learn how to conduct more convincing cyberattacks; OpenAI terminated five accounts on its platform linked to these hackers.
  • The European Parliament’s press service will use TikTok during this year’s election campaign, despite the institution’s ban on using the platform on work devices.
  • An influence campaign linked to a Beijing public relations firm has promoted pro-PRC content through more than 100 websites disguised as local news outlets in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, according to a Citizen Lab investigation.
  • About half of the 50 tankers sanctioned by the US Treasury Department last October for abetting Russia’s oil trade have failed to load cargoes since the restrictions were placed.
  • Meta disabled the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 
  • Austria’s dependence on Russian natural gas has increased from 80% to 98% in the past two years despite EU-wide efforts to phase out Russian fossil fuel imports, prompting warnings from the country’s energy minister.

ASD in the News

Quote of the Week

“If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin believes that our strength is dwindling and our support is waning, he is completely mistaken.”

—German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on February 12 in Paris at a meeting with her French and Polish counterparts about support for Ukraine.

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