Omelas and ASD released a new dashboard—the second in a series of dashboards dedicated to monitoring information environments ahead of key global elections in 2024—to track publicly available information about the upcoming Russian presidential election, scheduled for March 15-17. Data from the dashboard is collected from social media accounts, websites, and messaging app channels associated with tens of thousands of media organizations, leaders, parties, military units, militant groups, and more, and will be available from now until two weeks after the election.

Our Takes

US President Joe Biden’s recent executive order on sensitive data “represents a significant step in closing current structural loopholes that render US personal data free fodder for the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) economic and technological ambitions”, Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman and Program Coordinator Caitlin Goldenberg write for ASD.

Russian and PRC media channels have found “staggering” success in Latin America and Africa, where “they are seen as major global media players”, sometimes outpacing US alternatives, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer said at ASD’s event on the Russian-PRC disinformation nexus with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia.

Experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI) models could help average citizens understand what this technology is really capable of creating—and perhaps how to spot AI-generated disinformation online, China Tech Analyst Dylan Welch told BBC’s The Artificial Human podcast.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Joe Biden: In response to US President Joe Biden calling Russian President Vladimir Putin “a crazy son of a bitch”, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov accused Biden of acting like a “Hollywood cowboy”, a Russian parliamentarian labeled Biden a “spoiled child”, and Russia’s ambassador to the United States said that the “rudeness” proves the “irrationality and incompetence” of the administration. Though Putin called the comments “boorish”, he reiterated his claim that Biden would be the “preferred US president for Russia”.
  • Emmanuel Macron: Monitored Russian diplomatic and state media accounts reacted with predictable hostility to French President Emmanual Macron’s refusal to rule out sending French troops to Ukraine, claiming that the comments risked “igniting a third world war” and that Macron must have gotten “hit in the head with urine”. Russian state media also shared out-of-context images that they suggested, falsely, showed Macron fleeing from protesting French farmers in Paris.   

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

  • Israel-Hamas War: Across all monitored platforms, PRC state media continued broadcasting the rising death toll in the Gaza strip. State media outlets also highlighted opposition to the war, such as Israeli protests and the self-immolation of a US serviceman in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. PRC diplomats at the United Nations and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed fingers at the United States for its opposition to a ceasefire, and CGTN Africa produced a segment covering “tensions” between the United States and South Africa over the war.
  • Emmanuel Macron: The PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted very pointedly to Macron’s suggestion that Western troops might be sent to Ukraine, calling for “de-escalation and ceasefire”. PRC state media relayed the Kremlin’s angry threats and highlighted “Western rifts” as France’s allies quickly distanced themselves from that idea. On X, CGTN amplified statements from the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Hungary, NATO, Italy, and the United States pushing back against Macron’s suggestion.

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

  • Self-Immolation of US Protestor: Iranian state-backed media accounts reported heavily on the self-immolation of an American airman outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC and on the subsequent tributes and vigils held for him. Some reporting amplified conspiracy theories that the airman had classified information that US troops were fighting in Gaza.
  • Israel-Hamas War: Iranian media amplified claims by Iranian proxy group Hezbollah that it can strike key strategic targets in Israel with missiles and drones. Iranian state TV also repeated Hezbollah’s claim that they had shot down 450 Israeli drones in south Lebanon.

News and Commentary

Meta to monitor threats to European Parliament elections: Meta announced it will set up a team of intelligence experts, data scientists, engineers, and researchers to identify and combat false election information ahead of the European Parliament’s elections this year, as well as expand its network of independent fact-checkers to include three new partners in Bulgaria, France, and Slovakia. Senior Manager for Europe and Fellow Vassilis Ntousas told the Dispatch, “This is a welcome move, showcasing the slow but steady realization by parts of big tech of their critical role in countering threats against election integrity, infrastructure, and trust. Much like other key elections this year, the European Parliament’s elections are expected to be the target of an avalanche of malign information manipulation and election interference. This is why it’s important to ensure that announcements like this one by Meta are not performative, but responsive to communities’ actual needs, and that the resources dedicated to them are equivalent to the demands of the times.”

United States to counter foreign information operations in Africa and beyond: The US Department of State exposed a Russian initiative to recruit African journalists, bloggers, and influencers to amplify pro-Russian and anti-Western narratives, including claims that the CIA started the AIDS epidemic and that the US Department of Defense uses Africans as biological test subjects. The State Department also announced it will spearhead an international alliance to identify and label covert foreign information operations. Research Analyst Etienne Soula said, “With the world’s fastest growing population, countries that make up a major voting bloc at the United Nations, and abundant natural resources, it should come as no surprise that the African continent is becoming a priority for Russia. Its ‘no-limits partner’, the PRC, is already embedded in the African information landscape, where it amplifies narratives that denigrate the West and promote its own Sino-centric world order. The State Department’s international alliance is a great start but all democracies in the transatlantic space need to invest more time, effort, and money to offer African people an alternative to the authoritarian models promoted by Moscow and Beijing.”

AI chatbots prone to relaying false, misleading information about elections: AI chatbots, such as OpenAI’s GPT-4 and Google’s Gemini, fail to accurately respond to basic questions about the election processes to varying degrees, including suggesting voters head to polling places that do not exist or inventing illogical responses based on rehashed, dated information, according to a report published by AI experts and a bipartisan group of election officials. Senior Fellow David Levine said, “Technology companies must take greater responsibility for ensuring that their products do not spew falsehoods about elections before they are released to the public. The burden for overcoming these sorts of issues shouldn’t lie with others, such as voters, who are often less aware of these issues and less capable of overcoming them. If an AI chatbot can’t reliably respond to basic questions about voting processes, it needs to route users to answers from trusted sources, such as state and local election official websites.”

In Case You Missed It

  • A pro-Kremlin influence campaign solicited several American celebrities to record Cameo videos later posted on TikTok calling for Moldovan President Maia Sandu to be “brought down”, according to a report from the Atlantic Council’s DFR Lab.
  • The United States and nine other countries endorsed shared principles for the research and development of 6G wireless communications systems.
  • Russia has intensified efforts to convince Italians to support a settlement in Ukraine on Russia’s terms and further question Rome’s support for Kyiv, complemented by networks of Russia-friendly local groups in the country holding events pushing Russian narratives.
  • The US Department of Commerce will investigate security and privacy risks from PRC-produced “smart” vehicles like electric cars, potentially paving the way for US restrictions.
  • Australia’s domestic security agency warned that the country faces its greatest-ever threat from foreign interference, citing foreign efforts to gain access to government documents.
  • Numerous cyberespionage units linked to Russian intelligence are attempting to gain access to public and private organizations’ cloud networks, a UK cyber advisory warns.

ASD in the News

Russia’s 2024 election interference has already begun. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in NBC News

US Supreme Court to rule whether content moderation is constitutional. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman interviewed in DW News

How a Right-Wing Controversy Could Sabotage US Election Security. Senior Fellow David Levine quoted in WIRED

US Republicans morph from cold warriors to Trump-led isolationists. Co-Managing Director Rachael Dean Wilson quoted in AFP

Is Temu Safe To Order From? Here’s What We Know. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in Slash Gear

Quote of the Week

“What is commonly known now could not have been imagined two years ago—Russian, Iranian, and North Korean weapons bear the marks of US and European nations.”

—Damien Spleeters, deputy director of operations for investigative research organization Conflict Armament Research, said on February 27 at a US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing about US technology being used in the war in Ukraine.

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