Our Takes

Despite US President Joe Biden’s campaign joining TikTok, “it does seem that the administration is still willing to pursue aggressive action to resolve the national security concerns there”, Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman told DW News. “The hope is that” Americans “can continue to use TikTok” if a recent bill passed by the House becomes law, but “just not under ownership that is controlled by” the Chinese Communist Party, Gorman told MSNBC.

With “trust in US elections already alarmingly low”, artificial intelligence (AI) introduces a number of threats. To counter them, “election workers must be well-equipped … to ensure the integrity of this year’s election”, Research Assistant Krystyna Sikora, Senior Fellow David Levine, and Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman write in the Fulcrum.

With support from ASD, researchers at two European universities discovered a small network of Polish news blogs that may serve as pathways for Russian state media and pro-Kremlin media to sidestep formal bans and reach audiences in Poland. Read their findings and analysis here!

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Presidential Elections: Despite being a few days away from an unfree and unfair presidential election, the outcome of which is predetermined, Russian state media and diplomats provided comparatively little coverage of the event. Across all platforms, monitored accounts and pages mentioned “election” in fewer than 1,000 posts. By comparison, there were nearly 4,000 mentions of “Ukraine”. Russian accounts again accused the United States of orchestrating election interference, claiming that the Biden administration “tasked American NGOs to reduce turnout” and that American “IT specialists” were planning “to carry out cyber attacks on the remote electronic voting system”.
  • Chemical Weapons: Russian state media resurfaced an old claim that Ukraine is planning to commit terrorist acts using banned chemical weapons, in this case using one supplied by the United States. Dozens of state media outlets amplified the story, some of which not only suggested future use of chemical weapons but also that Ukraine is currently using “fertilizers, pesticides, defoliants, cleaning products, paints, biotoxins and chemicals included in the Chemical Weapons Convention”.

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

  • TikTok: PRC state media outlets rushed to defend TikTok from a US Congressional bill requiring its PRC-linked owner to divest from it. They accused the United States of “looting” and “devouring” the company and claimed that the bill “trampled upon First Amendment rights”, suggesting it was really about limiting the US public’s “ability to see what is really going on in the world”. On X, PRC diplomats in Japan, Colombia, and Ireland denounced the bill. Also on X, state media commentators praised TikTok’s move to encourage its users to lobby their representatives and suggested that the ban would benefit former US President—and current presidential candidate—Donald Trump.
  • Two Sessions: As the Two Sessions came to an end last week, PRC diplomats and state media outlets lauded the event’s success. A Xinhua video featured ambassadors from Cyprus, Rwanda, Nicaragua, Turkey, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo all praising various aspects of PRC governance. CCTV openly used AI-generated images to illustrate propagandistic posts about space exploration, grain output, and Chinese multinationals. CGTN did the same to promote the country’s “sci-tech innovation”.

News and Commentary

ODNI report warns of foreign influence campaigns targeting 2024 US elections: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s 2024 Threat Assessment concluded that foreign authoritarian countries will likely attempt to interfere with this year’s US elections, citing Russia and the PRC’s experimentation with generative AI to create more convincing information campaigns and perfect their cyber capabilities. The report also singled out PRC propaganda campaigns on TikTok that targeted candidates from both major parties during the 2022 US midterm elections. Co-Managing Director Rachael Dean Wilson told the Dispatch, “Russia, the PRC, and Iran have attempted to interfere in past US elections, so it’s a safe bet they will try and do it again this election cycle. This threat assessment has two major takeaways for the public. First, our adversaries have significant geopolitical interests in the outcome of the US election, but also in any perceived US dysfunction or division along the way. Second, foreign actors’ tactics are evolving and they are weaponizing new technologies like generative AI for their benefit.”

European Parliament approves EU’s AI Act: The European Parliament passed the AI Act by a wide margin, putting the world’s first comprehensive set of AI regulations to enter into force later this year, including rules that classify AI systems’ legal obligations based on their level of risk and require the labeling of AI-generated deepfakes as such. Senior Manager for Europe and Fellow Vassilis Ntousas said, “This is a historic development, and the Parliament’s overwhelming vote in favor of this first set of detailed rules for the development and deployment of AI technology at a global level shows this. Going forward, three key factors will decide the Act’s success. The first is how consistently and comprehensively it will be implemented, not least given variations among European countries. The second factor is whether the Act, and its risk-based assessment approachits central innovationmanages to serve as a global signpost for other states and governments that are wrestling with how to regulate AI technologies. And thirdly, key parts of it, such as those focusing on foundation models, may become redundant in the near future precisely due to the fast-developing nature of these technologies.”

YouTube algorithm favored far right content ahead of Finnish elections: YouTube’s algorithm boosted right-wing content ahead of Finland’s 2024 elections, including a large amount tied to the far right Finns party, directing users toward a limited number of channels, according to a report from two Finnish-based fact-checking organizations. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer said, “Research on recommendation systems is critical in helping to understand what users are being exposed to online, particularly during critical election periods. This study also highlights the need for companies to dedicate more resources to non-English language spaces, and to provide external researchers with the data they need to effectively conduct these kinds of risk assessments.”

In Case You Missed It

  • Google will restrict its AI chatbot, Gemini, from answering election-related questions to avoid the spread of false information, and has already implemented these changes in the United States and India.
  • TikTok can seize the holdings of shareholders that publicly criticize the company, per the platform’s unique shareholder agreement, according to Fortune magazine.
  • The UK government will restrict the export of quantum computers to foreign buyers to crack down on foreign militaries’ misuse of the technology.
  • Russia had full control over the construction of a major European gas pipeline through Bulgaria for years despite the then-Bulgarian prime minister’s comments to the contrary, leaked Russian politicians’ emails reveal.
  • The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency took two systems offline in February after hackers exploited vulnerabilities in the agency’s Ivanti products.
  • The EU lifted sanctions against Arkady Volozh, co-founder of Russian technology company Yandex, after he reportedly distanced himself from Russia and its war efforts.

ASD in the News

Biden the President Wants to Curb TikTok. Biden the Candidate Embraces Its Stars. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in The New York Times

TikTok Ban Vote Shows Congress’s China Hawks Are in Control. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in Foreign Policy

Trump’s TikTok flip revives concerns over influence of billionaire donors. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in Politico

Moldova must bolster its electoral integrity ahead of this year’s presidential election. Senior Fellow David Levine and GMF’s Laurențiu Pleșca wrote in Emerging Europe

Russian Presidential Campaign Hints at Renewed Support for War. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer and Ben Dubow write for ASD

Securing the ballot. Elections in times of AI and new technological changes. Senior Manager for Europe and Fellow Vassilis Ntousas spoke before the European Economic and Social Committee

观察人士称北京对拜登国情咨文反应较温和 (Observers said Beijing’s response to Biden’s State of the Union address was mild). Research Analyst Etienne Soula quoted in VOA Chinese

Lessons from Russia’s Hybrid War Against Sweden and Finland NATO Membership. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Polygraph.info

Chinese espionage a prime concern for connected vehicles. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in CSO Online

Russia fake news sites mimic American newspapers. Investigative Data and Research Analyst Peter Benzoni quoted in The Week

Eksperter: Putin bruker migrasjon til å påvirke USAs valg (Experts: Putin uses migration to influence US elections). Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Aftenposten

On the State of Digital Authoritarianism in Indonesia and its Contradictions. ASD research cited in New Naratif

Quote of the Week

“I 100 percent expect it to happen this cycle. It is going to be prevalent in election communications this year.”

—New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told Politico on March 11 about the risk of AI-generated deepfake videos and other disinformation about elections.

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