Our Takes

“Information ecosystems were under unprecedented strain … and then you throw artificial intelligence (AI) into the mix. And what you have is such a harsher threat landscape”, Senior Manager for Europe and Fellow Vassilis Ntousas said at an event organized by ASD and the governments of Canada and Latvia in Seoul, South Korea on the sidelines of the third Summit for Democracy.

The TikTok bill moving through the US Congress is imperfect, but nevertheless “gets to the heart of the matter” by questioning the Chinese Communist Party’s ownership and influence over the platform, Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman said on BBC Sounds.

“Not even Portugal can any longer be seen as an exception” to the ascendance of far right parties across Europe after the country’s recent elections, Program Assistant Rita Barbosa Lobo and Senior Manager for Europe and Fellow Vassilis Ntousas write for ASD.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Putin’s “Victory”: Unsurprisingly, the Russian presidential election, the outcome of which was never in doubt, dominated messaging last week across all monitored platforms. Russian state media dutifully reported on the election as if it contained some degree of uncertainty, though the almost complete absence of coverage of incumbent President Vladimir Putin’s challengers was a more telling reflection of reality. Russian accounts focused on the “unprecedented” turnout that they claimed could “exceed 1991”, the first presidential election in Russia’s history. After Putin was declared victorious, Russian state media and its various Western validators claimed that the outcome showed “Russian solidarity” against “Western aggression” and could help stop the “spread of fascism in Europe”.  
  • “Noon” Protests: Russian diplomatic accounts and pages reacted with scorn to Western “fake news” about the “noon against Putin” protests, with dozens of embassies claiming that the voting queues that emerged at noon last Sunday were not a protest but a representation of voter enthusiasm and appreciation for the “opportunity given to [voters] by their country”. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs labeled the coverage of the protests one of “numerous and brazen attempts by our country’s detractors to smear the electoral process”. While most Russian diplomats stuck to the script that the protests were a figment of the West’s imagination, others took them at face value, calling protestors “political provocateurs” who are “fulfill[ing] the political order of their sponsors”.

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

  • Defending TikTok: Last week, PRC diplomats and state media continued to rail against US efforts to force Chinese-owned ByteDance to sell TikTok. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the US House of Representatives of being “on the wrong side of (…) international trade rules”. PRC embassies in Mexico, France, and Kazakhstan denounced moves against the social media company. Xinhua cited a Wall Street Journal article to portray the United States as “protectionist” and “nationalist”, and called the House vote a “staged robbery”.
  • Russian Election: Russia was the third most mentioned country in PRC messaging last week, behind only the PRC and the United States. Xinhua, People’s Daily, and various CGTN branches all covered Putin’s landslide “win” without mentioning the predetermined nature of the vote. 

News and Commentary

AI watermarking technology can be sidestepped, experts contend: As more technology companies turn toward watermarking technology to label AI-generated content, watermarks have been proven easy to both remove and replicate, according to a review by NBC News and other experts. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman told the Dispatch, “Not all watermarking is the same, and there are no silver bullets in the information environment. Technologies like content credentials are about raising the cost of deception and allowing trustworthy actors to certify and verify what is authentic. An image whose modification history is on full display will carry more credibility than one that seems to pop out of nowhere.”

Pro-Russian Telegram users questioned Taiwan’s election results, sovereignty: Prominent pro-Russian Telegram personalities used the backdrop of Taiwan’s January 2024 elections to question Taiwanese sovereignty and the authenticity of the election results, as well as to frame the United States as a meddling provocateur in the island’s politics, according to research from Doublethink Lab. Research Analyst Etienne Soula said, “ASD’s research into Russian and PRC messaging strongly suggests a growing narrative convergence between both actors. So far, this research has mainly highlighted PRC diplomats and state media outlets’ support for Russian talking points about Moscow’s war in Ukraine. By documenting pro-Kremlin influencers’ support for the PRC’s narratives and talking points in Taiwan, this latest reporting provides complementary evidence that corroborates the idea of a concerning Sino-Russian rapprochement in the global information space.”

In Case You Missed It

  • Wisconsin voters will decide in a referendum next month whether to ban the use of private grant money to administer state elections, which critics contend will make running elections more difficult.
  • The US Department of Treasury sanctioned two Russian companies for deploying a network of more than 60 fake websites that impersonated legitimate European news outlets in fall 2022 and amplified by fake social media accounts.
  • The EU will fine social media companies that fail to adequately tackle disinformation, including misleading AI-generated content, before June’s European Parliament elections.
  • Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is suing two men for allegedly creating and posting AI-generated deepfake pornographic videos using her likeness.
  • A group of renowned Western and Chinese AI scientists called for international cooperation on AI to avert catastrophe and “red lines” on its use in weapons and attacks.
  • Bulgaria is purchasing more US-developed nuclear fuel in an attempt to end its dependence on Russia, reducing Moscow’s share of Europe’s energy market.

ASD in the News

TikTok Bill’s Progress Slows in the Senate. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in The New York Times

The Specter of Disinformation Haunts South by Southwest. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in Texas Observer

Quote of the Week

“We have a profound stake in ensuring that democracies can lead the world in AI innovation—so that we can in turn lead the world in setting the norms, the standards, the rules by which artificial intelligence is used.”

—US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the Ministerial Conference of the Third Summit for Democracy in Seoul, South Korea on March 17.

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