Securing Democracy Dispatch

November 13, 2018

Our Take

ASD Director Laura Rosenberger joined the Democracy Works podcast to talk about foreign interference, and highlighted potential future threats related to artificial intelligence and “deep fake” videos.

Social Media Analyst Bret Schafer published a report on ASD’s Hamilton 68 Dashboard, examining Russia’s information operations on Twitter from an operational and thematic perspective, and highlighting “the tactics, techniques, and narratives used to influence Americans online.”

ASD Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts contributed to a Washington Post article on domestic disinformation and detailed disinformation efforts on the video controversy surrounding CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta in a Chicago Tribune article.

ASD’s Bradley Hanlon explains in a new blog post that “Iranian tactics are becoming increasingly sophisticated, mirroring the evolution of the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA)’s tactical playbook.”

Non-Resident Fellow Heidi Tworek is one of the authors of a new report that outlines how governments and digital platform companies can better address hate and harassment online.

News and Commentary

False claims and fabricated videos on the midterms spread across social media: False claims about the midterms spread across social media, including accusations of Muslim candidates supporting terrorist organizations and false reports that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be present at polling locations to prevent voter fraud. The Atlantic Council’s DFR Lab scanned several social media sources for buzzwords surrounding inflammatory, partisan issues like “vote rigging,” “voter suppression,” and “voter fraud,” all three of which had significant amounts of mentions, especially on Twitter, in the month before the election. Fabricated videos purportedly showing CNN’s Don Lemon laughing at a burning American flag and an Ohio voting machine changing someone’s vote also went viral on social media. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence officials are launching a first-ever review of the midterm elections for signs of foreign interference. (CNN, Huffington Post, DFR Lab, The Daily Beast, ABC News)

Facebook exploited by IRA-linked campaign and wrestling with ongoing disinformation operations: The day before the midterm elections, Facebook blocked 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that U.S. law enforcement flagged as linked to unnamed foreign entities. A day later,, “a [Russian] site claiming association with the IRA … posted a list of Instagram accounts it had made, which included many Facebook had taken down [the day before].” Clint Watts surmised the campaign was the “final part of a weeks-long strategy aimed at baiting American media outlets into amplifying talking points about Russia’s election hacking threat.” Jonathan Albright explained that “many of the dangers that were pointed out years ago have seemed to grow exponentially on Facebook.” Facebook “Groups” have also become a hotbed of disinformation. (Facebook, TechCrunch, NBC News, Medium)

Russia to face second round of U.S. sanctions for Skripal poisoning: November 6 marked the deadline for Russia to comply with a range of demands to avoid a second round of U.S. sanctions for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the U.K. earlier this year. According to NBC News, the first round of sanctions introduced on August 8 triggered a three-month deadline for stronger sanctions if the Kremlin did not meet the requirements within the specified timeframe. The Hill reported that the Trump administration has not yet given Congress details on what the sanctions would entail or a timeline on when they would be imposed. (NBC News, The Hill)

In Other News:

– Editor of the USA Really website, Alexander Malkevich, was detained and questioned at a Washington airport and told that his site must register in the U.S. as a foreign agent.

– China’s President Xi Jinping called for greater global cooperation in developing the Internet to make it more “fair and equitable,” while the United States, China, and Russia have refused to endorse a French-backed agreement designed to regulate the Internet and bolster cybersecurity.

– Members of the European Parliament appealed to Angela Merkel to stop the Nord Stream 2 project.

– Danske Bank chairman will step down after money laundering scandal.

– NBC’s Ben Popken described the century-old Russian disinformation playbook.

– BBC launched a new campaign aimed at fighting disinformation with a focus on global media literacy.

– Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declined a request to give evidence on disinformation before an “international grand committee” formed by the U.K., Canada, Australia, Argentina, and Ireland.

Hamilton 68 dashboard

Early last week, accounts tracked by the Hamilton 68 dashboard focused heavily on the U.S. midterm elections, promoting candidates and spreading articles intended to incite fear regarding migrant caravans in Mexico. After the election, accounts seized on close races around the country to promote various voter fraud conspiracy theories propelling hashtags like “stopthesteal” to the top of trending charts on the dashboard. Accounts also focused heavily on the controversy surrounding CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta, after a White House aide’s attempt to pull a microphone away from him turned into a false narrative of Acosta assaulting the aide.

Quote of the Week

“Americans should be aware that foreign actors — and Russia in particular — continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord. They can do this by spreading false information about political processes and candidates, lying about their own interference activities, disseminating propaganda on social media, and through other tactics. The American public can mitigate these efforts by remaining informed, reporting suspicious activity, and being vigilant consumers of information.”

Joint Statement on Election Day Preparations, DHS, DOJ, DNI, FBI. November 5, 2018

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