Our Take

Internet Research Agency (IRA) operatives attempt to hijack American social movements: ASD Social Media Analyst Bret Schafer’s essay on the IRA’s imitation of African-American activists online, featured in the National Urban League’s State of Black America 2019 report, was cited by the New York Times and CBS News. Both reports highlight Schafer’s argument that anonymity and audience segmentation baked into online social networks has allowed Russia’s online provocateurs to insinuate themselves in Black activist communities, where they can, in their own words, “effectively aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.”

What the Mueller Report means for the future of democracy: ASD Director Laura Rosenberger joined the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State’s Democracy Works podcast to discuss the state of efforts to combat Russian interference in the United States in the wake of Special Counsel Mueller’s report. Rosenberger encouraged policymakers to adopt legislation to address manipulative tactics used by the Russians and encouraged citizens to think critically about information acquired online.

News and Commentary

Bipartisan Honest Ads Act reintroduced to regulate online political advertising: Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Mark Warner (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), reintroduced the Honest Ads Act to curb foreign influence by closing loopholes in online political advertising. Special Counsel Robert Mueller found that Russian operatives used paid advertisements to influence the 2016 presidential election and spent more than $100,000 on digital ads in violation of the federal ban on foreign involvement in elections. The Honest Ads Act would mandate that large tech companies meet the same disclosure standards as broadcast, cable, and satellite ads. It would also create a public record of all electioneering communications that appear on their platforms. ASD’s David Salvo and Brittany Beaulieu have recommended the adoption of legislation such as the Honest Ads Act to inform Americans of who is funding the political ads they see online. (Washington Times, FEC, Open Secrets, ASD)

Far-right groups imitating Russian influence tactics ahead of European elections: With less than two weeks until the upcoming parliamentary elections in Europe, social media accounts linked to Russia and far-right groups are spreading disinformation online and amplifying distrust in the centrist parties currently in power, according to the New York Times. Russia’s alleged interference activities in the upcoming elections, which are regarded as a test of rising populism in the EU, may indicate that the Kremlin is continuing its efforts to exploit political divisions and undermine Western institutions. ASD Director Laura Rosenberger and Tom Morley have exposed how the Russian government employs a range of asymmetric tools to support illiberal populist groups across the transatlantic space. (New York Times, ASD)

Russian state-controlled media spreads disinformation regarding 5G technology: RT America, the U.S.-focused wing of Russian state-controlled propaganda outlet RT, has aired multiple segments detailing alleged health threats connected to the launch of 5G networks. According to the New York Times, these reports are intended to stoke fears in the U.S. about 5G technology while undermining and discrediting the United States’ technological advancements in what has become a major technology race between the United States and China. The U. S. government continues to lobby against the integration of Chinese 5G technology in other countries, citing security risks. ASD’s Thomas Morley and Matt Schrader have strongly urged against the use of Chinese 5G technology in European telecommunication systems, as it could give Beijing a new avenue to subvert Western democracies in unprecedented ways. (New York Times, ASD)

In other news

  • Microsoft released an encrypted software kit that allows election officials to verify results and detect when tampering has occurred.
  • FBI Director Christopher Wray said the Bureau is now working with Big Tech to protect against the threat of foreign influence.
  • The Federal Trade Commission asked Congress to pass data privacy legislation to help strengthen its regulatory oversight.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that America would restrict intelligence information sharing if the U.K. government allows Huawei to help build some of the country’s next-generation 5G telecommunications network.
  • U.S. Cyber Command is partnering with allies overseas to prevent election interference ahead of 2020.
  • The FBI will brief Florida House representatives this week on Russia’s alleged hacking of county elections in 2016, after the Mueller report surfaced evidence of a targeted email phishing campaign.     
  • Ransomware attacks on local governments in the U.S. are on the rise, according to CNN reporting.
  • Two Chinese hackers were indicted for stealing the personal information of nearly 79 million Anthem insurance customers.
  • The Pentagon submitted its annual report to Congress on the PRC’s overseas influence activities, detailing its “Three Warfares strategy,” comprised of psychological, public opinion, and legal warfare.
  • Russia attempted to influence South Africa’s general election to strengthen the government African National Congress, according to the Guardian.
  • The Chinese government of Shezhen offered to help Huawei build up to 7,000 5G base stations, which would support a stable flow of contracts for years to come.

Quote of the Week

“Online platforms have made some progress but there is more to be done. Foreign interference in U.S. elections – whether Russia in the 2016 presidential election or another rogue actor in the future – poses a direct threat to our democracy. I intend to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to bolster our defenses and defend the integrity of our electoral system.”

– Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), while reintroducing the Honest Ads Act, May 8, 2019

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