Our Take

It is a mistake to view Russia’s interference as focused on a particular candidate or party; instead, it is part of a broader effort to sow chaos and make democracy appear ineffective, Head of Research and Policy Jessica Brandt told Bloomberg’s “Balance of Power” and The Christian Science Monitor. Co-director Zack Cooper reiterated this in TIME.

Brandt also told NPR that Russian state media and diplomatic accounts on Twitter have been amplifying claims that the primary process is rigged, a trend seen during the 2016 election cycle, Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts noted. These efforts focus on intra-party divisions, Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson reported to VOA News.

With many Americans worried about the security of U.S. elections, even mechanical or administrative problems can have a corrosive effect on trust, Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine told NPR.

News and Commentary

Twitter applies manipulated media policy for the first time to edited video of Joe Biden, Facebook applies fact-checking label: On Sunday, Twitter flagged an edited video of former vice president Joe Biden that appeared to show Mr. Biden calling for the reelection of President Trump. The episode represents the first test of Twitter’s new policy on labeling tweets containing manipulated media. Initially, the label did not show up when users searched for the video, which was shared by White House social media director Dan Scavino. However, a Twitter spokesperson said the label was appearing in individuals’ timelines, and the company is working to fix the issue. Early Monday morning, Facebook announced that it would reduce the video’s distribution after one of its fact-checking partners debunked the claim. Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman emphasized the need for social media companies to uniformly apply clear policies when making decisions about manipulated media. Gorman and Research Assistant Amber Frankland have also argued that both Twitter and Facebook’s policies would benefit from greater transparency and accountability. (The Washington Post, Twitter, ASD)

Senior administration officials issue joint statement on protecting against foreign interference before Super Tuesday: Top U.S. officials across multiple agencies, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Homeland Security, released a joint statement immediately ahead of Super Tuesday warning that “foreign actors continue to try to influence public sentiment and shape voter perceptions.” Officials added that these actors “spread false information and propaganda about political processes and candidates on social media in hopes to cause confusion and create doubt in our system.” Director Laura Rosenberger underscored the importance of direct statements from government, especially after a series of recent, confusing leaks. The emphasis on preparedness, she said, is key, and the best defense against disinformation is a well-informed and vigilant republic. Several states also encountered technical glitches with election administration on Super Tuesday. Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine said that the administration of elections must be as seamless as possible to maintain voter confidence in U.S. electoral systems. (Lawfare, FBI.gov, Twitter, The Washington Post, NPR)

Facebook announces network takedowns in February’s coordinated inauthentic behavior report: In its new monthly report on takedowns, Facebook published information about two networks, originating in India and Egypt, that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior on its platforms; earlier in the month, Facebook also announced that it removed unconnected networks originating in Russia, Iran, and Myanmar and Vietnam. Some of the fake accounts and groups were government-backed and spread content with politically charged narratives, while the networks in India and Egypt were linked to marketing firms previously banned for repeatedly violating Facebook’s policies. The social media company also found accounts in Egypt coordinated their activities with other platforms, and that a set of Twitter accounts appeared to be part of the same campaign. Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt has argued with former Research Assistant Brad Hanlon that responding to inauthentic behavior online that spans various platforms demands more effective coordination between social media companies. (Facebook, CyberScoop, DFRLab, Lawfare)

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

For the seventh week in a row, news about the coronavirus has dominated the Russian media ecosystem, according to data collected by ASD experts. Less prominent topics with notable narrative pushes included coverage of the migrant situation on the Greece-Turkey border and the United States’ Super Tuesday voting.

In other news

  • The Senate passed the Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2019, a bill that would require the administration to identify security threats and potential fixes within the equipment and software that support 5G networks.
  • A bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers urged the U.K. government to revisit its recent decision to allow China’s Huawei to build part of its 5G networks, and to take steps to mitigate the security, privacy, and economic threats posed by Huawei.
  • At a congressional hearing last week, executives at Nokia and Ericsson touted their technology as a viable, secure alternative to Huawei; they also offered their support for legislation to help U.S. telecom providers replace Huawei equipment.
  • On Monday, the British government announced that it set up a team to identify and tackle “interference and disinformation” around the spread of the coronavirus.
  • The State Department announced that the United States will give $8 million in cybersecurity assistance funds to Ukraine as part of a “cyber dialogue” between officials from the two countries.
  • According to CrowdStrike’s 2020 Global Threat Report, there was an increase in incidents of ransomware, maturation in the tactics used, and also increasing ransom demands from eCrime actors online throughout 2019.
  • Last week, a key defense supplier to a number of major companies, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing, was targeted in an alleged ransomware attack; the Denver-based supplier, Visser Precision Manufacturing, confirmed that the incident included access to or theft of data.

Quote of the Week

“We are 244 days from the 2020 presidential election…My top priority is a safe and secure election that is free from foreign influence…Malicious actors are trying to test our defenses and our resolve. We are ready for them and any others who try to interfere in our democratic processes.”

  • U.S. Cyber Command leader General Paul Nakasone testified during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing (March 4, 2020)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.