Announcement

Ariane Tabatabai has joined the Alliance for Securing Democracy as the Middle East Fellow. Dr. Tabatabai is also adjunct senior research scholar at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. She was previously an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation. You can read her bio here.

Our Take

The Iranian government has relied on cover-ups and propaganda to mask its failures in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, Fellow for the Middle East Ariane Tabatabai said on Ploughshares Fund’s “Press the Button” podcast. Tabatabai told Le Figaro that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is attempting to enhance its image as a guardian of public health and demonstrate that it can fight the virus without the help of the West.

Election officials need to act quickly to prepare for any coronavirus-necessitated changes to voting in November, Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine said in ProPublica. Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt also told NPR that mishaps in election administration can provide fodder for actors seeking to undermine trust in Western democracies.

The coronavirus crisis represents a sea change in China’s disinformation activity and signals the beginning of more aggressive behavior in the information space, particularly against the United States, Co-Directors Laura Rosenberger and Zack Cooper said on GMF’s “Out of Order” podcast.

The number of Chinese government Twitter accounts has more than tripled over the past year, according to ASD’s analysis of Hamilton 2.0 dashboard data, which was shared by the Wall Street Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer and China Digital Times highlighted another finding: that Chinese officials have been amplifying messaging from Russian and Iranian propaganda outlets, demonstrating new confidence in their brand of information manipulation.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russia Toplines

 

As has been the case for about three months now, coverage of the coronavirus dominated the Russian media ecosystem last week. Like usual, much of the coronavirus content relayed basic news updates on various aspects of the pandemic. Other notable topics included content debunking 5G-coronavirus conspiracy theories; this is a departure from RT and Sputnik’s past 5G messaging, which consistently stoked health and safety concerns related to 5G technologies. Limited coverage of Senator Bernie Sanders’ decision to drop out of the U.S. presidential race emphasized criticisms of former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic establishment, while an even smaller amount of content about the Wisconsin primary highlighted public health concerns. Finally, as an addendum to last week’s report, we found evidence of Russian state-funded media and government officials insinuating that the United States intends to take advantage of the pandemic to carry out a coup in Venezuela.

 

China Toplines

The coronavirus was once again the top topic for the Chinese media ecosystem last week. On Twitter, controversy over a Brazilian minister’s coronavirus remarks constituted a high-profile topic. Chinese state-funded media continued messaging about China’s medical aid, disputing any claims that it carries geopolitical motivations. Some content also emphasized narratives about the return to normal life in China, contrasted with coverage of serious coronavirus outbreaks elsewhere.

Click here to read more of the analysis.

News and Commentary

European Commission unveils guidelines for use of mobile technologies to track the coronavirus outbreak emphasizing pan-European approach to protect privacy: The European Commission recommended new guidelines for technologies that use geolocation data to examine the effectiveness of measures aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak. As countries around the world roll out mobile apps taking divergent approaches to data collection without formal international restrictions, the European Commission has called for a coordinated, “pan-European model” to achieve privacy and data protection. The guidelines include identifying good practices for the exchange of information and avoiding the proliferation of incompatible apps, among others. These new developments have also raised questions among privacy advocates concerned about storage and potential abuse of private data, as well as surveillance powers being granted now that will outlast the outbreak. Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman has argued that being deliberate about privacy and civil liberties in the design of public health surveillance apps is the best defense against an explosion of surveillance technologies that will be used after the crisis. (DW, Ec.europa.edu, CNET, Politico.eu, Twitter)

Wisconsin elections proceeded on schedule after last-minute court challenges,  foreshadowing future voting battles, according to experts: Last Monday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled the governor’s late order to delay in-person voting and extend the deadline for mail-in ballots on the grounds that postponing would create confusion. Still, the election, which proceeded as scheduled that Tuesday, was complicated by long-lines at polling stations, missing absentee ballots, and shortages in poll workers. While many states have postponed their elections, 21 others still have presidential primary deadlines and experts argue they could face similar legal challenges over decisions about election procedures and deadlines. Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine stressed the need to develop resilience plans for in-person voting that account for the spread of the virus and clearly communicate new procedures, which will help ensure the election is perceived as legitimate. (NPR, The Washington Post, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Reuters, CNN, Axios, Twitter)

In other news

  • Facebook is rolling out new tools that use anonymized location data collected from users to show whether individuals are adhering to social distancing guidelines. Apple and Google are also collaborating to create a decentralized contact tracing tool that will help people determine if they have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus.
  • According to researchers at Oxford University, nearly 60 percent of misinformation on Twitter related to the coronavirus that has been debunked by independent fact checkers remains live on the platform without a warning label.
  • China has been purchasing ads on Facebook and Twitter to promote the English-language arms of its state-media outlets and posts that disparage U.S. attempts to fight the coronavirus outbreak, according to cybersecurity consulting firm Recorded Future.
  • Hundreds have been arrested across Asia for posting allegedly false information about the coronavirus, increasing concerns that government efforts to fight “fake news” could wrongfully target citizens and silence dissent.

Quote of the Week

 “A fragmented and uncoordinated approach [to using mobile technologies to curb the outbreak] risks hampering the effectiveness of measures aimed at combating the COVID-19 crisis, whilst also causing serious harm to the single market and to fundamental rights and freedoms… The proposed approach aims to uphold the integrity of the single market and protect fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly the right to privacy and protection of personal data.”

  • The European Commission rolling out its new recommendation for coordinating the use of mobile apps and data in tracking the spread of the coronavirus (April 8, 2020)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.