Dispatch (April 29th) from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

Our Take

Foreign trolls continue to target social media platforms: ASD Non-resident Fellow Clint Watts joined NPR’s Sacha Pfeiffer to discuss the various manipulation tactics used by Russian trolls to sow discord within the U.S. in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Watts emphasized the need for bipartisan cooperation to remedy the polarization that agents of interference exploit. Last week, Watts also published the second piece in a three part series on Advanced Persistent Manipulators, where he identifies steps social media platforms and other technology companies can take to protect their users from sophisticated troll operations.

Still much to be learned about Russia’s activity in 2016: Following the release of the Special Counsel’s redacted report, ASD’s Jessica Brandt and Bradley Hanlon outlined major takeaways about Russia’s “sweeping and systematic interference” in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Sharing his thoughts on the future of Russian interference with ABC News, ASD’s Bret Schafer argued, “I think we have a clearer picture of what Russia did in 2016, but I’m sure we don’t know everything they did, and that’s just going to take time.”

Social media companies fail to uniformly enforce community standards: In Lawfare, ASD’s Jessica Brandt and Bradley Hanlon investigate Facebook’s recent takedown of thousands of accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior. They note that related accounts continue to operate, spreading disinformation on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. With the 2020 election fast approaching, better coordination across social media platforms is urgently needed to effectively combat foreign disinformation operations.

U.K. government proceeds with Huawei partnership despite security concerns: ASD’s Laura Rosenberger joined Katty Kay of BBC News to discuss the UK’s controversial decision to allow Huawei access to “non-core” components of its 5G network. The decision, which was leaked to the Daily Telegraph and widely criticized by members of May’s own Conservative Party, has wide-reaching implications for intelligence sharing across the Atlantic.

News and Commentary

Chinese surveillance technology is exported to the Western Hemisphere: According to the New York Times, Ecuador recently installed a domestic surveillance system that borrows from China’s model of civilian control. The proliferation of Chinese-made intelligent monitoring systems technologies, now in use in 18 countries, could have profound implications for privacy. China is poised to accelerate the export of its surveillance technology as it refocuses the Belt and Road Initiative onto digital infrastructure investments. The export of Chinese telecommunications technology is already creating tensions between the U.S. and its allies, as the UK government has approved the incorporation of Huawei equipment in its upcoming 5G rollout despite protestations from Washington. ASD’s Tom Morley and Matt Schrader urge European governments to exclude Huawei from their telecommunications infrastructure before the company becomes too enmeshed in the continent’s 5G systems to ever be fully, securely, and painlessly removed. (New York Times, Bloomberg, Foreign Policy, ASD)

Social media companies, governments gear up for upcoming elections: Twitter unveiled a new function last week to help users report tweets that contain misleading information on voting registration, election dates, and voting procedures. The threat of online disinformation to the upcoming European parliament elections has galvanized world leaders to take legislative action against social media companies, including the European Union’s recent condemnation of Facebook’s handling of political ads. Facebook was also fined by the Federal Trade Commission last week for at least $3 billion for mishandling user data in 2011. ASD’s Head of Research and Policy Jessica Brandt has argued that heavy-handed regulation that focuses on content rather than inauthentic behavior could play into the hands authoritarian regimes which seek to limit free expression at home. (Twitter, New Europe, New York Times, New Europe, Axios)

In other news:

• Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) published an op-ed calling for the establishment of a Hybrid Threat Center to help policy makers address malign foreign influence campaigns.

• Tech experts call for greater transparency from election equipment companies and a return to paper balloting.

• Cyber and media experts advise news outlets on responsible reporting of the 2020 presidential election.

• Facebook removed inauthentic, online accounts spreading far-right content ahead of the Spanish elections.

• The recent social media shutdown in Sri Lanka reflects Facebook’s problematic methods for policing misinformation.

• Radio Free Europe is under investigation by the U.S. State Department for allegedly promoting propaganda favorable to the government of Tajikistan.

• Florida Senator Rick Scott and Governor Ron DeSantis will sit down with the FBI to discuss the Mueller report’s finding that the Russians hacked state and local elections in 2016.

• The former President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, consulted with a Russian company to use information operations to quell dissent in his country prior to being deposed.

• Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote an op-ed urging Americans to apply lessons learned from the Mueller report to prepare for Russian interference in the 2020 election.