Dispatch (November 19th) from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

Dispatch from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

News and Commentary

Our Take
Bret Schafer, Social Media Analyst for ASD, published a report summarizing the findings from the first year of data from ASD’s Hamilton 68 Dashboard. Schafer examines Russia-linked information operations on Twitter from an operational and thematic perspective, and highlights “the tactics, techniques, and narratives used to influence Americans online.”

ASD’s Bret Schafer and Clint Watts contributed to a Boston Globe article about Moscow’s efforts to interfere in U.S. elections: “We have seen an ongoing campaign, continuing to this day, to amplify the most partisan voices in this debate.”

News and Commentary

Facebook back under the microscope after New York Times exposé: On November 14, The New York Times published an exclusive account of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sharyl Sandberg’s attempts to protect the company’s reputation in the aftermath of revelations that Facebook misused user data and unwittingly facilitated disinformation operations linked to the Russian government. The company hired opposition-research firm Definers to discredit Facebook’s critics and competitors. Definers attempted to tie anti-Facebook protesters to billionaire George Soros, drawing criticism for using anti-Semitic tactics. Sandberg denied knowledge of the opposition firm’s activities, stating, “We absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news.” In response to the article, lawmakersjournalists, and disinformation experts have called for regulatory oversight of Facebook and other social media. (The New York Times, CBS, The HillThe Washington Post)

Domestic disinformation on social media shaped recent elections in Brazil, Sweden: Caio C. V. Machado, a lawyer and researcher at the Computational Propaganda Project, warned that Facebook-owned WhatsApp has become a haven for “junk news” in Brazil. According to Machado, WhatsApp has become the primary conduit for political information (and often disinformation) in the country, helping to propel Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro to victory in the recent presidential election. In Sweden, homegrown disinformation spread rapidly on social media. In an opinion column for Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky reported that, despite efforts to counter foreign disinformation, the proportion of “junk news” shared on social media during the Swedish election was “the highest of all recent European elections and second only to the U.S. presidential election of 2016.” (Council on Foreign Relations, Bloomberg Opinion)

China and Venezuela take steps to increase citizen surveillance: The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) announced it will soon require internet firms to provide personal user information as part of a new policy to crack down on political dissent and online social movements. This policy will be applied to chat functions, blogs, public accounts, webcasts, video sites, and news providers. The CAC has already removed 9,800 social media accounts that have been posting “politically harmful content.” Meanwhile, Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE is helping Venezuela construct its new “fatherland” identification card, which can be used to track citizens’ family, employment, medical history, social media presence, and voting history. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)

In Other News:

– DFRlab analyzed Facebook’s pre-midterm takedown of over 100 inauthentic Facebook and Instagram accounts, revealing tactics similar to that of the IRA.

– The New York Times released a video series on Russian disinformation.

– Russian prosecutors announced new alleged criminal charges against Kremlin critic Bill Browder.

– Former Facebook COO Alex Stamos penned an op-ed highlighting the mistakes made by the U.S. government, major media outlets, and tech companies in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

– Brookings Institution Fellow Alina Polyakova explains that Russia lags behind in the global AI competition.

– Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a “Blueprint for Content Governance and Enforcement” outlining the creation of an independent review body within Facebook.

– Hackers impersonated the website of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs to disseminate false information.

– Twitter suspended two fake Election Commission accounts in India.

– The UK and northern European allies agreed to establish a multinational group of experts to tackle disinformation at a Northern Group meeting in Norway.

– Bellingcat revealed how Russian intelligence services attempted to infiltrate the international visa system.

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