Foreign Cyber Intrusions On The USA

In the 2016 US Presidential election campaign, social media platforms were more widely viewed than traditional editorial media and were central to the campaigns of both Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump. 

These new platforms create novel opportunities for a wide range of political actors. In particular, foreign actors have used social media to influence politics in a range of countries by promoting propaganda, advocating controversial viewpoints, and spreading disinformation. 

Trends in Online Foreign Influence Efforts is a Report recently released by Princeton University which seeks to explain the effects and influencers of this foreign influence on national governments and their election process. Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) create novel opportunities for a wide range of political actors. In particular, foreign governments have used social media to influence politics in a range of countries by promoting propaganda, advocating controversial viewpoints, and spreading disinformation. 

Social-media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have grown far more sophisticated since 2016 at detecting and disabling coordinated foreign campaigns of misinformation and fake accounts, honing their approach based on challenges confronted not just during the US midterms but in elections everywhere from India to the European Union

Trump often maintains that tech companies are part of the problem rather than the solution, accusing Twitter of censoring conservatives and Google of helping Clinton at his expense in 2016. These crackdowns, however, have exposed how the actors behind these schemes have multiplied beyond Russia and employed new tactics and tools to exert influence on political processes worldwide. 

The report de-scribes a new database of such 53 such Foreign Influence Efforts (FIE) targeting 24 different countries from 2013 through 2018. Our data draw on a wide range of media reports to identify FIEs, track their progress, and classify their features. The Report identified 53 FIE, in 24 targeted countries, from 2013 through 2018. 

Two of the cases were ongoing as of April 2019. In total, 72% of the campaigns were conducted by Russia, with China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia accounting for most of the remainder. In five cases press reports did not reliably report the origin of the campaign.

The Russian government has a long history of influence operations against its own citizens, including using various social media platforms to distract citizens from political issues in the country. Similar tools and techniques have been used to attack democratic elections and day-to-day politics elsewhere. The most commonly-used strategy is defamation, defined as attempts to harm the reputation of people or institutions, which is used in 65% of FIEs. Persuasion, which we define as trying to move the average citizen to one side of an issue, is used in 55% of FIEs. 

Attacking Countries 
China and Russia both have large state-run media organisations that spread propaganda locally and conduct influence operations on their own citizens. The Russian government has long interfered on Russian social networks to divert attention from the social and economic problems. 

Based on media reporting, those managing Russian FIEs organise their workers in a hierarchical manner. Workers at the Internet Research Agency, for example, reportedly received subjects to write about each day and were divided into groups, where those with best writing skills in English were at a higher level of the hierarchy. The group also had systems to react quickly to daily events, such as new policies, diplomatic events between governments, and various kinds of accidents. 

China has not been as active as Russia in conducting FIEs, perhaps because their citizens do not commonly use the same platforms as Westerners e.g. Twitter and Facebook, which may make the organizational challenges of running foreign operations relatively higher. 

In the 2016 US presidential elections, for example, Russian trolls promoted and attacked both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Then-candidate Trump received more sup- port and fewer attacks compared with Clinton. During the same election and afterward, Russian-managed bots and trolls pushed voters in opposite directions about subjects such as race, immigration, healthcare policy (mostly around vaccinations), police violence, and gun control, among others. This strategy appears to have inspired Iranian trolls who followed a similar mix of strategies. 

Foreign Influence Efforts
While Russia has been the most active user of this new form of statecraft, other countries are following suit. Iran and China have deployed similar tactics beyond their own borders and even democratic states such as Mexico have adapted these techniques for internal purposes.

Foreign governments are inserting themselves into US politics “every single day. It’s not just happening on Election Day,” Ben Freeman, at the Center for International Policy, said. 

Princeton Scholar:        DefenseOne

You Might Also Read: 

US Cyber Command Can Cut Russian Troll Access:

Mueller Reports On Russian Interference:

 

 

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