Hacking the Election
; The qualifier of the belonging of external interference is intended to visually show the connection of disinformation with its sources and conductors
In 2016, the discussion of external interference in the US presidential election developed slowly: it spilled over into 2017 and gained momentum after Donald Trump became a resident of the White House from a presidential candidate. During that election campaign, outside interference was not a significant component of the information environment in America, but in four years everything has changed radically..
In 2020, publications about the interference of Russia, China and other countries in the current election campaign in the United States appear every day, and this intervention itself became an element of the electoral struggle. – the two main political forces accuse each other of pandering to the interests of US opponents in the world. At the same time, social media has seriously stepped up efforts to screen out and block pages that foreign actors use to influence the electoral situation in the United States..
Those who are professionally engaged in exposing disinformation have also joined in this work, in particular – Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) of the organization «Atlantic Council» in Washington. Its employees, with the help of colleagues from other expert organizations, have developed and launched a portal that helps, at least in general terms, sort materials that could have the goal of influencing the outcome of this year’s presidential elections in the United States..
Tool used on this site – Foreign Interference Attribution Tracker (FIAT), according to its developers, «is designed to develop public standards for determining ownership, provide independent and reliable recording of foreign interference in the 2020 elections, and serve as a source of information for stakeholders about the evolving threat, helping to increase the resilience of society to future attempts of foreign influence and disinformation».
On the website www.interference2020.org, presented in the middle of this week at the event «Atlantic Council», it is possible to graphically see how the information intervention is carried out. At the same time, the researchers suggested a limited number of countries, which they attributed to the main providers of disinformation, and Emerson Brooking, an employee of DFRLab, admitted that the topic of interference – delicate enough:
«We had to be very careful to separate malicious foreign interference from harmless, separate all cases based on their novelty, and limit our investigation to cases that directly relate to the 2020 elections. We also had to create a flexible scoring system that allows us to compare different claims from different sources, using our team’s experience in tracking these kinds of issues. And we had to build a system from scratch to measure the impact of these claims on the media, using a combination of several unique social media scanning techniques. And, most importantly, our main goal was to get away from simply discussing the tactics of the Russian «Internet Research Agencies» seasons of 2016 – now in this space there are many more actors and many more cases of intervention, and some of the actors have switched to more dangerous tactics and methods»
Researchers, according to Emerson Brooking, studied 65 different «statements» interference related to 17 countries and reflected in 15 million social media posts. «Our goal – provide a comprehensive picture of foreign interference in the 2020 elections that was so lacking in 2016» – concluded by DFRLab expert.
It is worth noting that the FIAT tool presented by the researchers «Atlantic Council», quite colorful, although difficult for a person who is not familiar with the media environment.
He draws attention to this in an interview with the Russian Service «Voices of America» Vasily Gatov, media analyst at the Annenberg School of the University of Southern California, who has seen the new website: «This project is a very visually interesting attempt to convey two different messages to two distinct audiences. One audience – expert, professional, these are people who understand where this data came from and how it is processed, and what conclusions can be drawn from this. The second – this is a massive politicized audience that the media who reported about it will lead to this tool».
Vasily Gatov believes that «for a mass audience this project – visually clear and attractive evidence (this word must be used with caution, as the authors of the project themselves say) that there is interference in the American elections, and it comes from a significant number of foreign players».
«With little attention to the section dealing with the methodology, such a visual solution looks more than evidence-based. But as soon as we move on to assessing the professional, then a small word immediately takes on great importance «beta», telling us that the project is in test mode. This is a rather crude tool that has not yet been critically assessed by specialists, which, apparently, I really wanted to present before the elections.».
Despite the criticism of Vasily Gatov, the project and the very fact of its creation was positively assessed by journalists who wrote about the role of disinformation in the interference of foreign states in the presidential elections in America for a long time and participated in the event. «Atlantic Council».
In particular, David Sanger, security reporter for the New York Times, believes that public awareness of the continuing threat of interference needs to be maintained as the ways in which interventions evolve are:
«The Russian side learned the lessons of 2016 – she realized what was done well and what was bad in terms of success in achieving her goals, they realized that this time Facebook and Twitter are ready for her action, so now they are acting in new ways. For example, now we are talking about fraudulent ransom attacks that target city structures and communications, rather than electoral infrastructure. And this may be treading a path to attacks closer to the elections for the registration system, for electronic ballot boxes, in order to sow doubts about whether it is possible to reliably count the ballots».
«But something completely different can happen: Russia may look at these elections and consider that Trump cannot be saved, and then they will back down altogether and will not do anything, just watching how all participants accuse each other of receiving help from Russia.», – suggests a New York Times journalist.
In turn, Natasha Bertrand, security correspondent for POLITICO, is confident that the lessons of 2016 were not in vain for the American media either:
«We are much more ready for intervention now than in 2016, and certainly more ready for operations such as «hacking and draining», as it was with the email of the Hillary Clinton headquarters then, although I would not say that «ready» means «protected». In recent days and weeks, editorial offices of various media have been developing rules on how to act in the event of similar circumstances, so as not to become an instrument of foreign influence on elections themselves. In principle, we now expect this to happen, so of course we are better prepared. – the media understands that they will be seduced «fried» information that can shoot against one of the candidates».
Evaluating on request «Voices of America» the possibility of interaction between Russia and China in their actions to interfere in the American elections, Natasha Bertrand noted that so far «I have not heard any statements by American officials about cooperation between Russia and China in such actions, possibly because they are solving different tasks with respect to the United States».
«China was mainly engaged in espionage and theft of intellectual property, and was much less interested in wreaking havoc or conducting «influence operations». Recently, as we know, there were statements that China would be interested in the election of Joe Biden, but this was said with reservations that such a conclusion follows from some reports, and there is no evidence that the Chinese are trying to play on the side of one of the candidates. At the same time, Russia is engaged in precisely «influence operations» – it deliberately tries to discredit Biden, throws information that sows doubts in the mail vote, and its strategic approach is very different from the Chinese one. So, if Russia and China acted together in these elections, their goals would have to coincide somewhat more.», – concluded by the POLITICO correspondent