China and Russia are actively using disinformation to influence the course of the US presidential election.
The stakes in the US presidential election for America this year are arguably higher than in 2016. In addition, fears of foreign interference in US elections have grown significantly. Instead of traditional weapons, America’s foreign adversaries are again turning to social media in their attempts to undermine future elections. In 2020, there is a huge amount of misinformation about the coronavirus, the political problems in the United States, and the integrity of US elections writes States Foreign the Policy.
Four out of five Americans are worried that false information will affect the November vote, according to a new study.
This problem does not go unnoticed by the US government. In fact, the current US National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, traditionally focused on conventional military power, highlights the importance of information warfare in international conflicts, and undermining the legitimacy of elections. Despite this, the United States still does not have a clear strategy for dealing with information warfare.
Meanwhile, authoritarian states are stepping up their use of disinformation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It is understood that China and Russia are two countries that pose a serious threat to the United States, as they use aggressive information warfare tactics to take advantage of the pandemic and undermine the liberal international order. As long as the United States is slow to respond to propaganda pressure, it weakens America in competition with China and Russia in the long run.
Over the past couple of decades, the information environment has become one of the main battlegrounds for powerful states. This is because information warfare has the power to shape not only public opinion but also the perception of how states compete in key areas such as health and international development. In fact, great powers use information warfare to sow internal discord and mistrust in their adversaries’ territory, making governments unable to focus on external threats.
Of course, disinformation is the most important component of this, but it is far from the only threat. Beijing and Moscow are actively experimenting with both defensive and offensive information campaigns, with tools of both internal control and foreign policy. “Defensive information warfare” includes disinformation campaigns designed to discredit dissidents and use public data to track down and arrest journalists, for example.
Such offensive campaigns undermine and disrupt the political situation in other countries by using digital media platforms and artificially disseminating information through automated or fake accounts such as bots and trolls.
Although these campaigns are most often associated with Russia, the Chinese government has also actively disseminated false information, especially during the pandemic.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijiang falsely claimed on several occasions that the US Army visited Wuhan in 2019 to spread the virus, and the Chinese Communist Party blamed the US for the outbreak.
Moscow, meanwhile, has used misinformation about the coronavirus to fuel the sentiment of the “anti-European” movement across Western Europe. This is consistent with Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election and highlights its efforts to simultaneously undermine the EU and the US.
The challenges are serious, and despite the increased attention in the United States, the current political debate around these information campaigns lacks clear and necessary long-term goals. In order to overcome threats from both China and Russia, the United States needs to do three things.
First, the US government must treat disinformation like any major threat to national security. Fighting disinformation in the form of deleting suspicious accounts and posts will never be so successful as to keep the agitators and unconscious distributors under control: the Kremlin and the Chinese Communist Party can spread disinformation faster than governments of any country can track and stop them.
In this regard, the US government should focus its efforts on countering the spread of disinformation – including where it comes from, how it spreads, and what consequences it has.
The focus should be on automated mechanisms such as bots and trolls that amplify the flow of disinformation.
Second, US security agencies should expect disinformation from abroad to be a constant feature of political and economic life throughout the pandemic. Now that national security analysts finally acknowledge this, the United States must do much more than just tagging and fact-checking.
A publicly accessible portal needs to be developed and implemented that allows individuals and organizations to easily figure out where information is coming from.
This is very important because a typical disinformation campaign starts from an unreliable source and then spreads on social media.
Third, both the public sector and business leaders need to embrace and promote public and private partnerships. Some of the best solutions to technical problems come from Silicon Valley. It is true that the US government has created several new programs, including the Defense Innovation Division and the National Security Innovation Network, to accelerate the use of new technologies that rely on artificial intelligence and data analysis. However, these initiatives are still constrained by complex bureaucracy and lengthy contracting processes aimed at obtaining commercially available solutions.
Ultimately, the United States needs to take a more holistic approach to the techno-strategic race that is shaping the contemporary nature of competition with China and Russia. Each government agency responsible for information operations should organize and maintain an advisory board of think tanks.
It will be difficult to fully address the issue, given the extent of the political polarization in the United States, which was partly provoked by Russia.
One of the clear ways to take the necessary steps would be to create a special commission on information warfare, which would level the current bureaucratic and political divisions. This council of experts should meet regularly to discuss strategic challenges in the information environment and find real solutions to them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn long-overdue attention to the use of disinformation by authoritarian regimes. China and Russia have been destabilizing the information environment for too long, and democracies must find ways to preserve the principles of an open society and organic online discourse. In the context of information warfare, the United States has the double advantages of technological innovation and an unrivaled national security apparatus, so the time has come to use these advantages correctly and effectively, the publication concludes.