“Everything,” Dmytro Zolotukhin tells me, “is going like they wanted.” Slumped in a chair in a café here in the Ukrainian capital, Zolotukhin wasn’t talking about the campaign of Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian who is favored to win the country’s presidential elections this weekend, or the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko. No, they are the Russians. Moscow has used Ukraine as a disinformation laboratory for years—and Zolotukhin is one of the men charged with fending them off. The Kremlin stands accused of interfering in elections the world over, driving division in societies through an array of tactics, chief among them online disinformation. Using fabricated or misleading news stories and fake accounts, Russian operations have sought to sow doubt in the democratic process. Ahead of European Parliament elections next month and the American presidential contest in 2020, Putin’s online armies are auditioning their tactics in Ukraine. Kyiv isn’t just the laboratory for Russia’s information warfare tactics, though; it’s also a proving ground for possible solutions, where officials such as Zolotukhin, Ukraine’s deputy minister of information policy, struggle to walk the line between defending democratic discourse and trampling freedom of speech. As the United States prepares for another contentious presidential race and social-media regulation looks inevitable, the Ukrainian government’s efforts highlight how difficult it is to fight disinformation in a polarized information environment. But offices such as Zolotukhin’s are often under-resourced, and in a divisive electoral period in which campaigns are themselves combatants in the information war, separating fact from fiction, patriot from enemy, and friend from foe is not as simple as it once was.
Twitter suspended 61 accounts linked to foreign fake news manipulation campaigns aimed at the Israeli public, ahead of the April 9 election. The move brings to 343 the number of accounts suspended by Twitter since election was announced last month, Elad Ratson of Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry tweeted on Monday. Ratson is the ministry’s director of research and development. The new group of 61 accounts had a total of more than 28,000 followers, and most of them were in English. Meanwhile, Facebook announced in a statement on Monday that it would launch in various countries, including Israel, “additional tools to help prevent foreign interference and make political and issue advertising on Facebook more transparent.” Advertisers will need to be authorized to purchase political ads; Facebook will give people more information about ads related to politics and issues; and it will create a publicly searchable library of these ads for up to seven years, the statement said.
Speaking to Lusa on Friday, João Tiago Machado, a CNE spokesman, said the first meetings took place this week, and entities will be selected to work on these initiatives, which are expected to invoilve a drill in early 2019. The aim, he added, is to “take precautionary measures to avoid these issues,” in the election year, at a time when cases of ‘fake news’ are the focus of passionate political debate in the presidential elections in Brazil. The CNE currently has no record of any complaint filed by parties or candidates related to fake news, he added.
As the third largest democracy in the world with a young, mobile-first population and low levels of digital literacy, Indonesia is highly susceptible to the spread of fake news and hoaxes. Government and media-led initiatives have sought to combat fake news, however with much of the misinformation spread via social media and WhatsApp, many fear the problem will only get worse in the lead up to national elections in April 2019. “Indonesia’s media landscape is quite diverse and there is enormous press freedom in the country compared to others in the region,” says Ross Tapsell, a media lecturer at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. “However, it’s increasingly manipulated and influenced by media owners who are linked to political parties … push[ing] out a more partisan version of political news.”
As Brazil nears the climax of its most bitter and polarized election in recent history, academics and digital activists fighting to stem a rising tide of fake news say that accurate coverage of the campaign risks being drowned out by the sheer volume of lies being spread on Facebook and WhatsApp. On Monday, Brazil’s electoral court ordered Facebook to remove links to 33 fake news stories targeting Manuela D’Ávila, a communist party politician and the vice-presidential candidate for Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT). D’Ávila party hailed the decision as a victory, but one digital media expert said it was a mere drop in the ocean. “This is nothing. It’s irrelevant amid the lies and attacks in this election,” said Pablo Ortellado, a professor of public policy at the University of São Paulo who leads a project monitoring public debate on social media. “There is very little correct information.”
National: Without offering evidence, Trump accuses China of interfering in U.S. midterm elections | The Washington Post
President Trump on Wednesday directly accused China of interfering in the U.S. midterm elections this fall in retaliation for the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing, marking a new front in the deepening hostilities that have threatened to upend bilateral relations. The president made the allegation during his opening remarks at a U.N. Security Council meeting on nonproliferation, asserting that China “has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election, coming up in November, against my administration. They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president to ever challenge China on trade, and we are winning on trade — we are winning on every level. We don’t want them to meddle or interfere in our upcoming election.”
In Macedonia’s shadowy “fake news” industry, it seems that what goes around comes around. As 1.8 million eligible voters in that Balkan state mull their options in a September 30 referendum on changing the country’s name to end a long dispute with Greece, the country that found itself accused of helping flood U.S. voters with bogus stories in the 2016 presidential election that brought Donald Trump to power is itself awash in a social-media influence campaign. “Boycott the referendum.” “Don’t destroy Macedonia.” “Zaev is a traitor.” Those are just some of the messages analysts say are circulating on fake social-media profiles in a bid by opponents of the “yes” vote encouraged by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev that could open the door to NATO and European Union membership.
California: No, You Can’t Vote Through Twitter: California’s Unprecedented Plan to Tackle Fake Election News | Governing
With less than three months to the midterm elections, American voters remain vulnerable to the same type of information warfare that Russia used to interfere with the 2016 presidential race. Election officials say voting systems are better protected against hackers than they were two years ago, but intelligence experts say the federal government hasn’t tackled the threat of foreign-created disinformation on social media. The risk endures after Russian nationals used hundreds of fake social media accounts to stoke political discord in the U.S. in 2016, according to an indictment earlier this year by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. “The spreading of misinformation and disinformation is one of the single greatest threats to our democratic process,” says National Association of Secretaries of State President Jim Condos, a Democrat who is also Vermont’s Secretary of State. “As we saw in 2016, our foreign adversaries used these tactics to sow doubt with voters and weaken voter confidence in the integrity of our elections.” Now the nation’s most populous state is pushing back, launching an unprecedented effort to address the issue.
A soft-spoken parliamentarian, it’s easy to overlook Fatma Benli in a busy cafe until she starts recalling the disinformation campaign that nearly derailed her election bid two years ago. The small room we’re in begins to shudder as the sitting MP for the ruling AK Party passionately explains that she could have lost because of fake news and online narratives. “There was fake news circulating on every major social media platform,” the 44-year-old told Al Jazeera, reeling off a litany of examples where she and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were repeatedly attacked in spurious social media posts. “Facebook, Twitter, it came from all sides.”
California: Facebook Tried to Rein In Fake Ads. It Fell Short in a California Race. | The New York Times
Regina Bateson had just finished an Easter egg hunt with her children on April 1 when her phone started buzzing. Take a look at Facebook, messages from her friends and colleagues urged. Ms. Bateson, a Democrat running for Congress in the California primary on Tuesday, quickly opened up the social network. There, she saw what appeared to be a news article that painted her as underhandedly trying to torpedo the campaign of a rival Democratic candidate. When Ms. Bateson clicked through the article, she was directed to a Facebook page run by Sierra Nevada Revolution, a local progressive group she had clashed with in the past. The article was not a news story, she found, but a political ad paid for by Sierra Nevada Revolution. And while Facebook rolled out new rules on April 6 mandating that campaign ads be clearly labeled and say who had purchased them, Sierra Nevada Revolution’s ad about Ms. Bateson continued to be targeted to local voters throughout that month without any of those disclosures.
Ohio: Ohio State study: ‘Fake news’ probably helped flip Obama voters to Trump in 2016 | The Columbus Dispatch
A year and a half later, analysts and academics still have reached no real consensus on how Donald Trump pulled off his victory in the 2016 presidential election. But three Ohio State University researchers have a new — and controversial — study showing that a key portion of the Republican’s voters were highly susceptible to the influence of fake news. Paul Beck, a longtime OSU political science professor, said the deep dive after the election focused on voters who supported Barack Obama in 2012 but not fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. About 77 percent of Obama voters stuck with Clinton, so if she had gotten only a relative handful more, she would be president. “The real key in 2016 is ‘What happened to the Obama voters?’” Beck said. The “fake news” accounts used by the OSU researchers were not from any major networks or newspapers, but rather a trio of false statements widely shared by individuals or groups on social media and through some broadcast outlets.
No, President Trump didn’t write a personal letter to Mexico’s leading presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, inquiring about the Mexican presidential plane. Nor did presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya offer to help Trump build a border wall. And Pope Francis hasn’t come out against López Obrador, a Christian. Mexico’s presidential campaign, already dirty, has had its share of fake news headlines. And the campaign is expected to get messier. The election is less than two months away on July 1st, when voters will pick candidates in 3,400 local, state and federal races — with the six-year presidential term being the biggest prize.
The message that circulated on social media earlier this year — most Mexicans would have to re-register within days if they wanted to vote in the presidential election — set off a low-level panic on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. The thing is, it wasn’t true. The source remains unclear. But whether the message was a dirty trickster’s attempt to undermine the system or just an ill-informed public service effort, the anger and uncertainty it generated represented an early skirmish in the battle over disinformation in this year’s fiercely contested election season. “What candidates do on social media will be decisive,” said Carlos Merlo, managing partner of Victory Lab, a marketing firm dedicated to spreading viral claims, saying they must respond quicker than ever to combat disinformation.
Tech giants such as Facebook and Google must step up efforts to tackle the spread of fake news online in the next few months or potentially face further EU regulation, as concerns mount over election interference. The European Commission said on Thursday it would draw up a Code of Practice on Disinformation for the 28-nation EU by July with measures to prevent the spread of fake news such as increasing scrutiny of advertisement placements. EU policymakers are particularly worried that the spread of fake news could interfere with European elections next year, after Facebook disclosed that Russia tried to influence U.S. voters through the social network in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. election. Moscow denies such claims.
Elections Canada is erecting multiple lines of defence to fight fake news, cyber-attacks and foreign interference in next year’s federal election campaign. Democracies around the world are grappling with new threats to democracy in the digital age, from foreign actors tampering with voting systems to the viral spread of disinformation through social media. With the U.S., U.K. and various European countries still reeling over the explosion of fake news on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, acting Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault said he believes Canadians are better prepared than many others to spot fake political news after the high-profile 2011 “robocalls” scandal and the recent U.S. presidential election. “I think there was a vigilance that emerged from that situation, and that is also, of course, built on the U.S. situation,” he said.
Indonesia is battling a wave of fake news and online hate speech ahead of presidential elections in 2019, as a string of arrests underscore fears it could crack open social and religious fault lines in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. The pluralist nation’s reputation as a bastion of tolerance has been tested in recent months, as conservative groups exploit social media to spread lies and target minorities. Indonesian police have cracked down, rounding up members of the Muslim Cyber Army (MCA), a cluster of loosely connected groups accused of using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to attack the government and stoke religious extremism. Two of the group’s most high-profile falsehoods were claims that dozens of Islamic clerics had been assaulted by leftists and that Indonesia’s outlawed communist party was on the rise, according to police.
In the first round of the Czech presidential election earlier this month, Jiri Drahos was variously portrayed — without substantiation — as a pedophile, a thief, and a communist collaborator. The smears were part of a string of unfounded allegations in social media and on websites suspected of dealing in fake news. Now that the pro-Europe challenger’s campaign in a second-round runoff against incumbent Milos Zeman, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strongest allies in central Europe, is in full swing, the disinformation gloves have come off once again.
From the US to Germany, security officials have warned about the growing threat to elections from Russian disinformation campaigns — and in the Czech Republic there are fears that this week’s presidential election could become the next target. Miloš Zeman, seen as one of Russia’s most outspoken backers within the EU, is running for re-election. Following revelations about the scale of Russian efforts to influence the US presidential election in 2016, Czech politicians and officials are worried Russia could try similar moves.
Emmanuel Macron has vowed to introduce a law to ban fake news on the internet during French election campaigns. The French president, who beat the far-right Marine Le Pen to win 2017’s election, said he wanted new legislation for social media platforms during election periods “in order to protect democracy”. In his new year’s speech to journalists at the Élysée palace, Macron said he would shortly present the new law in order to fight the spread of fake news, which he said threatened liberal democracies. New legislation for websites would include more transparency about sponsored content. Under the new law, websites would have to say who is financing them and the amount of money for sponsored content would be capped.
The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has accused US tech giants such as Facebook of failing to take enough responsibility for content on their sites, undermining democracy by not distinguishing between fact and opinion. “Today we are discovering a ‘fifth estate’ that makes claims but up until now does not want to take any social responsibility,” Hans-Georg Maassen told a conference on cybersecurity organised by Germany’s Handelsblatt daily. “These are huge digital companies that only see themselves as conveyors of information and hide behind the legal privileges enjoyed by platforms because they do not want to take over editorial verification of their content.” Germany has been a leading proponent of stricter regulation of social media networks, passing a law in June to introduce fines of up to €50m ($59.67m) if they fail to remove hateful postings promptly.
Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement is calling on international observers to help prevent “fake news” in the run-up to the country’s 2018 general election. Party leader Luigi Di Maio made the plea yesterday following allegations by the ruling Democratic Party (PD) that 5-Star supporters were using interlinked internet accounts to spread misinformation and smear the center-left government, says Reuters. Di Maio, whose party is leading the polls, wrote in a Facebook message: “The problem of fake news exists and we think it is necessary to have the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] monitor news and political debate during the election campaign.”
Italy: Bracing for Electoral Season of Fake News, Italy Demands Facebook’s Help | The New York Times
With critical national elections only months away, anxiety is building that Italy will be the next target of a destabilizing campaign of fake news and propaganda, prompting the leader of the country’s governing party to call on Facebook and other social media companies to police their platforms. “We ask the social networks, and especially Facebook, to help us have a clean electoral campaign,” Matteo Renzi, the leader of the Democratic Party, said in an interview on Thursday. “The quality of the democracy in Italy today depends on a response to these issues.” In a global atmosphere already thick with suspicion of Russian meddling in elections in the United States, France and Germany, as well as in the British referendum to leave the European Union and the Catalan independence movement in Spain, many analysts consider Italy to be the weak link in an increasingly vulnerable European Union.
Russian trolls used Twitter to challenge the validity of the U.S. presidential election months before it took place, according to new NBC News analysis. In apparent expectation of a Trump loss, the trolls began sowing seeds of doubt to make voters question a win by Hillary Clinton. But when Donald Trump’s victory began rolling in, they changed their tune and began tweeting about the Trump success. Kremlin propaganda tweets using the “VoterFraud” hashtag first appeared in August 2016 and slowly ramped up to an Election Day blitz, according to the NBC News analysis of some 36,000 archived tweets from a single anonymous source with knowledge of social media data.
A new international report has revealed more than a dozen nations fell prey to online manipulation and disinformation tactics during election cycles in the last year, risking internet freedom across the globe. The annual Freedom House “Freedom of the Net” report released on Tuesday found that at least 16 countries sustained attacks similar to Russian online meddling efforts reported during the U.S. 2016 presidential election. Overall, the study of 65 nations found internet freedoms have widely declined since last year’s report. Those 16 nations – Angola, Armenia, Colombia, Ecuador, France, The Gambia, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Rwanda, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Zambia – had election campaigns that were touched by fake news reports and had websites and social media accounts vandalized, according to the findings. In some instances, political bots and hijacked accounts were also reported.
Somaliland, the self-declared republic in northwestern Somalia, has announced it will restrict access to social media sites during its upcoming presidential elections. The electoral commission has asked phone companies to block more than a dozen social media outlets in order to limit hate speech and “fake news”. It includes Facebook, Twitter,WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, Flickr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Duo, Google Plus, among others. The commission blamed what it called “external forces” for spreading “inciteful and tribalistic” information (in Somali) and decried its inability to control the proliferation of these messages. As a result, the sites will be down starting from when voting ends on Nov. 13 up until the results are declared.
National: Facebook scrubbed potentially damning Russia data before researchers could analyze it further | Business Insider
Facebook removed thousands of posts shared during the 2016 election by accounts linked to Russia after a Columbia University social-media researcher, Jonathan Albright, used the company’s data-analytics tool to examine the reach of the Russian accounts. Albright, who discovered the content had reached a far broader audience than Facebook had initially acknowledged, told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the data had allowed him “to at least reconstruct some of the pieces of the puzzle” of Russia’s election interference. “Not everything, but it allowed us to make sense of some of this thing,” he said.
Sarah Rambatz became a target early last week. In the internet, right-wing agitators declared open season on the young woman from Hamburg. “What do we do with brainwashed traitors?” asked a user on KrautChan, a web platform popular among right-wing online activists. “Simply getting rid of her isn’t acceptable in a civilized society. Or is it?” The national spokesperson for the youth organization of the Left Party was hoping to become a member of Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, but now her political career lies in ruins. She had asked on Facebook for “anti-German film recommendations.” More specifically, she wrote: “Basically anything where Germans die.” After the post went public, her campaign ended. She is no longer seeking a seat. The screen shot of her tasteless Facebook post spread with lightning speed across social networks and a wave of hatred broke over the young woman, who was attacked with lines like: “This whore deserves to be screwed to death and dismembered.” On Wednesday, Rambatz told the Hamburg’s Morgenpost newspaper she was at wit’s end. “For several days, I have been in close contact with the police and other government security officials,” she told the paper. “My family and I are getting death threats.”
On Wednesday, Facebook revealed that hundreds of Russia-based accounts had run anti-Hillary Clinton ads precisely aimed at Facebook users whose demographic profiles implied a vulnerability to political propaganda. It will take time to prove whether the account owners had any relationship with the Russian government, but one thing is clear: Facebook has contributed to, and profited from, the erosion of democratic norms in the United States and elsewhere. The audacity of a hostile foreign power trying to influence American voters rightly troubles us. But it should trouble us more that Facebook makes such manipulation so easy, and renders political ads exempt from the basic accountability and transparency that healthy democracy demands. The majority of the Facebook ads did not directly mention a presidential candidate, according to Alex Stamos, head of security at Facebook, but “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from L.G.B.T. matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
National: Facebook says likely Russia-based group paid for political ads during US election | The Guardian
Facebook said on Wednesday that it had found that an influence operation likely based in Russia spent $100,000 on ads promoting divisive social and political messages in a two-year-period through May. The social media network said that many of the ads promoted 470 “inauthentic” accounts and pages that it has now suspended. The ads spread polarizing views on topics including immigration, race and gay rights, instead of backing a particular political candidate, it said. Facebook announced the findings in a blog post by its chief security officer, Alex Stamos, and said that it was cooperating with federal inquiries into influence operations during the 2016 US presidential election.
One morning in November, Simon Hegelich, a professor of political science at the Technical University of Munich, was surprised to get an urgent invitation from the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who wanted to hear more about his research on the manipulation of voter sentiment. Less than two weeks earlier, the U.S. elections had ended in victory for Donald Trump, and the post-mortems were full of buzzwords the Chancellor urgently needed to understand: filter bubbles, bots, fake news, disinformation, much of it related to the claims that Russia had somehow hijacked the elections. “Basically she wanted to know what the hell is going on,” Hegelich recalls. What was past, Merkel thought, may be prologue. With German elections scheduled for Sept. 24, the Chancellor knows that her bid for a fourth term in office may be subject to the same dirty tricks employed in the U.S. presidential race. As Europe’s most powerful leader and its most determined critic of the Kremlin, Merkel has long been a target of Russian influence campaigns. Troves of emails were stolen from her political allies in 2015 by the same Russian hackers who later targeted the U.S. presidential race. During her 12 years in power, Merkel has also watched the Kremlin’s media apparatus air broadsides against her policies in a variety of languages, including German, English, Spanish and French.