Information Warfare Watch No. 33

Related Categories: Cybersecurity and Cyberwarfare; Democracy and Governance; Public Diplomacy and Information Operations; Science and Technology; Central Asia; China; Europe; Russia

In the United States, the wildly-popular Chinese social media app TikTok is now at the center of a heated public debate, following the passage of legislation mandating that the app's parent company, ByteDance, divest itself of the platform or face a ban in the U.S. However, TikTok is experiencing setbacks in other parts of the world as well – including in Central Asia. Last month, Kazakh Minister of Culture and Education Aida Balaeva announced that her government should consider blocking access to the app over worries about what Kazakh children could be exposed to on the platform. Similar measures are also underway in Kyrgyzstan, where the country's State Committee for National Security has requested the Kyrgyz Communications Minister institute a corresponding ban. And in Uzbekistan, the app has been formally banned by authorities on account of its violation "of the rights of personal data subjects." (The Diplomat, April 25, 2024)

The European Union is considering new restrictions on four Russian media outlets accused of promoting Russian state propaganda and disinformation. The measures, which are still in draft form, are aimed at the Voice of Europe, the RIA-Novosti news agency, and the Rosiiskaya Gazeta and Izvestia newspapers. According to Vera Jourova, the European Commission's Vice President and a leading crusader against Russian disinformation in the Eurozone, the ban, once in effect, would prohibit the outlets from broadcasting within the EU. The measures are slated to take effect in late June. (Bloomberg, May 15, 2024)

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The measures come in response to stepped up Russian political interference on the continent in recent weeks. In Slovakia's recent national elections, for instance, Russian disinformation is believed to have had a material impact on the election of pro-Russian presidential candidate Peter Pellegrini. The Czech Republic's intelligence services likewise disclosed earlier this Spring that they had unearthed a network of Russian disinformation attempting to shift public opinion there and elsewhere in Europe through the use of a number of outlets, including the Voice of Europe.]

Since his rise to power in 2013, Chinese president Xi Jinping has amassed tremendous domestic power, and helped reshape key aspects of Chinese political culture and society. Xi and his acolytes, moreover, have worked diligently to lock in these shifts through the promulgation of "Xi Jinping Thought" - a set of principles and guidances on virtually every aspect of life - via books, dedicated institutes, and revamped curricula. Now, Chinese officials are harnessing emerging technology to this end as well. As the Financial Times reports, the latest AI chatbot unveiled in China has been trained extensively on Xi's writings, speeches and other relevant doctrine provided by the official Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

The new "large language model," moreover, is only the latest part of a larger push by Chinese authorities to enforce ideological conformity among the country's internet users. Chinese tech firms such as Alibaba and Baidu already strictly regulate their artificial intelligence programs to ensure compliance with - and subservience to - the Chinese Communist Party and themes it deems sensitive, even as the country seeks to compete with Western AI models such as ChatGPT. However, the new Xi-compliant AI represents an evolution of this priority - and a further tightening of official controls over the World-Wide Web on the part of the PRC. (Financial Times, May 22, 2024)

Beijing, meanwhile, is investing heavily in the field of "cognitive warfare," exploiting technological advances as part of its efforts to influence the strategies and political calculations of its adversaries. "Cognitive warfare, such as propaganda using radio broadcasts and deception through the dissemination of disinformation, is hardly a recent phenomenon, but the PLA's focus on it follows developments in technology that greatly enhance its effectiveness," writes Iida Masafumi of Japan's National Institute for Defense Studies in The Diplomat. "The first development was the global expansion of the internet and the rapid spread of social media... The second development was the rapid emergence of artificial intelligence." "There is a growing expectation in the PLA that these technologies make it possible to win an edge with cognitive warfare, perhaps even avoiding physical combat, where property and human damage is unavoidable, to 'win without fighting,'" Masafumi notes. (The Diplomat, May 5, 2024)