A Test of Meddle

Fake news and election interference crashed back into the headlines this week. Early on Tuesday, Microsoft said it had found fake websites and other evidence suggesting that Russian hackers are expanding their list of potential political targets ahead of the 2018 US midterms. Later, Facebook revealed details of a suspected Iranian influence operation targeting people in the US, UK, Latin America, and Middle East. The social network also said it had removed hundreds of accounts linked to apparent Iranian and Russian misinformation efforts – showing that the private sector is casting a wide net in its search for potentially malicious activity.


We can expect more of this kind of thing as we head towards November. Unlike two years ago, when Russia’s attempts to swing the election through disinformation and hacking went unchallenged until it was too late, today the US government and private sector tech companies are on high alert, scanning the horizon for signs of underhanded foreign influence. With the US also signaling a more aggressive stance on broader cyber policy, this raises an important question: where do governments draw the line between mere “meddling” and “interference” that demands a response?

Way back in February, fellow Signalista Alex Kilment described three broad approaches to election interference: hacking the vote, by directly targeting voting machines and tallies; hacking the voters, by spreading false or inflammatory information to influence their choices on election day; or hacking democracy itself by raising doubts about the legitimacy of the entire process.

These are very different things, yet they tend to get lumped together in discussions about how to avoid a repeat of 2016. All three represent big problems for democracies around the world, but grappling effectively with the threat – and avoiding an over-reaction – may require distinguishing more carefully between them.*

Disclosure: Microsoft is a sponsor of GZERO Media.

In 2012, the United States created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect these young people from being deported. Yet just five years later, the program was rescinded, putting close to 700,000 DACA recipients at risk of being banished from the only home they've ever known. More than five dozen of these DACA recipients at risk are Microsoft employees. These young people contribute to the company and serve its customers. They help create products, secure services, and manage finances. And like so many young people across our nation, they dream of making an honest living and a real difference in the communities in which they reside. Yet they now live in uncertainty.

Microsoft has told its Dreamers that it will stand up for them along with all the nation's DACA recipients. It will represent them in court and litigate on their behalf. That's why Microsoft joined Princeton University and Princeton student Maria De La Cruz Perales Sanchez to file one of the three cases challenging the DACA rescission that was heard on Nov. 12 by the United States Supreme Court.

Read more on Microsoft On The Issues.

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron said that NATO was experiencing "brain death," citing a lack of coordination and America's fickleness under Donald Trump as reasons to doubt the alliance's commitment to mutual defense. NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – was formed in the wake of World War II as a counterweight against Soviet dominance in Europe and beyond. Its cornerstone is that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. But disagreement about burden sharing has gained increasing salience in recent years. In 2014, the bloc agreed that each member state would increase their own defense spending to 2% of their respective GDP over the next decade. But so far, only seven of 29 members have forked out the money. Here's a look at who pays what.

In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israel launched a precision attack in the Gaza Strip, targeting and killing a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commander. In response, the terror group fired more than 200 rockets at southern Israel. Exchanges of fire have brought cities on both sides of the Gaza border to a standstill and at least eight Palestinians are dead and dozens of Israelis wounded. With this latest escalation, Israel now faces national security crises on multiple fronts. Here's what's going on:

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More Brexit shenanigans: Britons this week saw Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson endorse Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in upcoming elections. As a special bonus, they got to see Corbyn return the favo(u)r with a formal endorsement of Johnson. Most viewers in the UK will have understood immediately that these are the latest example of "deep fakes," digitally manipulated video images. The more important Brexit story this week is a pledge by Nigel Farage that his Brexit Party will not run candidates in areas held by the Conservatives in upcoming national elections. That's a boost for Johnson, because it frees his party from having to compete for support from pro-Brexit voters in those constituencies.

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80: More than 80 percent of the electronic voting systems currently used in the US are made by just three companies, according to a new report which warns that they are regulated less effectively than "colored pencils."

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