The Meaning of Meddling

The Meaning of Meddling

As we continue to learn more about Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, let’s clear up a few things about what it actually means for a foreign power to hack an election. There are, broadly speaking, three different ways to do it:


1) Hack the vote by penetrating the voting systems and changing the actual vote tallies.

2) Hack the voters by spreading false information designed to shape their perceptions and influence their choices on election day.

3) Hack the mainframe of democracy itself by inflaming social tensions and sowing doubts about the integrity of the electoral process altogether, ensuring that whoever wins struggles to govern.

According to the latest Mueller indictment, there’s no evidence of Russian vote tampering — a point on which President Trump is particularly fixated — but Russians with Kremlin ties did, it would appear, do an awful lot of #2 as part of a broader effort to do #3.

Whether the Trump campaign knowingly helped Russians with any of it is still a question to which only Bob Mueller can give us a definitive answer. And he may yet do so.

But more immediately there are two crucial questions:

The first is if and how to punish foreign powers for election meddling. There are sanctions sitting on President Trump’s desk, but they have so far not beenimplemented.

The second is how to prevent meddling from happening again. To defend against efforts to hack the vote, you can beef up cyberdefenses.

But repelling efforts to hack voters is much more difficult. One way is to regulate and police online content, but that raises thorny questions about the balance between freedom of speech and national security.

But there’s a deeper question here: why do so many people lack the skills, or even, it seems, the willingness, to discern between fake news and real reporting anyway? The underlying problems of socioeconomic polarization, plummeting trust in traditional media, and broader disillusionment with democracy itself are what makes the ground so fertile for influence operations in the first place. Addressing those is a much broader challenge. It’s not clear that the US, or anyone else, is close to figuring that out.

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The Women’s Tennis Association this week decided to suspend all tournaments in China, over doubts that the country’s star player Peng Shuai is safe and sound. Peng recently disappeared for three weeks after accusing a former Vice Premier of sexual assault. Although she has since resurfaced, telling the International Olympic Committee that she’s fine and just wants a little privacy, there are still concerns that Peng has been subjected to intimidation by the Chinese state.

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How is Europe dealing with new omicron version of the pandemic?

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Ian Bremmer sat down with journalist and author Ahmed Rashid to learn more about the Taliban today. Few people know more about the Taliban than Rashid, who wrote the book on the group — literally. In the months after 9/11, his critically acclaimed 2000 study Taliban became a go-to reference as the US geared up to invade Afghanistan and knock the militant group from power. Twenty years later, how much has the group changed since the days of soccer-stadium executions, television bans, and blowing up world heritage sites?

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

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