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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Security officials and social media giants are warning that new countries, specifically Iran and China, could pose a misinformation threat to U.S. elections in 2020 similar to Russia's interference in 2016.

Why it matters: As President Trump faces off with Iran and China on the international stage, there is growing fear they could try to influence the next U.S. election right under his nose.

Beginning in early 2019, social media firms began revealing coordinated campaigns to spread misinformation from countries other than the typical hotbeds in Russia and the Balkans.

Iran: In January, Facebook and Twitter separately took down hundreds of accounts and pages linked to misinformation campaigns originating from Iran.

  • Then in May, Facebook said it removed dozens of additional accounts, groups and pages — on its main app and on Instagram — involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran.
  • According to Facebook, Iranians pretended to be located in the U.S. and Europe, and used fake accounts that impersonated legitimate news organizations in the Middle East. The pages discussed politics in various regions, including the U.S.
  • Facebook was tipped off to the fake accounts by FireEye, a U.S. cybersecurity firm.

China: While neither platform has uncovered a misinformation campaign originating from China targeting the U.S., experts say we should be prepared for something along those lines.

  • In August, both Facebook and Twitter said that they uncovered hundreds of accounts originating from inside China that were a part of a coordinated effort to undermine political protests in Hong Kong. China is also blatantly intervening in elections in Taiwan.
  • Chris Johnson, a former top CIA China analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says there's no evidence China plans to intervene in the U.S. election on the scale of Russian in 2016, though.
  • He says we're more likely to see "the usual" from China, meaning efforts to influence Chinese-language audiences and the business community without taking drastic measures.
  • That's in part because Chinese leaders want to avoid the type of backlash Russia now faces, but also because they seem "ambivalent" about the prospect of Trump's re-election, Johnson says.

Between the lines: There are potentially billions of dollars at stake in 2020 for Iran, which is suffocating under U.S. sanctions and knows Democrats are keen to re-enter or renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal.

  • Saudi Arabia, Iran's rival, could have precisely the opposite incentive to intervene. It has close ties with Trump's White House but is viewed with hostility by leading Democrats.
  • But China sees the U.S. as "dysfunctional" internationally under Trump, Johnson says, and despite Trump's trade war, leaders in Beijing are unsure whether they'd be better off without him in the White House.

What to watch: Still, there's reason to watch China's misinformation efforts closely. Researchers worry Beijing could leverage the growth of TikTok to spread misinformation in the U.S.

Go deeper:

The misinformation age

Welcome to our new synthetic realities

Misinformation haunts 2020 primaries

Go deeper

Emergency declaration issued in 17 states and D.C. over fuel pipeline cyberattack

Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration said it's "working with" fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline to try and restart operations after a ransomware attack took it offline.

Why it matters: Friday night's cyberattack is "the most significant, successful attack on energy infrastructure" known to have occurred in the U.S., notes energy researcher Amy Myers Jaffe, per Politico. A regional emergency

26 mins ago - World

Sullivan expresses "serious concerns" to Israeli counterpart about Jerusalem violence

Israeli soldiers throw tear gas canisters at Palestinian demonstrators during a protest near the Jewish settlement of Beit El near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on Sunday. Photo: Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan expressed "serious concerns" Sunday to his Israeli counterpart about "violent confrontations" in Jerusalem and planned evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the city's east, per a White House statement.

Driving the news: More than 250 Palestinians and several Israeli police officers have been wounded since Friday. Israeli police have used tear gas, stun grenades, water cannons and rubber bullets on protesters, who've thrown "rocks and water bottles" at officers, per NPR. The violence continued Sunday night, AP notes.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Updated 4 hours ago - Technology

Exclusive: GLAAD finds top social media sites "categorically unsafe"

The leading social media sites — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube — are all "categorically unsafe" for LGBTQ people, according to a new study from GLAAD, the results of which were revealed Sunday on "Axios on HBO."

The big picture: GLAAD had planned to give each of the sites a grade as part of its inaugural social media index, but opted not to give individual grades this year after determining all the leading sites would receive a failing grade.

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