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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As the dust settles on the 2020 presidential election, it's becoming clear that the process proved sturdy, with no known attacks on voting infrastructure and no 2016-style vast foreign meddling campaigns to disrupt American democracy.

Yes, but: The ongoing disinformation campaign from President Trump and his allies, as they refuse to accept his loss, illustrates that the country does not need outside intrusions to undermine the integrity of our elections.

Where it stands: None of the election's worst-case scenarios came to pass.

  • There's zero evidence of any hacks into voting machines or alterations of voter data.
  • Despite the best efforts of Trump's legal team to cast doubt on the integrity of the election results before they're certified, there's no evidence whatsoever of widespread fraud that could affect the outcome of the presidential or down-ballot races.
  • There were some minor meddling efforts, but no foreign adversary even attempted to launch a large-scale interference campaign against the election.

The big picture: There's general agreement that the parties that needed to be prepared for the worst stepped up.

  • DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the FBI and the U.S. military's Cyber Command undertook unprecedented, and often coordinated, actions to raise awareness about potential foreign cyber operations, shore up domestic online defenses and degrade and disrupt adversary networks abroad.
  • Major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter worked diligently to identify and take down foreign disinformation networks, including several linked to Iran and Russia.

Happily, they were overprepared. Those Iranian and Russian campaigns, all caught before they even had a chance to gain much steam, were generally slapdash operations of limited scale and efficacy.

  • Iran, for instance, hijacked a website associated with a far-right group and sent threatening pro-Trump emails posing as members of that group to Floridians and Alaskans listed on public voter rolls as Democrats.
  • Unlike in 2016, this year saw no verifiable, large-scale, pre-election operations in which a cutout like WikiLeaks or persona like Guccifer 2.0 surfaced and amplified hacked materials.

Between the lines: It's not that foreign actors lacked the opportunity to intervene in the 2020 elections.

  • Even if the Russians or Iranians failed to procure any explosive hacked material, they likely could have produced forged documents and set about distributing and amplifying them online.

The catch: Hostile foreign actors didn't need to expend that effort. The closest thing to a retread of 2016's hack-and-leak operation — though there is no evidence linking it to a foreign government — was the late-stage trickle of material purportedly stolen from Hunter Biden's laptop.

  • That didn't have to be seeded online and boosted by an army of trolls, fake accounts and bots. Instead, Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani acted as the broker delivering that material to homegrown conservative media outlets.
  • The rising swell of disinformation circulating inside the U.S. political world is achieving the ultimate goal of hostile foreign intelligence services for them: the poisoning of the information ecosystem of millions of Americans, which foments domestic discord.

What's next: When there are actually core U.S.-related foreign policy objectives at stake for these countries, they can execute disinformation campaigns in an ever-more primed environment for them. In 2022 or 2024, they may be pushing on an open door.

Go deeper

America's Chinese communities struggle with online disinformation

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Disinformation has proliferated on Chinese-language websites and platforms like WeChat that are popular with Chinese speakers in the U.S., just as it has on English-language websites.

Why it matters: There are fewer fact-checking sites and other sources of reliable information in Chinese, making it even harder to push back against disinformation.

Trump cancels Pennsylvania trip for GOP hearing on voter fraud claims

President Trumpat the White House on Tuesday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump on Wednesday canceled his trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he was scheduled to join his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for a Republican-led state Senate Majority Policy Committee hearing on alleged election irregularities.

Driving the news: The cancellation comes after Giuliani was exposed to a second person who tested positive for the coronavirus. It's unclear if that's the reason the trip was cancelled.

Tony Hsieh, longtime Zappos CEO, dies at 46

Tony Hsieh. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Tony Hsieh, the longtime ex-chief executive of Zappos, died on Friday after being injured in a house fire, his lawyer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He was 46.

The big picture: Hsieh was known for his unique approach to management, and following the 2008 recession his ongoing investment and efforts to revitalize the downtown Las Vegas area.