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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new report outlines how miscalculations and misinformation on Twitter could lead to global war.

Why it matters: Social media platforms like Twitter have vastly accelerated the pace of communication. Without restraints, it's far too easy to imagine how errant tweets could cause international disputes to escalate out of control.

Driving the news: A huge Twitter hack on Wednesday led to the hijacking of authenticated accounts from major figures like Joe Biden and Barack Obama, exposing the vulnerability of a platform that has grown to become a vital platform for real-time information.

What's happening: In a new report coincidentally released the same day as the hack, researchers at King's College London's Centre for Science and Security Studies explored what would happen if those vulnerabilities were exploited on the international level.

  • The "speed, informality and openness" that makes Twitter unique as a communications platform also makes it particularly ripe for misunderstandings.
  • That's a minor issue if the misunderstanding is, say, a feud between two celebrities.
  • It's a much bigger deal if the misunderstanding is between two nuclear-armed nation-states.

Of note: In a 2018 novel, the arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis crafted a fictional scenario where a tweet by President Trump is misinterpreted by Kim Jong-un as a declaration of war, leading the North Korean leader to preemptively launch nuclear missiles at the U.S.

What to watch: The report's authors recommend that the Department of Defense organize an interagency effort to develop best practices for social media use and encourage leaders to refrain from tweeting during crises.

My thought bubble: Axios editor-in-chief Nicholas Johnston has a simple Twitter policy: "Delete your account." We might be safer if more people followed it.

Go deeper: Twitter hack presages a bumpy election

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Oct 16, 2020 - World

Trump's hopes of pre-election nuclear deal with Russia fade

No handshake this time around. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien said in a statement on Friday that Vladimir Putin's position for the extension the New START treaty was a "non-starter" — effectively confirming that hopes of a pre-election nuclear deal had been dashed.

Between the lines: Just a few days ago, senior administration officials were expressing confidence that a deal was close, or even agreed in principle. But senior Russian officials, including Putin, have since indicated that they see little chance of a complex deal on such an expedited timetable.

1 hour ago - Health

Boris Johnson announces month-long COVID-19 lockdown in U.K.

Prime Minsiter Boris Johnson. Photo: NurPhoto / Getty Images

A new national lockdown will be imposed in the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Saturday, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country topped 1 million.

Details: Starting Thursday, people in England must stay at home, and bars and restaurants will close, except for takeout and deliveries. All non-essential retail will also be shuttered. Different households will be banned from mixing indoors. International travel, unless for business purposes, will be banned. The new measures will last through at least December 2.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The massive early vote

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Early voting in the 2020 election across the U.S. on Saturday had already reached 65.5% of 2016's total turnout, according to state data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project.

Why it matters: The coronavirus pandemic and its resultant social-distancing measures prompted a massive uptick in both mail-in ballots and early voting nationwide, setting up an unprecedented and potentially tumultuous count in the hours and days after the polls close on Nov. 3.