Robert Carlson, Gray Gaertner, 16 March 2021
Last week, the dramatic rise and fall in the price of Gamestop demonstrated how vulnerable the stock market is to social media speculation. U.S. regulators should now turn their attention to a greater risk—that in the near future, China, Russia, or another adversary could coordinate an unwitting mob to harm the American financial system.
The potential for financial warfare follows from a playbook that China, and especially Russia, have drawn from repeatedly to meddle in U.S. domestic politics. First, foreign state agents have used social media to spread disinformation or stoke existing grievances. Second, they have counted on naive users to share the original posts, allowing the content to reach a larger audience. Finally, they fan the flames to provoke action.
In 2016 and 2020, Russian propaganda decreased U.S. voters’ trust in their candidates and the political system. During last year’s protests over race and policing, foreign bots amplified instances of both racial discrimination and violent protests, further polarizing American society. Following Joe Biden’s electoral victory in November, Russian agents embraced false allegations of fraud, providing the rationale for an armed mob to assault the Capitol Building. China spends at least $10 billion per year on its own influence operations through the United Front Work Department, which promotes pro-Beijing narratives overseas.