Russian bots flood Twitter with pro-gun messages after Florida shooting: report
A day after the deadly school shooting in South Florida, Twitter saw a spike in tweets about gun violence from Russian-linked accounts.
Hamilton 68, a website that tracks Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence campaigns, identified trending hashtags and topics on Thursday, including #Parkland, #guncontrolnow, #Florida and #guncontrol, as well as Nikolas — the name of the accused shooter — Wired reported.
Another website run by RoBhat Labs, Botcheck.me, which tracks political propaganda bots, found that all of the top two-word phrase used on Twitter in the day after the shooting, excluding President Trump’s name, had to do with the attack, according to Wired.
Botcheck.me does not only track bots linked to Russian influence campaigns, and Ash Bhat, one of the project’s founders, told Wired that he would not speculate who is operating the accounts that his website tracks.
According to Wired, some bot operators create hashtags and push them until they are picked up by human users. Other bots seize on hashtags already in use to try to hijack the conversation.
The findings came a day after a shooter opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, killing 17 people.
The accused shooter was identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons. He was charged Thursday with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
Such shootings often give way to intense debate over gun control, a fiercely divisive political issue.
The trending topics and hashtags from Russian-linked accounts also come more than a year after the U.S. intelligence community released an assessment detailing Russian efforts to disrupt and influence the 2016 presidential election.
No small part of those efforts seized on social media to spread politically divisive content. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee this week that intelligence officials expect Russian to once again interfere in the midterm elections coming up this year.
“We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” he said.
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