There has been a quantum increase in anti-gun control, pro-NRA bot spam online since the inception of the movement towards sensible gun control by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students.
SAN FRANCISCO — One hour after news broke about the school shooting in Florida last week, Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia released hundreds of posts taking up the gun control debate.
The accounts addressed the news with the speed of a cable news network. Some adopted the hashtag #guncontrolnow. Others used #gunreformnow and #Parklandshooting. Earlier on Wednesday, before the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., many of those accounts had been focused on the investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The Republican-dominated Congress is protecting Trump by ignoring the threat posed by ongoing Russian cyberwarfare. This has left the country without a concerted defense against the on-going Russian/Kremlin campaign to destabilize American democracy.
It’s known that Russian groups used Facebook and other social media platforms to spread false information during the 2016 election, but now Russian bots are doing the same after the Florida shooting. So, how are tech giants thinking about tackling these issues and making sure the same thing doesn’t happen in this year’s midterm election?
Russian interference via social media cyberwarefare did not stop with the 2016 election. The Kremlin’s effort to destabilize American democracy is ongoing, growing and robust.
ARI SHAPIRO, Host: Let’s start with last week’s school shooting in Florida. How did trolls online exploit that tragedy?
AARTI SHAHANI: Well, I spoke with a researcher at New Knowledge – that’s a group that studies pro-Russia trolls – and he gave me a chilling timeline. By 2:30 p.m. Eastern that day he saw an uptick of messages by this one troll network. And they just started sharing breaking news, OK? But by 3 p.m. Eastern, a half hour later, they quickly pivoted to conspiracy theories, speculating it was a Democrat conspiracy and also advancing an extreme pro-gun position, saying teachers need to carry concealed handguns to protect students.
Now, that latter talking point made its way into mainstream news. So it’s an example of how anyone can drive the national conversation – you know, advocate strongly for an extreme position and manufacture a ton of retweets at the exact moment when pundits are looking to define the polls.
Item-by-item the bots have woven a weft and weave conspiracy theory to discredit the school shooting survivors and the gun control movement.
About half of the bots are spamming the “crisis actor” conspiracy meme.
The other bot spams stitch together a tapestry of social media posts that present a propaganda
This new bot traffic is staggering, and it’s stirring up a massive number of real “2nd Amendment” defensive posters. Although low-information extremists may think that the bots are their allies and enjoy the “likes” and fellow-traveler traffic, Russian bots are not on “their side.” The bots that urge violent reactions against any side of an issue are not your friends.
Bots spam both sides of hot-button issues simply to pit Americans against Americans. The aim of the bots is the destabilization of America.
Politifact reports: Russian bots and trolls pushed conspiracy theories about survivors and amplified Second Amendment messaging in an apparent effort to undermine gun control advocacy.
While many Americans are familiar with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, perhaps less well known is Russia’s use of social media to destabilize American society.
“Their playbook is to basically to pit Americans against each other,” Jamie Fly, a senior fellow at the foreign policy think tank the German Marshall Fund previously told PolitiFact. “It’s not even based on party identification, but people on either side of social or cultural divides.”
The bot farms have jumped into the current gun control and school shooting debate because they see an opportunity to raise the temperature and provoke the maximum violent division in America via social media.
And to heap insult upon injury, the bots have targeted the young survivors of the , re-victimizing the students.
An example of the agitprop the bots are spamming is their effort to discredit student survivor David Hogg:
According to the LA Times, on Wednesday, a nasty piece of character assassination shot up YouTube’s trending list. “If the comments on YouTube and in the media were any indication, it also fascinated hate-watchers.”
“Culled from a local news segment about a 2017 spat between a lifeguard and a swimmer, it showed a bronzed teen on a beach with the caption ‘David Hogg the actor.’” Bots and extremists leapt on the “crisis actor” meme.
David Hogg survived the shooting, but then had to overcome character assassination as social media theater.
An expansive network of Russian social media bots has zeroed in on David Hogg, a Florida school shooting survivor who’s been the target of far-right conspiracy theorists in recent days.
Researchers at Hamilton 68, a joint venture between the Alliance for Securing Democracy and the German Marshall Fund that has closely tracked the automated Russian Twitter accounts, found Tuesday that “Hogg” was the top trending topic within the network it follows. The researchers found a more than 8,000% increase in tweets on containing the student’s last name. The words “David” and “survivor” were also among the top trending words.
The bots have also targeted Emma Gonzalez. Facebook and YouTube responded responsibly by removing all posts about witnesses Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg – Twitter Lockout.
It is concerning that the tenor of the bots is fundamentally to provoke violent reactions, and they go so far as to prompt seditious “civil war,” citing multiple faux conspiracies as a rationale.
From Recode: (The NY Times says that) Russian bots on Twitter tried to create animosity among critics and advocates of the Second Amendment. High school students who survived the shooting have been mocked online for standing up to politicians and calling for gun control. And now conspiracy theories are circulating on Facebook and Twitter to try and tear down those same students, calling them “crisis actors” and suggesting they’re puppets for liberal politicians.
One of the Russian troll farm’s favorite propaganda themes is support of any type of US state secession or national civil unrest. This is why the Republican denial of Russian cyberwarfare interference in American governance is dangerous to our democracy.
The Russians continue unabated, due to the lack of will by this administration to invoke sanctions, to forward their endless and evolving campaign to use any and all issues that involve national security and defense of American democracy against our body politic.
The current massive spam agitprop seems to be working at spinning up a violent reaction among Americans regarding the school shooting controversy with a series of malicious spam that construct an incredible conspiracy theory.
Here’s the conspiracy theory the bots are pushing, and that the extremists want to believe:
- The kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are all “crisis actors” because they have doppelgangers that are found with an image search “proving” they are not high school students. [Citation 1 — No ‘Crisis Actors’ in Parkland]
- The shooting survivors, especially David Hogg, are not high school students which is “proved” because he is too articulate (and therefore is scripted by the “deep state.”) [Citation 2 — Bots Target Student Speakers]
- All of the MSM (with the exception of Fox News and other extremist Right Wing media outlets) are complicit in spreading this “false flag” via the ongoing extension of the CIA’s “Operation Mockingbird.” [Citation 3 — RT Pushing “Operation Mockingbird” meme]
- Student David Hogg’s father is a former FBI agent, and this is “evidence” of the conspiracy that the FBI is anti-American (and it follows from the “fact” that the FBI is anti-Trump) that they are behind this latest move by the “deep state.” The conspiracy theory continues that by staging school shootings the “deep state” hopes to disarm the population.[Citation 4 — “Bots targeting David Hogg”]
- They cite “Operation Northwoods” as further “proof” that the “deep state” has long been conspiring via “false flag” operations to suppress 2nd Amendment rights. [Citation 5: WaPo — “After the Parkland shooting, pro-Russian bots are pushing false-flag allegations again”]
- The bots are also pushing the propaganda that the latest “deep state” school shooting is a “false flag” and “staged event” designed only to target the NRA and arms manufacturers because they defend the “right to bear arms.” [Citation 6: Fortune — “Russian Twitter Bots Jumped All Over the Gun Control Debate Following the Florida School Shooting”]
- Throw in a sprinkling of Antisemitism by claiming a completely unsupported link to George Soros as funding the global conspiracy to “destroy the ability of real Americans” to defend themselves from the “deep state government” by using said “false flags” to disarm the citizenry.(This old Soros/Anti-Semitism/global conspiracy meme has now also gone mainstream in GOP propaganda. [Citation 7: “Missouri GOP suggests George Soros is behind indictment of governor.”)
- Therefore the above bot propaganda “proves” to the gullible and the confirmation-biased that this student movement supporting gun control is just a “false flag” perpetrated by the MSM/deep state/global bankers/etc. to disarm the populace and revoke the 2nd Amendment.The bot propaganda urges all “real Americans” to “rise up” by “all means necessary” to put down this “phony cointelpro” where some amorphous “deep state” is somehow imposing “tyranny” and (here we go again) are coming to “take your guns.”
The only actual “conspiracy theory” that can be documented is that America’s “Vichy government” is complicit with the Kremlin’s operation to carry out cyberwarefare against American democracy.
Alex Jones and Donald Trump must be chuffed to find that the Russian troll farms have thrown their complete support and considerable cyberwar tradecraft behind them.
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in speaking out post-massacre nightmare, remain without safeguards and slandered by Russian bot propaganda, undefended by this administration.
If these brave students (first traumatized by a mass killing, and then abandoned by their own derelict government) can remain resolute — so can we.
“…the Parkland students and the national student movement they ignited to David battling Goliath on one of the great issues of our generation.”
When our administration fails, we must remember that we are the government. We are all Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students.
Unanswered and unchecked by sanctions, the Kremlin efforts to unravel the very fabric of democracy in America accelerates unrelentingly
Learn to recognize bot spam. Flag every bot comment you come across in social media and comment rolls.
Without the political will to invoke US sanctions against Russia, Moscow is proceeding with their interference in American policy and propaganda designed to destabilize our way of life.
Congress must act immediately on gun control, and to override the Executive and impose the sanctions pending against Russia.