By Steve Neavling
Suspected Russian-linked Twitter accounts pounced on the gun control debate just an hour after last week’s school shooting in Florida.
Many of the social media accounts, the New York Times reports , had been the target of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the presidential election in 2016.
“This is pretty typical for them, to hop on breaking news like this,” said Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, a company that tracks online disinformation campaigns. “The bots focus on anything that is divisive for Americans. Almost systematically.”
The news comes after last week’s indictments of 13 Russians accused of waging an unprecedented propaganda campaign to help Donald Trump get elected.
To experts on disinformation campaigns, it’s no surprise that Russian agents quickly seized the opportunity to sow division among Americans. The bots are designed to pit Americans against each other on divisive issues such as gun control, race and immigration.
The bots are “going to find any contentious issue, and instead of making it an opportunity for compromise and negotiation, they turn it into an unsolvable issue bubbling with frustration,” said Karen North, a social media professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “It just heightens that frustration and anger.”
Top intelligence officials warned Congress earlier this month that Russian agents, emboldened by their success during the presidential campaign, are planning a similar disinformation campaign during the mid-term elections this year.
The automated Twitter accounts pounced on the hashtag #Parklandshooting, injecting the issue of metal illness in the gun control debate. Some of the accounts also claimed the gunman searched for Arabic phrases on Google before the massacre.