Russian bots fueled Florida shooting debate

CNN correspondent Jim Sciutto discusses the influence of Russian bots upon American life, including the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Posted: Feb 19, 2018 4:07 PM
Updated: Feb 19, 2018 4:07 PM

Russia-linked bots are promoting pro-gun messages on Twitter in an attempt to sow discord in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting, monitoring groups say.

Hashtags, topics and URLs related to the shooting overwhelmingly feature in the tweets pushed by these automated Twitter accounts in the past 48 hours, according to Hamilton 68, a tool launched by the Alliance for Securing Democracy to track what it describes as "Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts online."

The alliance is a group housed at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) think tank to "defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other actors' efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions," according to its mission statement.

The group does not disclose which accounts it tracks and CNN has not independently verified its findings.

Among the hashtags and topics related to the shooting are #falseflag, #fbi, #gunreformnow, #fbigate, #parklandschoolshooting, the name of the shooter -- Nikolas Cruz -- and Florida.

Another bot-tracking website, Botcheck.me, reports that all but one of the top two-word phrases used in the past 24 hours by 1,500 political propaganda bots were connected to the shooting: "gun control," "Nikolas Cruz," "school shooting," "school shooter" and "fake news." The exception was "President Trump."

Related: Hundreds of new Twitter accounts push #ReleaseTheMemo

Hashtags calling for gun reform and gun control are also topping the list. Unlike Hamilton 68, which targets bots related to the Russian government, Botcheck.me tracks accounts that generally spread political propaganda.

Cybersecurity and media experts are not surprised that trolls and bots are leveraging the Florida school shooting to cause divisions.

"This pattern of divisive propaganda is becoming a staple in information warfare fueled by social media, but it isn't exactly new," Marco T. Bastos, researcher at City, University of London and co-author of a paper on a network of pro-Brexit bots, told CNN. "Similar campaigns can be traced to at least 2014."

In 2014-15, a large number of accounts controlled by Russian quasi-state units were mostly focusing on reinforcing domestic opinions, according to Christo Grozev, senior researcher at New Bulgarian University's Risk Management Lab and an author at investigations website Bellingcat.

Grozev has been tracking approximately 400 Twitter "troll" accounts that were disclosed as part of a Russian leak in 2014.

The "identities" of the accounts have changed over time. Currently they contain a mix of French and Spanish/Catalan identities, suggesting they had been repurposed as needed, Grozev said.

The reason why these accounts seize on shootings like the Parkland school one is not ideological, but to amplify "extreme and divisive causes" in a bid to create "a distracted and weakened US government," Grozev said.

"Gun control is simply one of those causes," he said. "It is not in any way an ideological preference for Russia to have less gun control in the US. It is, however, the perfect divisive cause."

If the intent is not ideological, but to sow discord in American society, that could help explain why Russian-related bots are spreading hashtags calling for gun control laws and reforms.

"Such hashtags serve mostly as bait: they serve to attract 'opposing view' readers, which results in explosive and discordant online mutual shouting -- in place of any reasonable debate, which would not be in the interest of Russia," Grozev said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 52037

Reported Deaths: 2762
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12111693
Lake5677249
Elkhart366260
Allen2971134
St. Joseph221169
Hamilton1735101
Cass16489
Hendricks1470100
Johnson1351118
Porter84938
Vanderburgh8016
Tippecanoe7859
Clark71944
Madison68164
LaPorte62928
Howard61058
Bartholomew60545
Kosciusko5844
Marshall57011
Noble52428
Boone49244
LaGrange48710
Delaware48152
Jackson4793
Hancock47436
Shelby46025
Floyd41844
Monroe36128
Morgan34431
Grant32226
Dubois3196
Henry30318
Montgomery29720
Clinton2903
White27810
Dearborn27123
Warrick26829
Vigo2618
Decatur25732
Lawrence25325
Harrison21822
Greene19932
Miami1942
Jennings17912
Putnam1748
DeKalb1694
Scott1659
Wayne1596
Daviess15117
Perry15110
Steuben1402
Orange13823
Jasper1362
Ripley1357
Franklin1288
Gibson1282
Wabash1193
Carroll1142
Starke1093
Fayette1087
Whitley1086
Newton10110
Huntington942
Jefferson872
Wells831
Randolph804
Fulton761
Jay720
Knox710
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Posey640
Rush623
Spencer591
Owen531
Benton510
Sullivan511
Adams491
Brown441
Blackford402
Fountain362
Crawford330
Tipton331
Switzerland320
Parke280
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike120
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 66853

Reported Deaths: 3064
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin12301449
Cuyahoga9359399
Hamilton7046208
Lucas3079306
Marion275539
Montgomery257936
Summit2382209
Pickaway222942
Mahoning1971239
Butler189747
Columbiana139560
Stark1244116
Lorain118970
Trumbull106678
Warren101826
Clark82010
Delaware76315
Fairfield71917
Lake62723
Tuscarawas62110
Licking60012
Medina59932
Belmont57324
Clermont5157
Miami51431
Wood51051
Portage50960
Ashtabula45244
Geauga43143
Richland3906
Allen38541
Wayne37655
Greene3659
Mercer30410
Erie30122
Holmes2625
Darke26126
Huron2602
Madison2259
Ottawa21724
Athens1921
Sandusky17615
Ross1503
Washington14720
Putnam14515
Coshocton1434
Crawford1405
Jefferson1272
Morrow1271
Hardin12512
Union1151
Auglaize1124
Muskingum1061
Preble961
Lawrence920
Clinton912
Monroe8917
Hancock871
Hocking839
Guernsey824
Scioto770
Shelby774
Williams772
Carroll713
Logan711
Ashland692
Fulton680
Wyandot665
Brown621
Fayette580
Highland581
Champaign571
Knox571
Defiance553
Van Wert491
Perry481
Seneca442
Henry370
Paulding340
Jackson310
Pike290
Adams282
Vinton232
Gallia211
Noble140
Harrison131
Meigs130
Morgan120
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Few Clouds
84° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 84°
Angola
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 82°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
83° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 83°
Decatur
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 82°
Van Wert
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 82°
Storms Late Wednesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events