By CASSANDRA GILBERT
The tragic shooting on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that resulted in the death of 17 students and staff has reached beyond U.S. borders. Hours after the shooting, Russian bots hit Twitter to stir up debate on gun issues, flooding social media in the same manner they did during the 2016 presidential election.
Why are these Russian bots getting involved in something as seemingly inconsequential to them as American school shootings?
This is not just the second time these bots have been discovered to meddle in American a airs. According to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a public policy research group in Washington, this is part of a Russian in influence campaign.
Since the election, the researchers found that these bots, as well as human components of the campaign, have focused on a variety of controversial issues in the U.S. Researchers identified a trend of focusing on issues President Trump has tweeted about. The bots promote related hashtags, such as #boycottnfl and #takeaknee in the NFL kneeling protests.
These bots do not necessarily take a specific side like they did during the presidential campaign. Instead, they flood discussions to create a general public doubt in institutions like law enforcement and the media.
The Russian 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,” Karen North, a social media professor at USC, told The New York Times.
The U.S. government has been aware of the bots for
more than a year.
“What we’re seeing is a continuous assault by Russia to target and undermine our democratic institutions, and they’re going to keep coming at us,” Senator Mark Warner of Virginia told The New York Times.