Just after the tragedy in Florida, the Russian propaganda machine went into full war-footing. ‘Nam nuzhno bol’she oruzhiya. Khranite Ameriku v bezopasnosti.’ translates roughly to ‘We want more guns. Keep America Safe.’ Covert Russian propaganda flooded Twitter after the Parkland shooting to stoke America’s raw divides. Americans found themselves mired in a surge of content from Kremlin-linked accounts. According to Ben Popken and Jo Ling Kent writing on NBC.com, ‘Live data collected by the nonpartisan Hamilton 68 dashboard, Russian-linked Twitter accounts flooded the service with tweets using popular hashtags like #parkland, #guncontrolnow and #florida.
“It’s information war out there and social media increasingly becomes a battlefield of political adversaries ambiguously foreign and domestic,” David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at the New School, said in an email.
By clicking or searching for a hashtag, the firehose of tweets can be organized into smaller topic categories. Users can add a hashtag to participate in a smaller conversation on that subject. Russian trolls use popular hashtags to get into trending conversations, but then add more incendiary hashtags to drive readers to more partisan conversations and explosive imagery.
Without identification by Twitter or the government, it’s impossible to know who is a troll and who isn’t. A survey of tweets using the top hashtags flagged by the Hamilton 68 dashboard showed tweets adamantly in favor of gun control and saying the NRA had taken “blood money.” Other tweets attacked liberals, the media and lawmakers.
Experts say the goal of Russian troll propagandists isn’t to sway people’s opinions in one way or another. Instead, the accounts seek to exploit divisions in order to break down society into smaller, warring groups. Trolls drum up persona accounts on every side of the ideological spectrum and take advantage of high-impact events to spread confusion and disarray. In particular, they’re able to take advantage of how Twitter doesn’t require users to verify their identity.
Social media companies including Twitter, Facebook and Google have faced rebuke and testified in hearings about how Russian trolls and other malicious actors exploit their platforms to spread political disinformation and profit from partisan hoaxes.
Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment from NBC News. Recently the social media giant has said it will “continue to strengthen our fight against malicious automation and coordinated efforts to manipulate the Twitter platform.”
More than half of Americans think Russia will likely attempt to influence this year’s midterm elections, according to the results of a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll released Wednesday, and most don’t think the government is doing enough to stop it.
With the congressional probes aimed at investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 race still incomplete, a majority of Americans — 55 percent — are not confident that the federal government is doing enough to prevent foreign interference in our elections. Additionally, 57 percent of Americans think it’s likely that Russia will try to influence this year’s midterms.
However, there’s a significant party divide. Republicans surveyed were more likely to express confidence that government is doing enough to prevent future interference, and less likely to believe that Moscow would try to meddle. A majority of Independents (58 percent) and an overwhelming majority of Democrats (80 percent) say Russian interference is likely in 2018.
Meanwhile, 64 percent of Americans surveyed said that they think it’s likely that a foreign government — not necessarily Russia — will try to interfere in the 2018 elections.
A vast majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaners (79 percent), as well as Independents (68 percent), said foreign interference is probable this year. Republicans and Republican-leaners surveyed are split on the issue.
Eight in ten Americans, or 79 percent, are also concerned that the country’s voting systems might be vulnerable to computer hackers, including nearly half (47 percent) who are very concerned. Perhaps with good reason — Russian hackers successfully penetrated U.S. voter registration rolls in “an exceptionally small number” of states, according to a new NBC News report.
Americans are split in their confidence when it comes to the election officials in their own states. Nearly half (49 percent) are not confident that the election officials in their states are doing enough to prevent foreign countries from influencing future U.S. elections. The other 48 percent are confident that their state is doing enough.
Americans have the least amount of confidence in tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, whoseexecutives have been called to testify before various panels in the House and Senate regarding Americans’ exposure to Russian propaganda through their platforms during the 2016 campaign.
Over two-thirds (68 percent) said they are not confident that technology companies are doing enough to prevent foreign countries from influencing future elections. This sentiment is uniformly shared across Republicans (65 percent), Independents (66 percent), and Democrats (73 percent).