Russian Bots Use School Shootings to Divide Americans
Pushing political division and bitterness is so much easier in the age of the internet and social media
Revelations that Russian hackers were manipulating social media in the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign is very serious. The so-called protest outside Trump Tower in New York City on the day after Donald Trump was elected president was staged by Russian teams, we know now.
The fake protest is just one example of how the “bots” and “nomes” are trying to influence the American people.
Most mainstream daily news outlets have preached the evil nature of the Russians for over a year — so I thought they would have backed off their interference by now.
I was disturbed to see The New York Times run an article titled “After Florida School Shooting, Russian Bot Army Pounced,” but I realize now that I was naïve in thinking these reports on the Russians would change any behavior.
These activities have caused me to think about how broad the influence of foreign governments and individuals might be in America. The social media accounts controlled by the Russians addressed the school shootings with the speed of cable news networks.
Some of the bots adopted the hashtag #guncontrolnow, while others used #gunreformnow and #Parklandshooting — not to inform us but to divide us.
One has to know who is producing the story or what his motive is in getting involved in an issue. Just because #guncontrolnow is seen, we can no longer assume it is from an American who is concerned about gun control.
Citizens have to judge the motivation of the author on everything that is read in newspapers and on the internet and heard on radio and TV. Remember the adage “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.”
In the case of the school shootings, I believe the Russian operatives were trying to divide us while at the same time trying to control the agenda. The American Press Institute reported that 43 percent of people say they trust the information they acquire from news sources as “completely accurate,” while 44 percent said they trust it “moderately.” Only 13 percent said they trust it only “slightly” or “not at all.”
When the story came out that there had been 18 school shootings so far this year, CNBC Politico, The Washington Post, ABC, and the New York Daily News all repeated the story — and all were forced to retract it as false.
In regard to the statement above in which 43 percent of people said they trusted the media completely for their news, those folks must feel let down by the inaccuracy of networks’ reporting on such an important and emotional issue.
We have seen so many examples of fake news in the past year that I wonder how much of it was fed by the Russians. Could the Russians or another group be responsible for feeding misinformation so as to keep schoolchildren and parents angry with a political leader and those other Americans who oppose gun control? On the other hand — if we can’t detect the source of what we see or read, then whom can we trust?
Is it possible the Russian operatives are spreading fake news just to confuse and mislead us so as to cause conflict within the country? Do they revel in seeing us at each other’s throats and abandoning all civility?
I think the answer is yes, and I also believe that in many cases, the mainstream news outlets have been compromised by their willingness to publish stories without verifying the accuracy of their reports.
I’m not a copy editor or a research editor, but if I couldn’t find the source of that 18-school shootings story that went viral, I wouldn’t use it.
Here is a tweet from Andrea Mitchell on the evening of Feb. 14, 2018:
[email protected]@MSNBC just reported this is the 12th school shooting in America in just the first 45 days of 2018. Appalling.
Here is an example of one reporter, Brian Williams, reporting something from another reporter, Andrea Mitchell, and moving it along. Neither reporter did any homework to see if it was true.
I think it is possible the news reporting process in the United States has been compromised by the Russian bots and nomes. Is it easier to report a story just because another news outlet reported it? Does this mean it is true and the outlet doesn’t have to research it to verify the truth?
The mainstream media need to go back to the journalism school principle that facts must be verified by at least two sources before they are printed. I would hope that The New York Times’ revelations and the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller would cause a rethinking in the media that they have been played by the Russians. Unless they start checking the sources of stories on which they report, they will continue to be manipulated by some other person or government agenda.
Let me raise one related issue: I wonder how much social media influenced the decision of companies like MetLife, First National Bank of Omaha, and Hertz, among others, to drop their business relationships with the NRA?
Have the Russian bots and hackers flooded the websites of these companies with false complaints? The avalanche could be construed as a major customer revolt of these various businesses, which caused them to act.
Only the companies know the basis for their decisions, but in most major corporations, canceling a long-standing relationship is not done in such a short period. These American companies seem to be making their decisions rather quickly. Were they influenced by the hidden Russian social media attacks pressuring them to do something?
It appears from the announcements that the decisions were one-sided, and it doesn’t seem that there were joint discussions among parties. I believe there is a very powerful affinity relationship between the members of the NRA and its leadership.
As this issue resolves itself, we may see other companies stepping up to replace those companies who have withdrawn their NRA support. Perhaps if NRA members withhold their business from the companies who left, some of them may want to come back.
I believe that if Russians, or other foreign individuals or governments, are working to take control of our media and influencing the storyline to fit their agenda, we could quickly lose our freedom of speech and our way of life.
Dan Perkins is an author of thrillers and children’s books and can be heard on more than 1,400 radio stations nationwide. He is also the founder of the veterans organization Songs and Stories for Soldiers Inc.