I have no use for Russian bots, but the implication that they are a particularly powerful force in making our political debate poisonous is completely absurd. The New York Times sent out a news alert last night for this story, “After Florida School Shooting, Russian ‘Bot’ Army Pounced”:
SAN FRANCISCO — One hour after news broke about the school shootingin Florida last week, Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia released hundreds of posts taking up the gun control debate.
The accounts addressed the news with the speed of a cable news network. Some adopted the hashtag #guncontrolnow. Others used #gunreformnow and #Parklandshooting. Earlier on Wednesday, before the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., many of those accounts had been focused on the investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“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.”
One of the most divisive issues in the nation is how to handle guns, pitting Second Amendment advocates against proponents of gun control. And the messages from these automated accounts, or bots, were designed to widen the divide and make compromise even more difficult.
But does anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes on Twitter — or watching cable TV, for that matter — doubt that the gun control debate would be equally intense and venomous even if all Russian nationals were permanently banned from all social-media platforms?