Former FBI Agent Tracks Russian Twitter Bots
Former FBI Special Agent, Clint Watts, claimed this week that new information obtained by a project called "Hamilton 68" confirms that Russian Twitter bots were behind the viral spread earlier this month of #FireMcMaster – a hashtag calling for President Trump to fire U.S. National Security Advisory H.R. McMaster.
Hamilton 68 is named after American founding father Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist No. 68, in which he warns of “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”
The project tracks over 600 Twitter bots linked to Russian operations, providing constant information about the hashtags promoted by the bots and other insight into their methods of gaming Twitter’s system to promote a pro-Russian agenda.
All told, the tracked bots account for over 20,000 tweets per day, often helping to legitimize information and talking points deemed helpful to the Russian government and/or harmful to the American government.
Watts claims that much of the bots’ activity is intentionally vague and unrelated to obvious propaganda, telling NPR, “The first thing you have to do is infiltrate the audience. If you look at the top hashtags, oftentimes they’re very common hashtags you’d see [in] a very pro-Trump audience.”
Watts cites an uptick in Russian bot activity promoting the #antifa hashtag surrounding the white supremacist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Watts says, “The long view of the Russian active measures program is chaos and disunity among the American government,” Watts said. “Anytime there’s a rift... they want to amplify those rifts.”
The project’s website notes that “common themes for amplification include content attacking the U.S. and Europe, conspiracy theories and disinformation. Russian influence operations also frequently promote extremism and divisive politics in Western countries,” while also being careful to point out that a Twitter account happening to express an opinion in line with a Russian Twitter bot should not be seen as evidence that the account has an affiliation with pro-Russian influences.
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