It’s no secret Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attempt to hack the election for Donald Trump is hitting a raw nerve in Republican circles. Consider the near-hysterical reactions from Trump diehards, including attempts to have Mueller either neutered or fired.
But Wired recently discovered there may be even stronger evidence than that. The Kremlin’s army of Twitter bots is coming after Mueller with a vengeance.
Last August, the hashtag “#ResignPaulRyan” started trending heavily on Twitter. But there was one problem–it was a Russian op. The folks at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan project of the German Marshall Fund dedicated to turning the hot lights on the Kremlin’s effort to undermine our democracy, discovered that Russia-linked Twitter bots were behind a dramatic spike in hostility toward the Speaker. They tracked this activity on “Hamilton 68,” a dashboard of 600 Twitter accounts associated with a pro-Kremlin influence network.
Well, it turns out that the bots were at it again for much of December–and Mueller was the target. Hamilton 68 analyzed the 182 most-shared articles by the bots it tracks from December 9 to December 31. Out of those articles, 16 percent of them attacked the “deep state.” Out of that total, almost half–48 percent–attacked Mueller. According to Alliance research analyst Bret Schaefer, this represents the most “concentrated activity on that topic” since Hamilton 68 went live in August.
The bot attacks on Mueller coincide with Michael Flynn’s guilty plea in early December. But according to Schaefer, the bots also seized on news that Mueller was forced to reassign two FBI agents working on the investigation after word got out that they called Trump an “idiot.” The bot activity also coincides with Trump’s incessant tweeting about the investigation, though Wired cautions that it’s hard to tell whether the “feedback loop” starts with the bots or Trump.
Schaefer noted that the bots frequently blast out stories from hardcore right-wing sites like Gateway Pundit. They seem to focus on spreading rumors that are quickly lapped up by the alt-right and other Trump diehards. Translation: much of Jim Hoft’s income is even more tainted than we thought. Apparently many of his clicks are coming from these bots. As Wired sees it, the bots are engaging in classic astroturfing–creating “a groundswell of outrage that reaches the broader public, the press, and eventually, even the President.”
There were already fears that this groundswell could play hell with the 2018 elections. In October, MSNBC reported on just how easy it is for Russian bots to wreak havoc in an election. Watch here.
Sam Wooley and Nick Monaco of the Institute for the Future revealed that it’s easy to buy a thousand bots for only a couple of dollars. They fear that they could already be wreaking havoc in 2018 by sowing confusion among voters. Wooley puts it bluntly–if the person who speaks loudest wins, “we start looking like an authoritarian state.”
That makes it even more important for Mueller to peel back the onion that was Russia’s effort to hack the election. And apparently the bots know it as well.
(featured image courtesy U. S. Embassy to Estonia, available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license)