Russian interference in American society through social media has been a constant in the news as of late. Of course, the most salient story has been their meddling in the 2016 US elections. However, it has not stopped there. Following the devastating shooting that left 17 people dead at a high school in South Florida, Russian bots have been spotted on social media websites attempting to promote discord among Americans. Their goal appears to be aimed at a hotly debated issue in the U.S. – gun control. By playing up the raw emotions that the shooting itself created, the bots seek to politicize the situation, further dividing Americans.
Ultimately, the bots are controlled by humans. That makes it easier for the bots to stay current with the news. The bots are promoting hashtags and links that are both for and against gun-control. Those controlling the bots have no allegiance to one view or the other. Instead, their goal is to ensure Americans are divided on this passionate issue.
In an attempt to track the bots and expose them, certain organizations have created software that can track bots and link them to certain host countries.
Fortunately, the news appears to be well-known that these bots are engaging in this action. However, that was not always the case. It took a Congressional hearing on Russian meddling in the 2016 elections for large tech companies like Google or Facebook to admit to Russian interference using their platforms. By exposing the bots, Americans have become more aware of their potential for harm.
One of the biggest issues Americans are hotly divided on is whether or not guns should be more heavily regulated. The Second Amendment, of course, gives Americans the right to bear arms. There is little Supreme Court case law regarding regulating of guns. The Supreme Court has only truly addressed the scope of the Second Amendment in a few cases, holding that some regulations enacted by local governments were too strict and that the Second Amendment applies to the states. However, they have also suggested that guns are still allowed to be regulated. The Supreme Court has not addressed any new, groundbreaking Second Amendment cases as of late, so the current presumption is that Congress can impose certain regulations on guns. Unfortunately, it is not their ability to enact gun legislation that is the issue – it might be their desire to do so that is lacking.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a driving force behind ensuring gun control legislation does not get passed. A pro-gun group, they rate members of Congress based on their friendliness to gun control while supporting mostly Republican candidates. They pour millions of dollars into election campaigns to ensure that certain individuals get elected. Of course, this is no different than many other industries. For example, Pharmaceutical lobbyists spend approximately $3.7 billion in lobbying. Because of the recent shooting however, the Russian bots are attempting to make sure Americans believe that the NRA is the sole reason for the lack of gun control legislation. While that may or may not be true, it is being put out there to upset Americans further.
The Russian bots are good at what they do. As tech companies become more aware of the role they have played in our country thus far, better security measures will likely be implemented to track and eliminate bots. In our current age of technology and social media, such simple tactics by another country can affect millions of people that years ago would never have been possible.