There’s a mountain of evidence that the Russian trolls (around whom our politics now somehow revolve) operated like standard spammers, piggybacking on viral content to push their own agendas. That meant everything from pro and anti-Trump rallies, to fake Black Lives Matter accounts, pipeline protests and anything that was likely to tap into an interest group potentially sympathetic to their agenda.
Like pro and anti-vaccines.
Russian trolls weren’t just trying to cause division in U.S. politics. A new study shows that they were also trying to stoke divides in one of the country’s most heated debates around public health: vaccinations.
Russia-linked social media bots pushed divisive speech and misinformation on Twitter on both sides of the preexisting vaccine debate, according to research led by George Washington Universityand published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.
“These trolls seem to be using vaccination as a wedge issue, promoting discord in American society,” the study’s authors said.
Wedge issue, yes. Promoting discord, I doubt it.
CNN, the Washington Post and the rest of the media zero in on things that people care about. Because content about those things is more likely to be shared and engaged with.
That’s what the Russians were doing.
While the number of vaccination tweets sent by the Russian trolls was a small percentage compared to the overall volume of tweets sent on Twitter in a given day, or even compared to the overall total number of tweets sent by the trolls themselves, the study highlights how social media-based propaganda efforts from Russia were not solely focused on the 2016 election and have been found to push divisive content related to a variety of topics such as race relations and even health.
Though the conflict between those who believe in the scientific basis for the benefit of vaccines and those who link them to unfounded health concerns had raged for years, the topic became another issue the Russian trolls seized upon to widen existing rifts in America and turn citizens against each other.
“Thus, health communications have become ‘weaponized,’” the researchers wrote. “Public health issues, such as vaccination, are included in attempts to spread misinformation and misinformation by foreign powers.”
It’s the social media echo chamber. And, for the 200th time, it had nothing to do with Trump. And maybe it’s time the media stopped lying about it. This is spam, weaponized by clever people in a country that took influence operations to a new level, with the objective of ultimately pushing its own agenda, while cloaking their accounts in domestic issue-based tribalism.
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