As Republicans lean into the attempt to deflect the blame on the government shutdown, they are finding comfort from one of their strongest allies—Russian social media bots.
#SchumerShutdown ― the hashtag that GOP leaders and the White House are using to accuse Democrats of causing the shutdown ― on Sunday night became the top trending hashtag being promoted by Russian bots and trolls on Twitter, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project led by former top national security officials from both parties.
Republicans might have been worried that—despite having taken absolutely zero steps to fight the influence and distortion Russian bots and fabricated news sources brought to the 2016 election—their old friends wouldn’t be there to lean on in the 2018 cycle. They can be comforted that the bots are back, in their digital thousands, doing their part to aid in fueling divisiveness and frustration.
Both Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are feeding these Moscow mechanoids, while enjoying their support. Shutdown tags have now replaced the previously surging #ReleaseTheMemo as the top concern of nonexistent Americans.
This burst of Russian ‘bot support comes as Twitter discovers even more such accounts that were in business before the last election. It also shows just how effective the Russian social media blitz has been in moving the needle in the US. The just over a thousand newly identified accounts were followed or re-tweeted by over 670,000 apparently actual Americans before the 2016 election.
The building support for shutdown-related tags shows that Trump and the Republicans are genuinely fueling an economic boom … among Russian programmers. And they’re showing once again just how easy it is for these social media campaigns to have a broad impact when there are parties on the US side ready to join in the effort.