On Monday the Senate voted to reopen the government — after three days of a shutdown affecting US military readiness — thanks in large part to what appeared to be political miscalculation on the part of Democrats. Sources say calls began flooding into Congressional offices over the weekend, demanding a deal be made to reopen the government. Many Republicans blamed Democrats for siding with illegals over the U.S. military in a rather brutal public relations hashtag war — a war that had some help from Russian active measures campaigns. Yes, Russian meddling, again!
Twitter began reporting on Monday that #SchumerShutdown and #ReleaseTheMemo hashtags got a big boost from Russian bots in recent days. The #SchumerShutdown hashtag was the leading edge of the public relations war waged on Democrats to accept a continuing resolution deal that did not include DACA provisions.
According to a bipartisan national security group, #SchumerShutdown was the top trending hashtag promoted by Russian propaganda bots on Twitter as of 10 p.m. Saturday.
The Huffington Post reported that The Alliance for Securing Democracy discovered that hashtag blaming Schumer had exploded among Russian influence networks. The security organization tracked about 600 Twitter accounts believed to be operated by Russian-tied groups and found the shutdown hashtag had surpassed another popular Russian bot hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo — also tweeted out by still Russia based Edward Snowden.
Other recent hashtags pushed by Russian controlled bots include #Syria, #Maga, #Ukraine, #Turkey, #Obamagate, #WomansMarch2018 and #Russia.
It should be noted that the Democrat-launched hashtag #TrumpShutdown became the highest trending topic on Twitter worldwide. Republicans and the president then responded with #SchumerShutdown and that phrase began gaining traction.
Twitter was quick to respond to the Russian interference this go around — though there is no indication that they were wise to it before The Alliance for Securing Democracy announced its findings. It took months for Twitter to do the same during the 2016 election. Their newfound responsiveness is not surprising given the major investments they have made in recent months — along with other social network tech giants like Facebook and Google — in forensic investigation capabilities and geopolitical threat analysis. The three were called in front of Congress in the October 2017 to discuss their failures to prevent Russian meddling during the election as well as their plans for future mitigation.
Active measures campaigns tend to play both sides against the middle so there was likely interference on behalf of the Democrat PR playbook as well. During the Congressional hearings in the Fall of 2016, Senator Marco Rubio (R.-FL) said, “These operations, they’re not limited to 2016 and not limited to the presidential race, and they continue to this day. They are much more widespread than one election.” The real intent of Russian active measures and influence operations is to generally spread misinformation and chaos.
The continuing resolution agreed upon Monday in the Senate will raise its ugly head again in February since the bill passed is only one for temporary funding. There are still a lot of issues to be worked out between the two major parties and a lot of daylight in between them — daylight which Putin will no doubt want to bask in. Information warfare in the form of the hashtag appears here to stay for the foreseeable future.