Troll networks manipulated gun conversation after Florida shooting, expert says

Key Points
  • According to The New York Times, Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia turned their attention to the Florida shooting.
  • There are multiple networks of accounts, they're manipulating the conversation, and they are playing both sides, says expert Jonathan Morgan.
Media is in very difficult position with Russian bots: Expert

Immediately after the mass shooting at a Florida high school last week, hundreds of Twitter accounts turned their focus "almost on a dime" to amplify the events of the tragedy, Jonathan Morgan told CNBC on Tuesday.

According to The New York Times, those Twitter accounts are suspected of having links to Russia. Before the shooting that left 17 dead, many of those accounts had been focused on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the paper reported.

While the accounts first focused on breaking news, they quickly turned to extreme pro-gun rhetoric as well as advocating gun control, said Morgan, CEO of New Knowledge, which tracks online disinformation campaigns. They also spread conspiracy theories, he added.

"It's hard to say exactly who's behind all of the content that we see but what we can say is that there [are] multiple networks of accounts, they're manipulating the conversation and they are playing both sides," he told "Closing Bell."

Students and family members holds hands around a makeshift memorial in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed on February 14, on February 18, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.
Getty Images

The Florida massacre has renewed the debate on gun control. The issue could play a role in the midterm elections as Republicans, who have often cautioned against new gun regulations after mass shootings, try to keep their majority in both chambers of Congress.

Morgan said his firm saw activity on both sides of the debate.

"This is a very common tactic among these types of troll networks — both to push extreme positions, to sow division amongst Americans, but then also to undermine our belief … in the media that gives us the information in the aftermath of these types of tragedies," he added.

Those tactics were allegedly employed by Russians trying to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, according to last week's indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities.

The indictment said a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency sought to wage "information warfare" against the United States and to "sow discord" in the American political system by using fictitious American personas and social media platforms and other Internet-based media.

— CNBC's Mike Calia, Jacob Pramuk and Dan Mangan contributed to this report.

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