Russian-Linked Twitter Accounts Not Done with the US Government Shutdown

The United States government is headed back to work Tuesday, but Russia does not appear to be done trying to capitalize on the nearly three-day-long shutdown.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill late Monday, funding the government through February 8. But even as lawmakers and the White House reached agreement, Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations continued to post hashtags seemingly aimed at amplifying the country’s political divisions.

As of 10 p.m. ET Monday night, the hashtag #schumershutdown had been used 535 times in the last 48 hours, according to Hamilton 68, an online site that tracks about 600 Twitter accounts.

Meanwhile, the site reported the top trending hashtag was #schumersellout – it’s use increasing by 4,800 percent over the same period.

Both hashtags refer to Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who ultimately agreed to compromise with Republican lawmakers after initially refusing to support any spending bills without getting a deal on protecting “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to America as children, from possible deportation.

Among those using #schumershutdown Monday was U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

“Thanks to the firm stand taken by @POTUS & Senate & House Republicans, the gov’t shutdown is coming to an end. The #SchumerShutdown failed,” Pence tweeted Monday while visiting Israel.

President Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., also used it late Monday.

“Americans don’t forget that the #SchumerShutdown put illegal immigrants ahead of our military and American children’s insurance,” Trump, Jr. tweeted. “Just remember where you stood in their eyes.”

Meanwhile, #schumersellout began trending on Twitter Monday, used in 19,700 tweets as of about 10 p.m. ET.

Among the accounts using it was the Michigan Republican Party, which tweeted, “Schumer Sells Out the Resistance #SchumerSellout,” along with a link to an opinion column in The New York Times.

The Hamilton 68 website makes clear that hashtags like #schumershutdown or #schumersellout are often not created by the Russian-linked accounts. Instead, they often take hashtags created by Twitter users who are not necessarily linked to Russia and try to amplify them to help perpetuate existing divides.

The site said other top hashtags being heavily promoted by the Russian-linked accounts included “releasethememo”, “QAnon”, “maga”, “Syria”, “nodaca”, “wethepeople” and “Russia.”

#ReleasetheMemo, which the Russian-linked accounts tweeted 480 times Sunday and Monday, saw their heaviest usage late last week (Thursday and Friday), when the accounts tweeted the hashtag more than 3,000 times.

It also gained popularity among Twitter users, including some in Congress, pushing the House Intelligence Committee to release a confidential report written by the committee’s chairman, Republican Devin Nunes.

They argued the report shed light of bias at the FBI and the Department of Justice, both of which have been investigation possible ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

U.S. intelligence officials and lawmakers from both parties have warned Russia is continuing to try to meddle in U.S. politics with an eye on the 2018 midterm elections. Russia has denied the allegation.

“They’re trying to undermine Western democracy,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Aspen Security Forum this past July, admitting Russia’s influence efforts are “quite a bit more sophisticated than they used to be.”

“I think all of my colleagues probably are worried or should be worried about it,” Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr warned last month.

“To believe that Russia’s not attempting in the United States to do things potentially for the ’18 cycle I think would be ignorant on our part,” Burr said.

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