Russia’s Trolls Also Spent Years Tweeting About Obamacare

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

According to analysis performed by the Wall Street Journal, social media accounts linked to Russia's professional interference trolls at the so-called "Internet Research Agency" have sent nearly 10,000 tweets about the Affordable Care Act dating all the way back to 2014.

While some of the tweets they sent were supportive of the law, the majority of them were negative. Whether or not they sent positive or negative tweets appears to have entirely depended on which would cause the most trouble at the time.

Moreover, some of the negative tweets opposed to Obamacare used the language of the Left, not always the Right.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Researchers at Clemson University provided The Wall Street Journal with the set of about 9,800 tweets involving health policy and the ACA that the IRA posted over that period. An analysis by the Journal found that 80% of the tweets had conservative-leaning political messages, often disparaging the health law. [...]

Pro-ACA tweets peaked around the spring of 2016, possibly aimed at fostering division between Mrs. Clinton and her presidential primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). Anti-ACA tweets intensified in mid-2017 as Republicans mounted their push to repeal the law, apparently seeking to capitalize on the emotions generated by that effort. “Let Obamacare crash & burn. Do not bail out insurance companies,” said a tweet from an IRA-linked account called JUSMASXTRT on Aug. 28, 2017.

The tweeters displayed political savvy, retweeting respected analysts and citing pop culture figures like singer Clay Aiken, who gained fame on “American Idol,” as ACA supporters. They latched onto ACA-related events, such as votes in Congress, urging followers to contact lawmakers and making far-fetched assertions, such as saying the health law was a weapon of mass destruction or more dangerous than Islamic State.

It's not clear how many people saw these tweets, but just one of the 600 accounts involved in the scheme had nearly 140,000 followers so I imagine quite a few people did.

I've said this before, but I believe the growing use of buzzwords, hashtags, and slogans to define political positions is what made us vulnerable to these misinformation campaigns.

If you can't articulate a policy without using a slogan to do so -- if you label someone a rhetorical traitor just because they won't use a set of magic words on the campaign trail -- someone is going to use that for their own ends. Russian trolls didn't start calling Obamacare a "bail out" on their own. They got the idea from Americans.

  • Aynwrong

    Years ago Rush (Tokyo Rose) Limbaugh made a crack about the late Rep Jack Murtha (D) a Vietnam combat vet, being “the head of the new KGB.” He said this because Murtha had become a harsh critic of the Iraq war and at the time one couldn’t disagree with anything Iraq related without having one’s patriotism challenged. Service be damned. Today, Russian propaganda sounds like it sprang from Limbaugh’s radio show.

    Funny how that works.

  • mnpollio

    Perfect example of why people should boycott platforms like Twitter, but alas they think every brain fart is of vital importance and must be disseminated immediately, so that will never happen.

  • muselet

    Think of this as a proof of concept.

    Russian ratfuckers used the screeching about the ACA to learn how to manipulate American political discourse before turning to the big prize, a presidential election.

    There’s really nothing new here, by the way. Propaganda is propaganda; only the medium changes. Using social media not only gives cllose to real-time feedback on a propaganda campaign’s effectiveness, Twitter does the hard work and provides analytics, making it the perfect tool for electoral shenanigans.

    (Once again, this is an example of why I don’t do that social media bollocks.)