For most Americans, the Parkland shooting was a terrible tragedy. But for social media accounts that promote the interests of Russia in the United States, it was a fantastic opportunity.
.. According to Hamilton 68, a tracker website created by the German Marshall Fund, a lot of them linked to photos of guns and ammunition on the Instagram account of the suspected killer, plus a screenshot of a Google search for “Allahu akbar.” Others linked to a fact-checking website that debunked some statistics about gun crime. By Friday morning, some of the same accounts were also pushing something slightly different: the hashtag #falseflag. That’s a reference to the conspiracy theory, already widespread 48 hours later, that the shooting never happened, that the attack is a “false flag” operation staged by the U.S. government as a prelude to the seizure of guns.
.. And this is just the beginning. Over the next few days, many of these same kinds of accounts will invent a whole range of conspiracy theories about the shooting. If the past repeats itself, pro-Russian, alt-right, white-supremacist and pro-gun social media accounts will promote the same hashtags and indulge in the same conspiracy theories. Each group has its own interests in pushing #falseflag, but the Russian interest is clear. They do it because it helps undermine trust in institutions — the police, the FBI, the media — as well as in the government itself.
They also do it because it helps to amplify extremist views that will deepen polarization in U.S. political life and create ever angrier, ever more partisan divides... since the events of 2016, very little has changed. Despite the bad publicity, Twitter has not removed bots from its network, and despite some theatrical agonizing from its chief executive, Facebook has not taken steps to ensure that its targeted advertising systems are not still spreading disinformation, too... No major institutions, government or non-government, have launched digital-literacy campaigns to help teach people how to identify disinformation campaigns, Russian or not.