Rep. Devin Nunes, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, sent a tweet on Wednesday in which he sarcastically called on Russian bots to help an article he had linked to go viral.
“Catch up on mainstream media Russian conspiracy theories in this piece by @FDRLST PS-If you are a Russian Bot please make this go viral PSS-If you’re not a Russian Bot you will become one if you retweet,” Nunes tweeted.
The Russian bots Nunes is referring to are Twitter accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian organization that stood at the center of the multifaceted effort by groups close to the Russian state and President Vladimir Putin to interfere in the 2016 US election. Special counsel Robert Mueller handed down a detailed indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities last week, including the IRA, for “violating US criminal laws in order to interfere with US elections and political processes.”
Multiple US intelligence agencies that investigated Russian meddling in the US election have concluded that the interference did take place. Mueller’s indictment casts further light on this interference operation, and points specifically to the IRA as a hub from which hundreds of fake accounts were used to divide the American public and sow political discord online.
Twitter deactivated hundreds of accounts that were likely linked to the operation last year, taking hundreds of thousands of tweets with them.
The article in Nunes’s tweet ridiculed alleged conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation and took aim at Rep. Adam Schiff, Nunes’s Democratic colleague and the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee
Among the alleged conspiracy theories the article mentioned was the claim that Russian bots were responsible for the popularization of the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag on Twitter.
The hashtag had urged the Intelligence Committee to release a controversial memo Nunes had authored on alleged misconduct at the FBI and Justice Department with respect to the Russia investigation. The memo was authorized for release by President Donald Trump earlier this month despite claims that it omitted key details and exposed sensitive classified intelligence proceedings. The president later blocked the release of a rebuttal memo to Nunes’s document authored by Schiff.
Although the article argues that #ReleaseTheMemo was not pushed by IRA-linked Russian bots, data from Hamilton 68, a website launched last year that says it tracks Russian propaganda in near-real time, seems to suggest otherwise — during a two-day period in January, the frequency with which these bots tweeted the hashtag skyrocketed by 233,000%. The article though also casts doubt on Hamilton 68’s methodology, and points to the fact that the site does not disclose which specific accounts it is tracking.