The website botcheck.me, which tracks 1,500 “political propaganda bots” — of all stripes, not just Russian accounts — found that @ingrahamangle, @davidhogg111 and @foxnews were among the top six Twitter handles tweeted by those bots this weekend. “David Hogg” and “Laura Ingraham” were the top two-word phrases being shared.
Wading into controversy is a key strategy for Russian propaganda bots, which seize on divisive issues online to sow discord in the United States. Since the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting, which claimed 17 lives, Russian bots have flooded Twitter with false information about the massacre.
Researchers who follow the issue found that in the days after the shooting, #Parkland, #guncontrolnow, #Florida and #guncontrol were among the top hashtags used by Russia-linked accounts. (Previously, those accounts had been focused on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.)
“This is pretty typical for them, to hop on breaking news like this,” Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, a company that tracks online disinformation campaigns, told the New York Times. “The bots focus on anything that is divisive for Americans. Almost systematically.”
Ingraham came under harsh criticism after she mocked Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, who had spoken out about his disappointment at not being accepted by four University of California schools, including UCLA. Hogg has a 4.2 GPA and a 1270 SAT score.
Ingraham's criticism came amid a broader effort by gun-rights activists to discredit Parkland teens pushing for stronger gun-control laws.
In response, Hogg took to Twitter to call on the companies that advertise on Ingraham's Fox News program to pull their ads. Within days, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé, Hulu, Jenny Craig, Ruby Tuesday, Miracle-Ear and several other companies pulled their commercials from the show.
Ingraham later apologized, but Hogg isn't having it. He called Ingraham's apology an insincere “effort just to save your advertisers.”
This weekend, Hogg called Ingraham a “bully” on CNN. “It's disturbing to know that somebody can bully so many people and just get away with it, especially to the level that she did,” he said. “No matter who somebody is, no matter how big or powerful they may seem, a bully is a bully, and it’s important that you stand up to them.”
Ingraham is not on the air this week. She told viewers that she was taking an Easter break, a message confirmed by Fox News to my colleagues at The Washington Post.
This post incorrectly stated that JoS. A. Bank had removed its advertisements from Laura Ingraham's show. It has been corrected and updated.
This post incorrectly stated that botcheck.me tracks Russia-linked bots specifically. It has been corrected and updated.