Russian social media manipulators have nothing on the National Rifle Association as far as infiltrating Facebook & Twitter goes

We see playing out before us two great dramas involving vast plots to manipulate the minds of millions of Americans. The first is obviously front and center: the Mueller indictments against 13 Russian nationals and 3 companies, which puts to rest any argument against the idea that the Russians intervened in the last national election to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. We know now that there can be no doubt the Russians interfered and intend to do so again.

The second, unpublicized campaign of distortion is being run right now by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to prevent the mass murder at a Parkland, Florida high school from resulting in stricter gun control laws. Now I’m not accusing the NRA of taking over the Internet identities of unsuspecting people or using bots to boost its posts, like the Russians did. What I am saying is that the NRA engages in an extensive and probably very expensive social media campaign to keep myths and false arguments about gun control in front of social media users.

During the presidential campaign I saw almost none of the garbage that Russia surreptitiously dumped onto Twitter and Facebook, except as reported by the mainstream news media. By contrast, since the Parkland shooting, my Facebook feed has been bombarded by false memes regarding gun control, presented in photographs, cartoons, videos and headlines, typically originating from websites I have never heard of before. Here is a sample of the ridiculous cant being posted:

  • We should arm school teachers.
  • Mentally ill people commit mass murders, not guns.
  • We should have veterans with automatic weapons patrolling the halls of our schools.
  • We should blame video games.
  • A teenage girl crying in delight at having gotten a gun for a present.
  • Determined killers will always find another way.
  • God allowed the shooting because prayer is banned in public schools.
  • We should teach our kids martial arts so they can “Jackie Chan” school shooters.
  • The FBI is solely to blame for the shooting (Trump and the GOP’s excuse for not talking about gun control).
  • We’re not outlawing cars even though thousands have died in car accidents since the beginning of the year.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen plenty of memes proposing gun control since the latest horror. I particularly like the one that suggests that the senators and congressional representatives voting against prohibiting automatic weapons should be charged as accomplices of shooter Nicholas Cruz. I also like the mentions of how much individual politicians have received from the NRA and the headlines that point out that guns are not allowed in the chambers of Congress.

But remember, the approximately 3,500 people in my Facebook network are almost all followers of my very leftwing blog, family and friends (who are decidedly leftwing) and members of the international poetry community (which skewers left). My Facebook network is decidedly more pro-gun control than it was pro-Hillary. Remember too that a large majority of Americans—and gun owners—are in favor of banning automatic weapons, extending waiting periods and other “centrist” gun control legislation. The Russians didn’t really ever penetrate my network with real garbage, but the NRA has made its presence felt to the point that for a while I saw about as many posts against gun control as for gun control. Since I kept asking Facebook not to show me further updates from the originating sources for NRA propaganda, the anti-gun control Facebook posts have finally died down a bit.

Turning now to Twitter: I have no way of evaluating the political beliefs of my approximately 38,000 Twitter followers, except for noting that the campaigns I have conducted to expand my Twitter network have always focused on Hillary and Bernie supporters or the followers of people who retweeted or tweeted my progressive and often pro-gun control tweets. Comments from Twitter followers almost always praise my tweets or the OpEdge articles to which they usually links. Over 9+ years, there are only two subjects that get substantial negative feedback from people opposed to my tweets: when I propose raising the minimum wage and when I advocate more gun control legislation. And it happened again after Parkland.

I don’t have the operation to track the origin of every anti-gun control tweet (or Facebook update), so I am only assuming that behind most of it are NRA-funded groups and individuals, or the NRA itself. Again, I am not accusing the NRA of doing anything underhanded or illegal, but of spending a lot of money legally to monitor social media and respond in one way or another to as many pro-gun control tweets as they can.

Remember that the extensive NRA activity on social media reinforces the nonsense that its elected factotums piously spew, stating that just after a tragedy is not being the time to discuss gun legislation, blaming mental illness or the FBI, or advocating we arm school teachers. It also reinforces the NRA party line blathered by Fox News and the rest of the rightwing news media. On the one hand, we could conclude that the program is a failure, since surveys track a growing interest in strengthening gun control laws among the American public. On the other hand, the NRA’s vast marketing campaign helps to create the alternative reality in which the politicians they finance can thrive. The false statements of the politicians and their reverberation in social media and the right wing news media help to set the agenda for the mainstream media and continually keep pro-gun control advocates on their heels, in a reactive mode, even after the increasingly more frequent tragedies that everyone knows could be prevented by greater gun control and reducing the number of weapons circulating in American society.


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