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Senator says Russian internet trolls are using NFL protests to fuel divisions among Americans

September 28, 2017

Russian internet trolls are using the recent controversy involving the NFL and national anthem protests to cause division amongst Americans.

Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, said Russian internet trolls were using hashtags “take a knee” and “boycott NFL” to cause divisions in the United States.

“We watched, even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms, their internet folks, start hashtagging out #TakeAKnee and also hashtagging out #BoycottNFL,” Lankford said during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“They were taking both sides of the argument this past weekend, and pushing them out from their troll farms as much as they could to try to just raise the noise level in America and to make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue as they’re trying to push divisiveness in the country,” Lankford added.

A Lankford aide said that according to U.S. intelligence, Russia has been using social media to further instigate a U.S. divide.

Facebook said earlier this month that Russian internet trolls purchased $100,000 worth of divisive ads on issues such as gun control during the 2016 election.

A website that tracks Russian troll operations on social media showed tweets from 600 accounts that previously spread Russian propaganda, supporting opposite sides on the NFL controversy.

Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said Lankford’s claim is probably true, as this method is similar to previous Russian propaganda campaigns.

“The goal is heightened tensions,” Watts said. “They’ll use organic American content to amplify to American audiences. They would much rather use organic American content. It hits the audience better and it’s cheaper and more effective.”

Last week, President Donald Trump said NFL players who kneel during the national anthem should be fired.