Scholars in the News

Fox Fellow Clint Watts Was Interviewed by NPR on Russian Twitter Bots

NPR

This week, it was Steve Bannon’s turn, the latest White House staffer to lose his job. A Twitter campaign this month, though, would’ve had the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, ousted instead. You may have seen the hashtag on Twitter #FireMcMaster. Turns out there was a Russian hand in the mix. The #FireMcMaster hashtag was promoted by computer software known as bots, according to our next guest. He’s former FBI special agent Clint Watts. And he’s devised a tool to monitor fake news, a dashboard that he’s calling Hamilton 68.

CLINT WATTS: So Hamilton 68 – we picked that because, in the Federalist 68 paper written by Alexander Hamilton, he talks about the need for the country to protect itself against foreign meddling. And so based on the foreign meddling we’d seen going on in the lead-up to the 2016 election, we thought that was an appropriate name. What the dashboard seeks to do is to illuminate how Russian influence works in the social media space.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Let’s pick this apart a little bit. What’s the evidence that Russia is using bots to spread stories against McMaster, and how certain can you be of the source?

WATTS: So we start with Russian state-sponsored outlets. We look at what they’re talking about. We then move to what we see are overt Russian supporters. These are people that openly declare and state that they’re pushing Russian propaganda and Russian interests. And then over time, we watch as this community grows. And that’s when we start to pick up on the bots that amplify it. Once we can identify the message, we essentially do a key network monitor. We build out some algorithms, and we zero down on what is being amplified the most. That’s where we pick up on the bots.

Read the full interview here.