Russian bots zeroed in on a survivor of the Florida school shooting who’s been targeted by far-right conspiracy theorists

David Hogg speaking on CNN. Screenshot/CNN
  • Russian bots targeted David Hogg, a survivor of the Florida school shooting.
  • Hogg has been the target of a number of far-right conspiracy theories.

An expansive network of Russian social media bots has zeroed in on David Hogg, a Florida school shooting survivor who’s been the target of far-right conspiracy theorists in recent days.

Researchers at Hamilton 68, a joint venture between the Alliance for Securing Democracy and the German Marshall Fund that has closely tracked the automated Russian Twitter accounts, found Tuesday that “Hogg” was the top trending topic within the network it follows. The researchers found a more than 8,000% increase in tweets on containing the student’s last name. The words “David” and “survivor” were also among the top trending words in the bot network.

Hogg has become the target of a number of conspiracies spread by far-right outlets such as The Gateway Pundit and True Pundit, as well as through social media accounts. The conspiracies center on baseless claims that Hogg is an actor who is working in cahoots with the FBI, where his father is a retired agent.

The New York Times reported Monday that Twitter accounts suspected of Russian links began tweeting about the Florida shooting en masse within an hour of the news breaking.

Hogg at the center of right-wing conspiracy theories

Hogg, a student journalist who says he interviewed classmates during the shooting, has become one of the most prominent student voices, calling for stricter gun-control measures and characterising the response of politicians – and specifically President Donald Trump –as “disgusting.” He has been prominently featured as a guest on networks like CNN and CBS.

Far-right outlets have pointed to his father’s status as a retired FBI agent to suggest something nefarious in the student’s frequent media appearances.

Pro-Trump accounts on social media have shared the stories on Twitter and in some cases have thousands of retweets. The far-right One America News Network promoted a tweet suggesting Hogg may be “running cover for his dad who works as an FBI agent at the Miami field office.”

The stories gained more attention when Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., liked two tweets related to the conspiracies.

Later on Tuesday, True Pundit posted another story under the headline “BUSTED: Trump-Hating School Shooting Survivor Visited CNN HQ Before the Shooting; Ranted Live on CNN After.”

The far-right publication published photos, claiming to be of Hogg, both at a CNN newsdesk and wearing a CNN T-shirt before last week’s shooting.

That story was one of the most shared links Thursday among the Russian bot network tracked by Hamilton 68.

The conspiracies seemed to spill into the ranks of government, too.

Benjamin Kelly, an aide to Republican Florida state Rep. Shawn Harrison, told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday afternoon that both Hogg and a fellow student were “actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

Kelly was fired later that day.

The prominence of the conspiracies led to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida publicly condemning those spreading the claims.

“Claiming some of the students on tv after #Parkland are actors is the work of a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency,” he tweeted.

Hogg responded to Rubio’s tweet, thanking him for his comment.