After violent protests rocked Charlottesville, Virginia last month, Republican Sen. John McCain took to Twitter to condemn hatred and bigotry and urge President Donald Trump to speak out more forcefully.
Then pro-Russian bots got activated on social media.
Within hours, an online campaign attacking McCain — a frequent Trump critic — began circulating, amplified with the help of automated and human-coordinated networks known as bots and cyborgs linking to blogs on “Traitor McCain” and the hashtag #ExplainMcCain.
After the 2016 U.S. presidential race was subject to Russian cyber meddling, analysts say the ferocity of more recent assaults is a preview of what could be coming in the 2018 elections, when Republicans will be defending their control of both chambers of Congress.
“They haven’t stood still since 2016,” said Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow in information defense at the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council in Washington, which tracked the activity. “People