The IRA-linked bots wereespecially prolific in the spring and summer of 2017, whenPresident Trump and Congressional Republicans mounted an effort torepeal Obamacare. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Twitter bots backed by the Russian government are wading intothe U.S. health care debate in an attempt to amplify and exacerbateAmericans' political divisions.

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Clemson University researchers have identified about 600 Twitterprofiles linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm,that have put out roughly 10,000 tweets since 2014 about theAffordable Care Act and other health care issues.

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The bots have pushed both the conservative and liberalnarratives about the ACA, composing tweets likely to be shared bypartisans on both sides. However, they are more likely to push theconservative line. The researchers concluded that about 80 percentof the ACA-related tweets attacked the law.

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Twitter has shut down the accounts, along with many others thathave been flagged by Congressional investigators as linked to theInternet Research Agency, which is believed by U.S. intelligenceagencies to be working on the behest of the Russian government toinfluence U.S. politics by sowing distrust among Americans of theirpolitical system.

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The IRA-linked bots were especially prolific in the spring andsummer of 2017, when President Trump and Congressional Republicansmounted an effort to repeal Obamacare.

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Conversely, a year earlier, there was a surge of pro-ACA tweetsfrom the bots.

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Obamacare “was already an issue that divided America, and ifRussians could throw fuel on the fire, it makes sense,” Sen. SusanCollins, R-Maine, tells the Wall Street Journal. “It's a systematic effortto weaken faith in our democracy. That's why it's so serious.”

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Other cultural or political debates that Russian-backed Twittertrolls tend to highlight include NFL players kneeling during thenational anthem, Black Lives Matter, Muslim refugees or Islam ingeneral, and Hillary Clinton's emails.

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Recently, a number of Twitter bots have been spreadinganti-vaccine conspiracy theories. A study published in the Journalof the American Public Health Association analyzed Twitter accountslinked to a hashtag associated with Russian bots and concluded thatmany of the accounts aimed to “create false equivalency, erodingpublic consensus on vaccination.”

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