The NFL protests during the national anthem became one of the biggest stories nationally this week, but apparently, Twitter accounts linked to Russia helped fuel the fire.
Daisuke Wakabayashi and Scott Shane of the New York Times broke down the recent news:
"Since last month, researchers at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan initiative of the German Marshall Fund, a public policy research group in Washington, have been publicly tracking 600 Twitter accounts—human users and suspected bots alike—they have linked to Russian influence operations. Those were the accounts pushing the opposing messages on the NFL and the national anthem."
Every team in the NFL had some sort of demonstration either before or during the national anthem in Week 3 following President Donald Trump saying that players who kneel should be fired.
Over 100 players took a knee the following Sunday, with other teams locking arms and a few not coming onto the field for the ceremony. This unsurprisingly led to massive debate from throughout the country in real life and on social media.
The president himself used several tweets to call out players, including one tweet where he used the hashtag #StandForOurAnthem on Monday. Meanwhile, an opposing hashtag of #TakeAKnee was the top trending topic throughout much of Sunday.
According to Evan McMurray of ABC, it was tweeted over 1.3 million times in a span of 24 hours.
The Alliance for Securing Democracy has tracked Russian influence on social media and found that hashtags like this either started with them or grew with extended use. The apparent intent is to fuel arguments on both sides and grow division among Americans.
While the players had their own reasons for protest Sunday and Monday, the extended discussions appear to be fueled from outside influences.