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Republican senator says the Russians are manipulating the NFL protest debate - here's how

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Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said that Russians were manipulating Americans over the NFL players' national anthem protests, using false social media actors to sow discord in the debate. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) claimed that Russians were manipulating Americans over the NFL players' national anthem protests.

What did he say?

During a hearing Wednesday, Lankford explained how the Russian government used false social media actors to sow discord in the debate.

”We watched, even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms, their internet folks, start hashtagging out #TakeAKnee and also hashtagging out #BoycottNFL,” he said.

“They were taking both sides of the argument this weekend ... to try to raise the noise level of America and make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue as they are trying to push divisiveness in this country,” he added.

Did he give any evidence for his claim?

No.

An aide of Lankford told Reuters that U.S. intelligence services did share information with senators about Russian "troll operations" on social media having to do with the 2016 election. He also cited an organization cited by congressional investigators about the subject.

A website built by researchers working with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan, transatlantic project to counter Russian disinformation, showed tweets promoting both sides of the football debate from 600 accounts that analysts identified as users who spread Russian propaganda on Twitter.

Does this fit with a pattern of behavior by Russia?

Yes. Many experts have pointed out that the claims of election interference and encouraging of political discord by Russian agents is a standard procedure that has been used for decades. That does not necessarily mean all the claims, or any of them, are true, but it does fit a historical pattern of behavior by the various Russian governments over the years.

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