Report: Russian trolls stoked NFL anthem controversy with more than 12K mostly pro-Trump tweets

Much of the online ire in the wake of a Donald Trump rant against NFL players kneeling during the national anthem was provided courtesy of Russian Twitter trolls, the Wall Street Journal reports.

At a 2017 rally in Huntsville, Alabama, President Trump railed against players protesting social justice issues during the national anthem, urging NFL owners to “get that son of a bitch off the field right now.”

NFL protest tweets spiked after Trump speech

That rally took place on Sept. 22. According to the WSJ, 24 Twitter accounts tweeted “VIDEO: Trump SHREDS NFL Anthem Protesters!” on Sept. 23 almost simultaneously. 

Thousands of tweets criticizing player protests followed in the ensuing days. Overall, from 2014 through 2018, more than 12,000 tweets from 491 accounts linked to the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency were sent, with most of them critical of protests, according to a Clemson study cited in the WSJ report.

See how players are continuing to protest this season: 

NFL players protesting social injustice during the 2018 season
See Gallery
NFL players protesting social injustice during the 2018 season
CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 07: Carolina Panthers players try to block the view of Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid (25) taking a knee during the National Anthem in his first game with the team prior to the NFL game between the New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers on October 07, 2018 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte,NC. (Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Oct 7, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive back Eric Reid (25) kneels during the National Anthem prior to the game against the New York Giants at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett (77) sits during the national anthem before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 9: Robert Quinn #94 of the Miami Dolphins raises a fist during the playing of the national anthem prior to the NFL game against the Tennessee Titans on September 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Titans 27-20. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Aug 30, 2018; Glendale, AZ, USA; A stadium security guard stands with her hand over her heart as Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall (54) and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) sit in silent protest during the national anthem prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals during a pre season game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 09: Miami Dolphins Wide Receiver Kenny Stills (10), left, and Miami Dolphins Wide Receiver Albert Wilson (15) take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem prior to the start of the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans game on Sunday, September 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Photo by Michele Sandberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 09: Receivers Kenny Stills #10 and Albert Wilson #15 of the Miami Dolphins kneel during the National Anthem prior to playing against the Tennessee Titans at Hard Rock Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Miami, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Titans 27-20 after two rain delays in the longest game in NFL history. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Study: 87 percent of tweets critical of protest message

The study concluded that 87 percent of those tweets had a conservative-leaning message often labeling protesting players as unpatriotic or criticizing the NFL for its handling of the situation. The accounts cited in the report have been shut down by Twitter after a congressional investigation established their link to Internet Research Agency.

“You want to reach your average American, which is clearly their goal?” Clemson associate professor Darren Linvill asked. “Then talk about football.”

Clemson researchers believe that other accounts linked to Internet Research Agency have surfaced to fan the flames of other controversial sports topics like Colin Kaepernick’s Nike campaign and the U.S. Open tennis final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.

More from Yahoo Sports:
Jeff Eisenberg: What now for Rae Carruth?
‘Decoy’ Flacco stands, watches rookie’s first NFL TD
Terez Paylor: Jags can no longer hide their Bortles problem
Charles Robinson: Why the NFL wins when players are divided

Read Full Story

From Our Partners