Turning Point Action, the more overtly partisan affiliate of well-connected conservative youth organization Turning Point USA, has been paying teenagers to post prewritten and often false and inflammatory comments from their own personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, drawing comparisons to the bots and trolls used in coordinated disinformation and political influence campaigns, The Washington Post reported Tuesday evening.
Twitter suspended 20 such accounts Tuesday for violating rules against "platform manipulation and spam," and Facebook removed a number of accounts as part of what it calls an ongoing investigation. But experts say the "sprawling yet secretive campaign" out of an office near Phoenix, Arizona, "evades the guardrails put in place by social media companies to limit online disinformation of the sort used by Russia during the 2016 campaign," the Post reports.
"In 2016, there were Macedonian teenagers interfering in the election by running a troll farm and writing salacious articles for money," Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, tells the Post. "In this election, the troll farm is in Phoenix," and "the scale and scope of domestic disinformation is far greater than anything a foreign adversary could do to us."
Turning Point, led by Charlie Kirk, 26, told the Post it's a "gross mischaracterization" to call the "sincere political activism conducted by real people" it coordinates a "troll farm." Some of the teenage contractors use their real names while others use pseudonyms, and they don't identify their connection to Turning Point, the Post reports.
Their spam-like posts, often left in the comments sections of news articles, attack Joe Biden and other Democrats, defame Black Lives Matter, spread misinformation about voting and mail-in ballots, and "play down the threat from COVID-19, which claimed the life of Turning Point's co-founder Bill Montgomery in July," the Post notes. Read more about the operation at The Washington Post.