disinformation investigation
September 16, 2020

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. Peter Weber

December 17, 2019

Some things never change.

The social media analysis firm Graphika determined that a Russian disinformation network contributed to an impeachment-centric smear campaign against former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch that was also pushed by President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and eventually led to her ouster. The Washington Post describes Graphika's findings as the "first evidence" that a Russian network responsible for spreading disinformation in the 2016 presidential election may also be influencing events at the heart of Trump's impeachment proceedings.

Back in March, journalist John Solomon wrote an article published by The Hill in which Ukraine's former General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko said Yovanovitch gave him a "list of people whom we should not prosecute" in Ukrainian corruption investigations, per the Post. Yovanovitch has dismissed the accusation, the State Department said the list never existed, and even Lutsenko tried to walk back his comments, but the smear campaign still made its mark — five days after Solomon's interview was published, an image of the purported list appeared on Medium and quickly spread around the web.

Graphika was able to trace the post's origins to a Russian disinformation campaign. It couldn't be determined who exactly in Russia was behind the post's circulation, but it appears to be the same operation that tried to blame the United Kingdom for interfering in the 2016 election, as well as numerous other stories between October 2016 and October 2019 that were "demonstrably false" and "based on forged documents or non-existent interviews." Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

January 7, 2019

What looks like a second "false-flag" operation aimed at disrupting Alabama's 2017 Senate race has been revealed.

Republican Roy Moore's tight 2017 loss to Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) is largely attributed to multiple credible allegations of sexual predation, which Moore denied. But a report from The New York Times suggests fake Facebook accounts tying Moore to prohibition could've played a role too.

In 2017's Alabama special election, Moore was was heavily favored to win until credible allegations of Moore's sexual predation against minors surfaced. Thousands of Russian bots appeared to follow Moore during the campaign, creating a national story and eventually elevating the allegations as well. But the bots turned out to actually be a Democrat-led false flag campaign to make Moore seem to have Russian support, a December Times report details.

A second, separate group of Democrats seems to have had the same idea, the Times reported Monday. They reportedly created a Facebook page called "Dry Alabama," which suggested Moore would prohibit alcohol — which it called "the devil's tonic" — in the state. But instead of appealing to prohibitionist conservatives, it was actually supposed to convince pro-alcohol voters to oppose Moore, anonymous sources say. A progressive activist who worked on the project defended it to the Times, saying that if Republicans engage in disinformation, Democrats "have a moral imperative" to do so too.

"It is hard to say for sure that Dry Alabama had no impact" on Jones' narrow 22,000-vote margin of victory, the Times says. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is currently looking into the first reported disinformation campaign. Kathryn Krawczyk

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