Democrats who studied the Russian interference strategy during the 2016 presidential race in the U.S., then used those tactics against a GOP candidate for Senate in a special election in Alabama, now are under investigation.
WND reported only a day earlier that LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman admitted partly funding the group that “used disinformation tactics” in the 2017 election to fill the seat that opened up when Sen. Jeff Sessions was appointed attorney general.
The tactics were used against GOP candidate Judge Roy Moore, the state’s former Supreme Court chief justice. Democrat Doug Jones eventually won the race, by a narrow margin.
A report in the Washington Examiner Thursday revealing Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the facts are problematic.
“The information is concerning,” Marshal said. “The impact it had on the election is something that’s significant for us to explore, and we’ll go from there.”
He stopped short of announcing a formal investigation into whether the tactics tilted the election results to the Democrat.
The report said Facebook suspended five accounts linked to the operation for “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior,” the Verge reported.
One of those accounts was that of Jonathon Morgan, of the cybersecurity New Knowledge, the report said.
The report said Hoffman had backed American Engagement Technologies, which used Facebook in the same way Russia did during the 2016 election.
“They created misleading Facebook pages, urged Republicans in Alabama to support a write-in candidate instead of Roy Moore, and ‘created false evidence that bots were backing Moore on Twitter’ to spur misleading news headlines,” the report said.
It was known as Project Birmingham.
“I find the tactics that have been recently reported highly disturbing,” said Hoffman, who handed over $750,000 to AET.
“On Wednesday, he apologized for having unknowingly contributed to a group that participated in the coordinated campaign,” the report said.
“I want to be unequivocal: there is absolutely no place in our democracy for manipulating facts or using falsehoods to gain political advantage,” Hoffman told the Washington Post, the Verge explained.
WND had reported on information uncovered by the New York Times that documented how Democrats had researched how Russians used social media to influence the 2016 presidential race and deployed the same tactics against Judge Roy Moore, the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama who lost to Democrat Doug Jones.
The Times said it obtained an “internal report” on the Democrats’ tactics in the special election to replace Sessions.
“The secret project, carried out on Facebook and Twitter, was likely too small to have a significant effect on the race,” the Times claimed.
But the paper said it is a sign “that American political operatives of both parties have paid close attention to the Russian methods.”
Congress has investigated claims that Russian operatives used social media platforms to disseminate “fake news” to undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Subsequently, Facebook has responded to pressure from lawmakers warning of antitrust legislation by restricting news links on its platform. Meanwhile, conservative news outlets and voices have presented evidence of viewpoint-based censorship.
The Times said that one participant “in the Alabama project, Jonathon Morgan, is the chief executive of New Knowledge, a small cyber security firm that wrote a scathing account of Russia’s social media operations in the 2016 election that was released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee.”
The internal report obtained by the Times says it “experimented with many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections.”
The Democrats posed as conservatives on Facebook “to try to divide Republicans and even to endorse a write-in candidate to draw votes from Mr. Moore,” the Times said.
“It involved a scheme to link the Moore campaign to thousands of Russian accounts that suddenly began following the Republican candidate on Twitter, a development that drew national attention.”
The internal report stated, “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”
Morgan told the Times he saw the project as “a small experiment” exploring how certain tactics worked online.
He “could not account,” the Times reported, for the report’s assertions the project was intended to “enrage and energize Democrats” and also “depress turnout” for Republicans by “emphasizing accusations that Mr. Moore had pursued teenage girls when he was a prosecutor in his 30s.”
Moore has insisted the accusations by the women are “completely false.” He contends the “desperate” political attack was launched by the Washington Post, which endorsed Jones.
Morgan, the Times said, admitted the research project “was intended to help us understand how these kind of campaigns operated.”
“We thought it was useful to work in the context of a real election but design it to have almost no impact,” he said.
The perpetrators had a budget of $100,000 to carry out their influence campaign, the Times reported, but “there is no evidence that Mr. Jones sanctioned” it.
The Times, however, said there were links to major influencers in the Democrat world.
The Times reported: “The funding came from Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who has sought to help Democrats catch up with Republicans in their use of online technology. The money passed through American Engagement Technologies, run by Mikey Dickerson, the founding director of the United States Digital Service, which was created during the Obama administration to try to upgrade the federal government’s use of technology. Sara K. Hudson, a former Justice Department fellow now with Investing in Us, a tech finance company partly funded by Mr. Hoffman, worked on the project, along with Mr. Morgan.”
Morgan’s admission to the newspaper confirmed the idea was to create a generic page to draw conservative Alabamians. And the Facebook page operators agreed to “boost” the write-in campaign of Mac Watson.
Watson confirmed the help he got from the page operators, including the ballooning of his Twitter followers from 100 to 10,000.
“We did have suspicions that something odd was going on,” Rich Hobson, Moore’s campaign manager, told the Times.
He said the campaign complained to Facebook, but there apparently was no action.
WND reported Moore is suing Hollywood personality Sacha Baron Cohen for $95 million for lying to him about receiving an award and then setting him up on video to be mocked as a “pedophile.”