The New York Times reports a team of Democrats 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 Jeff Sessions, who had been appointed by President Trump to be attorney general.
“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.
Jones defeated Moore by only about 22,000 votes in a race that had 1.3 million ballots cast, including some 23,000 write-in votes.
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.”
In a new filing in his lawsuit against Cohen, lawyer Larry Klayman alleged Moore was tricked into traveling to Washington and sitting for an interview with a disguised Cohen.
Moore said he was told he was being honored for supporting Israel.
His lawsuit alleges his consent to appear on the show was invalid because of the lies.
“In order to fraudulently induce plaintiffs to travel to Washington, D.C., where filming was to and did take place … Cohen and his agents falsely and fraudulently represented to plaintiffs that Yerushalayim TV – which does not actually exist – was the producer and broadcaster of the show that Judge Moore would appear on.
“In addition … Cohen and his agents falsely and fraudulently represented that Judge Moore and Mrs. Moore were both being invited to Washington, D.C., for Judge Moore to receive an award for his strong support of Israel in commemoration of its 70th anniversary.”