Teens have been paid to flood social media with pro-Trump material in a strategy likened to a Russian trolling campaign, it turns out.
The Twitter and Facebook campaign is funded by Turning Point Action, a sibling of the conservative youth group Turning Point USA, according to a Washington Post report that says thousands of social media posts come from the group.
Some posts echo Trump’s claims of fraudulent mail-in voting or criticized America’s top virologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, while others describe Joe Biden as a puppet for “dangerous” hard-left socialists.
Turning Point did not deny the claims, but said the youngsters were engaged in “genuine political activism” and rejected comparisons to a Russian “troll farm.”
Donald Trump (pictured in the White House on Tuesday) gets his reelection backed by an army of teens paid to flood social media with pro-Trump material
Twitter has already removed 20 accounts since the Post gathered evidence of the online blitz, while Facebook has also deactivated some accounts.
According to some of those involved, the messages were planned and directed by Turning Point activists in a highly coordinated campaign.
The youngsters posted from their own accounts, with some of them identifying themselves as Trump supporters and others not providing such details.
Teens were told to respond to messages from Democratic politicians with messages promoting Trump and the Republican position.
Some reports downplayed the dangers of the coronavirus despite the death of Bill Montgomery, co-founder of Turning Point USA from complications related to Covid-19 in July.
People familiar with the campaign described a shared online language document that could be used in pro-Trump posts on Twitter and Facebook.
However, they were told to change the language a bit and limit their message count to avoid some of the Twitter and Facebook detection measures to combat bots and trolls.
The teens are paid an hourly rate and can make more money if their posts are doing particularly well, it is claimed.
“It sounds like the Russians, but it comes from Americans instead,” said Google software engineer and researcher Jacob Ratkiewicz.
A company working with Turning Point confirmed that “ independent contractors ” were being paid to work online, but gave no further details.
Austin Smith, a Turning Point field director, told the Post the group had “ switched ” to online activism after the 2020 campaign was disrupted by the pandemic.
“This is genuine political activism carried out by real people passionately holding on to the beliefs they describe online, not an anonymous troll farm in Russia,” Smith said.
He added that young people were ‘excited’ to share their views on social media over the summer, although some have since returned to school.
Some of the online posts attacked Democratic nominee Joe Biden (photo last night campaigned in Florida) and described him as the puppet of hard-left socialists
The father of two girls involved in the campaign said the content was no worse than what was posted online by Democrats and their supporters.
Another expert, communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania Kathleen Hall Jamieson, said the campaign would familiarize young people with online activism.
Many of the activists are based in Phoenix, Arizona, in a state seen as one of the main battlegrounds of the 2020 election.
Trump narrowly beat Hillary Clinton four years ago, but recent polls have shown that Biden has a narrow lead there.
Founded by Charlie Kirk in 2012, Turning Point USA describes itself as a non-profit organization with a ‘mission to identify, educate, educate and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government ‘.
The group speaks openly about its goal of “saturating social and traditional media markets” with its conservative views.
According to the group’s website, social media “ influencers ” sympathetic to Turning Point have a combined following of more than 20 million people.
President Trump has previously spoken at Turning Point USA events, including at a rally hosted by the group in Phoenix in June of this year.
Earlier this month, Facebook announced a series of new measures to “ ensure the integrity of the US election ” – after previously admitting that accounts linked to Russia had spent up to $ 100,000 influencing the 2016 race.
The site announced during the Democratic primary campaign that it had blocked Russian and Iranian accounts to boost Bernie Sanders at the expense of Biden.
A report said the accounts repurposed messages from the Internet Research Agency that targeted the American public in 2016. Russia has always denied interference.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) earlier this month announced a series of new measures to ‘protect the US elections’
Facebook’s new measures include removing posts that exploit the fear of catching Covid-19 to discourage people from voting.
Posts about the legitimacy of mail-in voting will also be labeled “information,” said Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg.
“We have invested heavily in our security systems and now have some of the most advanced teams and systems in the world to prevent these attacks,” he said.
In recent years, we have removed more than 100 networks worldwide engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, including in the run-up to major democratic elections.
“However, we are increasingly seeing attempts to undermine the legitimacy of our elections within our own borders.”
Twitter says it has introduced a tool that allows users to report misleading information about voting methods.
Both Facebook and Twitter have been posting disclaimers on controversial messages from Trump in recent months, including about mail-in voting.
Postal voting has come under much more scrutiny this year because of the pandemic and the ensuing rules of social distancing.
Trump has often ranted about ‘fraudulent’ post-in ballots, in what critics say is an attempt to delegitimize the results of an election he appears to be losing.
However, Trump has also been accused of downplaying Russia’s threat to the election.
In 2018, Trump caused a stir after accepting Vladimir Putin’s denials at a Helsinki summit before returning later.
Special counsel Robert Mueller warned after the publication of his report on the 2016 election last year that Russia was already interfering with the current campaign.
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