- Turning Point Action, an affiliate of pro-Trump youth organization Turning Point USA, paid teenagers — some minors — in Arizona to push conservative talking points over social media, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
- Twitter and Facebook banned multiple accounts as part of an ongoing review in response to The Post's questions about the social media campaign.
- Experts told The Washington Post that those posts could circumvent the efforts by social media platforms to curb the spread of disinformation, despite its similarity to spam-bots and troll accounts.
- “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, told The Post. “In this election, the troll farm is in Phoenix.”
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A pro-Trump youth activist organization paid teenagers to post conservative talking points, including misleading or false claims, on social media, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Turning Point Action, an affiliate of the conservative group Turning Point USA, enlisted teenagers, some minors, in Arizona to push conservative messages, downplay the coronavirus pandemic, and bolster President Donald Trump's election, according to The Post report. Charlie Kirk, who spoke at this year's Republican National Convention and has hosted other events with President Donald Trump, is the 26-year-old founder and president of Turning Point Action.
"Nearly 4,500 tweets containing identical content that were identified in the analysis probably represent a fraction of the overall output" over this past summer on Twitter, and such messaging was extended to Facebook and Instagram as well, The Post reported.
Despite mimicking the behavior of social media spam-bots, experts told The Post that the posts circumvent the efforts by social media platforms to curb disinformation amid the ongoing pandemic and contentious 2020 election.
Questions about the campaign put forth by The Post prompted Twitter to suspend at least 20 accounts for "platform manipulation and spam." Facebook also launched an ongoing review into accounts involved in the campaign, also resulting in the removal of multiple accounts, CNN reported.
Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, compared the social media campaign to a "troll farm," demonstrating the "scale and scope of domestic disinformation is far greater than anything a foreign adversary could do to us."
"In 2016, there were Macedonian teenagers interfering in the election by running a troll farm and writing salacious articles for money," Brookie told The Post. "In this election, the troll farm is in Phoenix."
Austin Smith, the field director of Turning Point Action, the comparison was a "gross mischaracterization" of the social media campaign and described it as "sincere political activism conducted by real people who passionately hold the beliefs they describe online, not an anonymous troll farm in Russia."
"Like everyone else, Turning Point Action's plans for nationwide in-person events and activities were completely disrupted by the pandemic," Smith said in a statement to The Post. "Many positions TPA had planned for in field work were going to be completely cut, but TPA managed to reimagine these roles and working with our marketing partners, transitioned some to a virtual and online activist model."
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