Twitter and Facebook shut down accounts that are allegedly linked to a misleading social media campaign, CNN reports. The campaign is run by Turning Point Action, an affiliate of prominent conservative youth organization Turning Point USA.
According to a report by The Washington Post, teenagers — some of them minors — are being paid to create posts as directed by Turning Point Action. The campaign consists of spam-like behaviors, where multiple accounts post repeatedly across social media using the same or similar languages.
The campaign generated thousands of posts this summer across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The Post compared the campaign to a troll farm with the exception that it used real human accounts. These accounts did not disclose that they were posting on behalf of Turning Point Action.
Typically, users replied to news articles concerning politics and public health shared to social media. They often claimed that Democrats were using mail ballots to rig the election. Others downplayed the coronavirus pandemic or pushed for schools to reopen.
Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told the Post that the effort showed “the scale and scope of domestic disinformation is far greater than anything a foreign adversary could do to us.”
Campaign Comes Under Fire
Charlie Kirk, Turning Point Action’s leader who delivered the opening speech at this year’s Republican National Convention, defended the campaign in a statement. According to the Post, Kirk said that comparing Turning Point’s campaign to a troll farm was a “gross characterization.”
Turning Point Action’s field director, Austin Smith, said the operation was an attempt to maintain advocacy during the pandemic, which has challenged many in-person political events.
Robert Jason Noonan told the Post his 16- and 17-year-old daughters were being paid by Turning Point to push “conservative points of view and values” on social media. He claimed they had been working with the group since June and said, “The job is theirs until they want to quit or until the election.”
“We are Trump supporters, but one of the things my wife and I have been very consistent on is to always understand both sides and make decisions from there,” Noonan told The Post.
The Post also identified multiple users active in the campaign. Some of them used their real names, but usually identified themselves as Trump supporters or young Republicans.
According to Noonan and others familiar with the campaign, said users took language from a shared online document to create online posts. In order to avoid automated detection, they posted the same lines a limited amount of times. They were also told to edit the beginning and end of their posts to create slight differences from others, the Post reports.
Noonan said his daughters sometimes work in the Phoenix area, describing their wages not as “horrible money” but also not making minimum wage. Relatives of another minor involved said the minor was paid hourly and could get bonuses if his posts earned higher engagements.
Both CNN and the Post confirmed that Facebook and Twitter removed multiple accounts involved with the campaign in light of the Post’s investigation. Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told CNN that multiple accounts were removed for violating policies regarding having and maintaining multiple accounts. A Twitter spokesperson also confirmed multiple accounts were removed for violating policies on platform manipulation and spam.