Would it surprise you to learn that Charlie Kirk and Turning Point USA’s political action arm are using their coterie of rightwing teenagers for evil, not good, and running what sure sounds like a troll farm?
As the Washington Post reported, Turning Point Action, the sister group to Turning Point USA, which now runs Students for Trump, has been paying a group of teenagers in Arizona to essentially turn themselves into bots and spam social media platforms with misinformation and pro-Trump messages, all calibrated to seem as if these posts were originating organically from high school students. But in reality, it was a carefully coordinated effort.
More on how Turning Point Action turned these teens into human bots for Trump, from the Washington Post:
Those recruited to participate in the campaign were lifting the language from a shared online document, according to Noonan and other people familiar with the setup. They posted the same lines a limited number of times to avoid automated detection by the technology companies, these people said. They also were instructed to edit the beginning and ending of each snippet to differentiate the posts slightly, according to the notes from the recorded conversation with a participant.
Several teenagers were using their real names or variations of their names, while other accounts active in posting the pro-Trump messaging appeared to be operating under pseudonyms. The Post’s review found that some participants seem to maintain multiple accounts on Facebook, which is a violation of the company’s policies.
As Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, put it to the Washington Post, “In 2016, there were Macedonian teenagers interfering in the election by running a troll farm and writing salacious articles for money. In this election, the troll farm is in Phoenix.”
And here’s some of what that content from Kirk’s troll farm looked like, again via the Post:
One tweet claimed coronavirus numbers were intentionally inflated, adding, “It’s hard to know what to believe.” Another warned, “Don’t trust Dr. Fauci.”
A Facebook comment argued that mail-in ballots “will lead to fraud for this election,” while an Instagram comment amplified the erroneous claim that 28 million ballots went missing in the past four elections.
Equally impassioned rhetoric marked the campaign on social media, with posts asserting that Black Lives Matter protesters were “fascist groups . . . terrorizing American citizens” and decrying the “BLM Marxist agenda,” among other incendiary language.
The first warning sign should have been that anyone under the age of 25 was not only posting on Facebook, but posting about mail-in ballots, but I digress!
After being contacted by the Post, both Facebook and Twitter took belated action. Twitter suspended some accounts for “platform manipulation and spam” and, as the Post wrote, “Facebook also removed a number of accounts as part of what the company said is an ongoing investigation.”
Naturally, Kirk and Turning Point Action are denying that they are running a troll farm, describing it as a “gross mischaracterization” and “sincere political activism conducted by real people who passionately hold the beliefs they describe online” in a statement to the Post. But unlike, say, a paid canvasser for a group or a campaign who would identify themselves as a member of that group, it appears none of the teens noted that they were being paid to spread these messages.
And, naturally, it seems that Turning Point Action paid these teens pretty terribly for their work. According to Robert Jason Noonan, a parent the Post spoke with whose daughters were recruited to work for Turning Point Action’s troll farm, they weren’t even making minimum wage.
“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 said to the Post.
Sounds like his kids really took that message to heart!