Two more instances funded by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn.
In December, I blogged about a New York Times report that described how Democratic tech experts adopted Russian tactics supposedly used in the 2016 election in order to help Democrat Doug Jones defeat Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race in 2017.
Three more reports have come out detailing how Democrat operatives, funded by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (who launched fake political pages and ads on Facebook during the midterms in November) while another group did the same in the Alabama Senate race.
“The Daily Real” and “Today’s Nation”
First up, we have a case of Democratic operatives who received money from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman to allegedly mislead voters. From The Daily Caller:
American Engagement Technologies (AET), which was founded by former Obama administration official Mikey Dickerson, bought ads for two Facebook pages, “The Daily Real” and “Today’s Nation,” encouraging Republican voters to stay home in the midterm elections, Facebook’s ad archives show.
Both pages appear to be designed to give the impression that they were operated by frustrated conservatives rather than by Democratic operatives.
The American flag-adorned pages encouraged conservative voters to either stay home in November or vote for Democrats to punish Republicans for being insufficiently conservative. Other ads called polls predicting a “blue wave” in the 2018 elections “unreliable” and downplayed the election’s importance.
The misleading ads collectively garnered millions of impressions on Facebook, TheDCNF’s review of Facebook’s archives found.
Hoffman’s name sounds familiar because The New York Times report named him as the one who helped fund AET to perform the misleading tactics in the Alabama senate race.
Ads told voters that the “blue wave” did not exist and they shouldn’t rely on polls that had Democrats in the lead. A different ad tried to express doom and gloom to the voters because “none of this even matters” and “both sides are a mess.” However, one ad encouraged Republicans to vote Democrat to send a message. One ad asked people it described as “Semi-Trumpers” to vote Democrat, “vote third-party or stay home in November, rather than vote Republican.”
Another set of ads claimed that Republicans in Congress continuously betrayed the real conservatives in America:
“Some Trump supporters see midterm losses for congressional republicans [sic] as a wake-up call to get serious on the wall,” the Democratic operatives wrote in another post.
Another post included a link to an article about frustrated populist Republicans and stressed the need to “send a message” because “Trump is failing us.”
“News for Democracy”
A Washington Post report from Monday put Hoffman in Facebook’s crosshairs again. The organization News for Democracy created 14 Facebook pages and purchased ads that pushed false narratives across the social media site.
MotiveAI, a start-up backed by Hoffman, created the pages for News for Democracy. The company declined to comment to The Washington Post. Dmitri Mehlhorn, who sits on the board at News for Democracy and works as a top political advisor for Hoffman, told the newspaper that the organization “aimed to cultivate ‘outreach to groups that were center [and] center-right, and trying to reach out to them with messages.'”
Facebook decided to investigate this group that is backed by Hoffman:
The probe focuses on News for Democracy, whose Facebook ads and affiliated pages about sports, religion, the American flag and other topics were viewed millions of times during the 2018 midterm elections, according to an analysis of the company ad archive conducted by New York University.
News for Democracy’s potential violations may have included Facebook’s community standards and advertising policies, the company said. Facebook’s community standards emphasize authenticity and ban “misrepresentation,” including coordinated efforts to mislead people about the origin of content.
Some of News for Democracy’s pages inserted Democratic messages into the feeds of right-leaning voters, according to a review of Facebook’s ad archive. News for Democracy ran ads touting Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) on “The Holy Tribune,” a Facebook page targeted to evangelicals, the archive shows. Another page called “Sounds Like Tennessee” focused on local sports and news but also ran at least one ad attacking since-elected Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
“People start to trust the content emanating from the page, because it appeals to their interests, and once there is a certain degree of trust, you can start to pivot by slowly adding in kernels of disinformation or overly politicized information that lacks context,” said Benjamin T. Decker, research fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, who called such tactics an “intentional act of deception” that mimicked strategies of Russian operatives around the 2016 presidential election.
During the 2018 midterms, News for Democracy helped create at least 14 Facebook pages and purchased the ads that ran on them, according to a person familiar with its operations who was not authorized to speak on the record. While the ads, cached in Facebook’s public database, show that News for Democracy paid for them, the pages themselves — which are listed as news companies — do not disclose their backers or offer any identifying information beyond their name.
The pages also don’t offer contact information for an administrator, a standard practice for news organizations and groups on Facebook.
The New York Times found another fake Facebook page run by Democrats that gave the appearance that conservatives who supported Roy Moore created the page.
The page “Dry Alabama” displayed images of car wrecks and deaths related to drunk driving. The owners wanted people to think “[A]lcohol is the devil’s work, and the state should ban it entirely.”
Progressives created the page and hoped it would help beat Moore:
In fact, the Dry Alabama campaign, not previously reported, was the stealth creation of progressive Democrats who were out to defeat Mr. Moore — the second such secret effort to be unmasked. In a political bank shot made in the last two weeks of the campaign, they thought associating Mr. Moore with calls for a statewide alcohol ban would hurt him with moderate, business-oriented Republicans and assist the Democrat, Doug Jones, who won the special election by a hair-thin margin.
Matt Osborne, a veteran progressive activist who worked on the project, said he hoped that such deceptive tactics would someday be banned from American politics. But in the meantime, he said, he believes that Republicans are using such trickery and that Democrats cannot unilaterally give it up.
“If you don’t do it, you’re fighting with one hand tied behind your back,” said Mr. Osborne, a writer and consultant who lives outside Florence, Ala. “You have a moral imperative to do this — to do whatever it takes.”
They wanted to scare conservatives:
Mr. Osborne, who said he helped conceive the Dry Alabama project and wrote for the Southern Caller page, said the effort began in conversations with acquaintances from his years at the annual Netroots Nation progressive gatherings. They discussed what tactics might help Mr. Jones’s chances and zeroed in on tensions within the Republican Party over whether drinking should be permitted in Alabama, where the number of dry counties had dwindled.
“Business conservatives favor wet; culture-war conservatives favor dry,” he said. “That gave us an idea.”
Osbourne said the group decided not to use homophobic language or give away an AR-15.
Now, this is not connected to Hoffman, but another name popped up that did in The Washington Post report above: Dmitri Mehlhorn.
Yes, Hoffman’s top political advisor Mehlhorn is the managing partner of Investing in Us, which gave the project $100,000. Unlike WaPo, he did not speak to the NYT about this one.
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