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Facebook Banned US “Domestic Troll Farm” Supporting Pro-Trump Youth Organization

November 17th, 2020 18:19

US media report­ed in ear­ly Octo­ber that Face­book had banned an Ari­zona mar­ket­ing said to have been work­ing on behalf of a promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive youth orga­ni­za­tion sup­port­ing US Pres­i­dent Trump. The Wash­ing­ton Post report char­ac­ter­ized the firm, known as Ral­ly Forge, as a domes­tic “troll farm”:

Oct. 8, 2020 Face­book said Thurs­day that it will per­ma­nent­ly ban from its plat­form an Ari­zona-based mar­ket­ing firm run­ning what experts described as a domes­tic “troll farm” fol­low­ing an inves­ti­ga­tion of the decep­tive behav­ior prompt­ed by a Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle last month. The firm, Ral­ly Forge, was “work­ing on behalf” of Turn­ing Point Action, an affil­i­ate of Turn­ing Point USA, the promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive youth orga­ni­za­tion based in Phoenix, Face­book con­clud­ed. The inquiry led to the removal of 200 accounts and 55 pages on Face­book, as well as 76 Insta­gram accounts — many of them oper­at­ed by teenagers in the Phoenix area. The fake accounts, some with either car­toon­like Bit­mo­ji pro­files or images gen­er­at­ed by arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, com­ple­ment­ed the real accounts of users involved in the effort, which large­ly entailed leav­ing com­ments sym­pa­thet­ic to Pres­i­dent Trump and oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive caus­es across social media.

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Face­book report­ed fur­ther details in its Octo­ber 2020 Coor­di­nat­ed Inau­then­tic Behav­ior Report:

We removed 202 Face­book accounts, 54 Pages and 76 Insta­gram accounts linked to Ral­ly Forge, a US mar­ket­ing firm, work­ing on behalf of Turn­ing Point USA and Inclu­sive Con­ser­va­tion Group. They focused pri­mar­i­ly on domes­tic US audi­ences and also on Kenya and Botswana. Ral­ly Forge is now banned from Face­book. We began our inves­ti­ga­tion after pub­lic report­ing about some ele­ments of this activ­i­ty by the Wash­ing­ton Post. We are con­tin­u­ing to review all linked net­works, and will take action as appro­pri­ate if we deter­mine they are engaged in decep­tive behav­ior. (Orig­i­nal­ly announced on Octo­ber 8, 2020)

On its web page, Ral­ly Forge describes itself as follows:

Con­sul­tants do it wrong. Too much them, not enough you. Too much self pro­mo­tion, not enough viral brand pro­mo­tion. That’s not us. We believe that prin­ci­ples are more impor­tant than prof­it and move­ments are more impor­tant than mar­ket­ing. Our soci­ety has too many agen­cies and con­sul­tants that are sim­ply in it for their next pay­day.​ Ral­ly Forge only takes on clients that we believe in. We only build move­ments that will help restore our nation to its right­ful place as the shin­ing city atop the hill. We only work with those that fight for truth. Peo­ple over pol­i­tics. Prin­ci­ples over profit.

In 2018, The Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion report­ed on accu­sa­tions that Turn­ing Point engages in uneth­i­cal behavior:

In its six years of exis­tence, Turn­ing Point USA has repeat­ed­ly been accused of engag­ing in half-truths and uneth­i­cal behav­ior — whether secret­ly fun­nel­ing mon­ey to stu­dent-gov­ern­ment can­di­dates or plac­ing col­lege fac­ul­ty mem­bers on a poor­ly researched (and arguably McCarthyesque) Pro­fes­sor Watch­list. None of that has slowed the mete­oric rise of the con­ser­v­a­tive group and its charis­mat­ic leader, Char­lie Kirk. Kirk con­tin­ues to be a reg­u­lar guest on Fox News. He rubs elbows with the Trump fam­i­ly and Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress. Donors gave his orga­ni­za­tion near­ly $10 mil­lion last year. But the lat­est crit­ic to blast Kirk’s group is a fel­low con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tion. Young America’s Foun­da­tion, found­ed more than 50 years ago at the home of William F. Buck­ley Jr., has writ­ten a blis­ter­ing 12-page mem­o­ran­dum (reprint­ed below) “out­lin­ing the lack of integri­ty, hon­esty, expe­ri­ence, and judg­ment of this grow­ing orga­ni­za­tion.” “The long-term dam­age TPUSA could inflict on con­ser­v­a­tive stu­dents and the Con­ser­v­a­tive Move­ment can no longer be ignored,” states the May 25 memo, writ­ten by Kim­ber­ly Begg, vice pres­i­dent and gen­er­al coun­sel of Young America’s. A Young America’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive famil­iar with the memo said it was meant to be an “inter­nal” doc­u­ment for stu­dents who were ask­ing if they should coop­er­ate with Turn­ing Point.

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In Octo­ber, the GIOR rec­om­mend­ed an Atlantic arti­cle detail­ing what it described as the adop­tion by US Pres­i­dent Trump and his allies of the tac­tics of infor­ma­tion war­fare nor­mal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with author­i­tar­i­an regimes.