Pro-Trump student group building a secret 'troll farm' designed to get around social media moderation: report
President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with attendees at the 2019 Teen Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported on a stealth "troll farm" by Turning Point USA, the right-wing youth group led up by Charlie Kirk, to recruit teenagers to post disinformation on social media — sometimes getting around policies that sites like Facebook and Twitter use to prevent the spread of false political information.

"Teenagers, some of them minors, are being paid to pump out the messages at the direction of Turning Point Action, an affiliate of Turning Point USA, the prominent conservative youth organization based in Phoenix, according to four people with independent knowledge of the effort," reported Isaac Stanley-Becker. "Their descriptions were confirmed by detailed notes from relatives of one of the teenagers who recorded conversations with him about the efforts."

"The campaign draws on the spam-like behavior of bots and trolls, with the same or similar language posted repeatedly across social media," continued the report. "But it is carried out, at least in part, by humans paid to use their own accounts, though nowhere disclosing their relationship with Turning Point Action or the digital firm brought in to oversee the day-to-day activity. One user included a link to Turning Point USA’s website in his Twitter profile until The Washington Post began asking questions about the activity."

Among the claims spread by the teenagers en masse was a tweet warning "don’t trust Dr. Fauci" on the coronavirus case statistics, and a Facebook post baselessly saying expansion of mail-in voting "will lead to fraud for this election."

To prevent the posts from being flagged as spam, they were "parceled out in precise increments as directed by the effort’s leaders," and in accordance with the guidelines of an online document, they "posted the same lines a limited number of times to avoid automated detection by the technology companies" and "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."

TPUSA has pushed back on the report, calling the depiction of the effort as a troll farm a "gross mischaracterization." However, in response to the story, Facebook and Twitter have removed or opened investigations into a number of accounts involved in the operation.

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