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October 30, 2020
News Technology

Facebook bans troll accounts linked to conservative group Turning Point USA

Illustration by William Joel / T

Facebook has removed a group of fake accounts tied to Turning Point USA, the conservative youth organization caught coordinating a “troll farm”-style social media campaign last month. The company’s latest report on coordinated inauthentic behavior says it banned 200 Facebook accounts, 55 pages, and 76 Instagram accounts linked to Turning Point and a marketing firm called Rally Forge, which is now banned from Facebook.

Facebook says it began its investigation after The Washington Post reported on “some elements” of the campaign in September. The operation apparently started in 2018 around the US midterm elections, then reappeared in June 2020 as the presidential election heated up. As the Post described, it focused on leaving coordinated Facebook comments — including ones supporting President Donald Trump, criticizing rival Joe Biden, questioning mail-in voting, and supporting sport hunting in Kenya and Botswana.

Des Moines Register article posted on Facebook with a comment reading “Mail-in ballots are such a horrible idea. A dangerous amount of ballots will be lost or won’t arrive in time. The smartest thing to do is to vote in person.”
An example of the group’s comments.

Turning Point characterized its operation as coordinated “sincere political activism conducted by real people who passionately hold the beliefs they describe online, not an anonymous troll farm in Russia.” But Facebook describes the most recent accounts it removed as “‘thinly veiled personas’ whose names were slight variations of the names of the people behind them,” and it says their “sole activity on our platform was associated with this deceptive campaign.” It also says the group spent around $973,000 advertising on Facebook and Instagram.

Turning Point USA has occupied a prominent position in conservative politics during the 2020 election. Founder Charlie Kirk gave the first speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, and he’s been retweeted by Trump and other major Republican figures. Turning Point also isn’t the only conservative organization recently censured for coordinated misinformation campaigns. Activist Jacob Wohl was charged last week with running a multi-state voter suppression operation, following a ban from social media for planning an election interference initiative. Wohl and his partner in alleged crime appeared in court today.

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