The attorney general of Alabama is looking into the Democrat disinformation tactics that were deployed against Republican Roy Moore during last year’s special election to see if state campaign laws were violated, the Washington Post reported. The billionaire-funded “Project Birmingham” was a deceptive social media campaign that used Russian disinformation methods.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Thursday that he was concerned that the operation may have affected the closely fought Senate race.
“The information is concerning,” Marshall, a Republican, said in a phone interview. “The impact it had on the election is something that’s significant for us to explore, and we’ll go from there.”
Moore narrowly lost the race to his Democratic rival, Sen. Doug Jones.
Marshall said he learned of “Project Birmingham” through recent news reports. While stopping short of announcing a formal investigation, Marshall said his office would be gathering information about the effort.
“We’re planning to explore the issue further,” he said.
According to an internal report obtained by The New York Times, the operation “experimented with many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections.”
The project’s operators created a Facebook page on which they posed as conservative Alabamians, using it to try to divide Republicans and even to endorse a write-in candidate to draw votes from Mr. Moore. It involved a scheme to link the Moore campaign to thousands of Russian accounts that suddenly began following the Republican candidate on Twitter, a development that drew national media attention.
“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the report says.
Marshall said that election year social media shenanigans were making it difficult for authorities to know how to address potentially illegal disinformation political campaigns.
“Technology has put us in a difficult position in many respects in terms of the applicability of our current laws,” Marshall said.
Sen. Jones, the beneficiary of the effort, has called for a federal investigation into Project Birmingham.
Silicon Valley billionaire and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman on Wednesday apologized for giving $750,000 to American Engagement Technologies (AET), the group that was reportedly behind the false flag campaign.
AET is run by Mikey Dickerson, a former Google engineer and Obama appointee who is also the executive director of the New Data Project, a nonprofit that developed the invasive “Vote with Me” app used in the 2018 midterm elections to pressure millennials into voting for Democrats.
Hoffman maintained in a statement Wednesday that his mega-donation toward the Russian-influenced political disinformation campaign in the important race was just an unfortunate oopsie and said he’s now very sorry.
“I want to make it clear from the outset that I had never even heard of this project before reading about it in the Times’ coverage,” Hoffman said in the statement. “The Times articles imply that I had knowledge of it and that I endorsed its tactics. Let me be absolutely clear: I do not.”
He added, “I would not have knowingly funded a project planning to use such tactics, and would have refused to invest in any organization that I knew might conduct such a project. Nevertheless, I do have an apology to make and have learned a lesson here.”
Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of Texas-based research firm New Knowledge, maintained that he was paid by American Engagement Technologies “to experiment on a small scale with disinformation tactics, including creating a Facebook page that sought to appeal to Republicans who might not support Moore.”
Morgan preposterously claimed that his firm deployed the Russian botnet false flag not to influence the election, but merely to study how the tactics worked.
“The research project was intended to help us understand how these kinds of campaigns operated,” Morgan insisted. “We thought it was useful to work in the context of a real election but design it to have almost no impact.”
In his apology, Hoffman condemned the toxic tactics: “We cannot permit dishonest campaign tactics to go unchecked in our democracy – no matter which side they purportedly help.”
Perhaps the next time he donates three-quarters of a million dollars to a tech group during an election year he’ll make it his business to know a little bit about its nefarious activities first.