Democratic tech experts attempted to deceive Republican voters leading up to Alabama’s Senate race won by Democrat Doug Jones, according to The New York Times.
The Times reported that the Democratic IT experts took it upon themselves to see if they could divide the Republican vote, using the same methods that were reportedly used during the 2016 presidential election.
The group launched its project on Facebook and Twitter and “experimented with many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections” in an effort to support Jones in the December 2017 special election, according to an internal report obtained by The Times.
To that end, the project, run in part by Jonathan Morgan, the CEO of New Knowledge, set up Facebook pages that posed as conservative Alabamians.
With those pages, the group attempted to divide Republicans’ support by endorsing write-in candidates and drawing attention to potential problems with Moore’s campaign that might cause doubts in his conservative base.
The group also linked Moore to thousands of Russian accounts that began to follow him on Twitter, an event that drew national 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 New Knowledge report said, according to The Times.
Morgan reportedly considered the project to be “a small experiment” in order to explore how the online tactics worked, but he said he doesn’t believe that it affected the outcome of the election.
“The research project was intended to help us understand how these kind of campaigns operated,” he told The Times. “We thought it was useful to work in the context of a real election but design it to have almost no impact.”
However, Morgan told The Post he now regrets his decision to attempt to impact the election in a deceptive way.
“At the time, it seemed kind of innocuous, and a year later, with the benefit of history … maybe I would second-guess that decision now,” he said.
Joe Trippi, a Democratic operative who served as an adviser to Jones, said he noticed the Russian bots that followed Moore on social media during the election. However, he said believed it was impossible that $100,000 had any impact on the race.
“[Joe Trippi, a seasoned Democratic operative who served as a top adviser to the Jones campaign] said it was impossible that a $100,000 operation had an impact on the race.”
but $5,000 of russian FB ads did? https://t.co/P7Dsk1ppNz
— Boone Simpson (@boonesimpson) December 20, 2018
“I think the big danger is somebody in this cycle uses the dark arts of bots and social networks and it works,” Trippi told The Times. “Then we’re in real trouble.”
While the Democrats involved seem sure that their project didn’t have an impact on the election, Kentucky-based Republican consultant Dan Bayens is less convinced that the efforts were innocent.
“Some will do whatever it takes to win,” Bayens said. “You’ve got Russia, which showed folks how to do it, you’ve got consultants willing to engage in this type of behavior and political leaders who apparently find it futile to stop it.”
As for Moore and his camp, they did become concerned about online tampering, according to Moore’s campaign manager, Rich Hobson.
“We did have suspicions that something odd was going on,” Hobson told The Times, saying the campaign had primarily noticed the unrest on Facebook.
“Any and all of these things could make a difference,” he said. “It’s definitely frustrating, and we still kick ourselves that Judge Moore didn’t win.”
In the end, Jones was the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in Alabama in 25 years. He did so by a margin of just under 22,000 votes in a race that drew 22,800 write-in ballots.
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