Democrats are grappling with a growing number of accusations that party activists used Facebook in recent elections to spread misinformation, even as the party expresses outrage over Russia’s use of social media to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances in the 2016 presidential election.
Recent news reports have revealed two so-called “false flag” operations by Democrats during the Alabama Senate special election in 2017, where Democrat Doug Jones defeated embattled Republican nominee Roy Moore.
This week, The Washington Post also reported that Facebook is now looking into whether a liberal group bankrolled by a Democratic billionaire involved in the operations in Alabama also violated the social media network’s policies with misinformation in the 2018 midterm elections.
Conservatives argue the irony is rich.
"It was exactly the kind of operation they say that Trump and the Russians cooperated in to defeat Hillary," radio talker Rush Limbaugh said on his show Monday.
After December's revelation of the first false flag operation in Alabama, liberal billionaire and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, who gave $100,000 to the cause, later apologized for his contributions and said he wasn't aware of what the group was doing.
But Facebook is now also probing whether another organization funded by Hoffman, News for Democracy, produced content that misled people about its origin.
“People connecting with [pages] shouldn’t be misled about who’s behind them,” Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld told The Washington Post. “Just as we’ve stepped up our enforcement of coordinated inauthentic behavior and financially motivated spam over the past year, we’ll continue improving so people can get more information about the pages they follow.”
The Washington Post reported that the organization ran ads targeting conservative voters in bids to help Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and hurt Tennessee Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn. O’Rourke lost his race, while Blackburn won.
As for the Alabama race, a New York Times story revealed Monday that Democratic activists in 2017 created a Facebook page that gave the false impression that it was the work of Baptist teetotalers supporting Moore in the Alabama contest. That “Dry Alabama” Facebook page – which called for outlawing alcohol in the state – intended to alienate pro-business, moderate Republicans from Moore, the paper reported.
Democrats reportedly saw an opportunity to win that race after Moore was hit with allegations of past inappropriate sexual conduct with teenage girls. Jones went on to win the race.
In December, The New York Times also reported that Democratic operatives, backed by Hoffman, created thousands of fake Russian accounts to give an impression the Russian government was supporting Moore. The secret project was carried out on Facebook and Twitter. After that revelation, Jones said he was "outraged" over the report and called for a federal investigation into the project.
The New York Times identified a progressive activist named Matt Osborne as one of the people behind the “Dry Alabama” effort. The story said he defended the tactics, accusing Republicans of doing similar things, though also said he’d like to see it banned in politics one day.
“If you don’t do it, you’re fighting with one hand tied behind your back,” Osborne told the paper. “You have a moral imperative to do this — to do whatever it takes.”
The New York Times reported that both of the false flag operations each received $100,000 and were funneled by the same progressive group called “Investing in Us.”
Fox News’ Lukas Mikelionis contributed to this report.