Conservative digital activists were smeared as behaving like “Russian trolls” by a recent article in the Washington Post. The writer also made sure to reach out to both Twitter and Facebook to get the teenage activists banned.
The article goes to great lengths — even interviewing PhDs — to compare the teenagers to “bots,” even though the article presents no evidence that any accounts were not operated by humans, and to “Russian trolls,” even though the article acknowledges that the people in charge of the accounts were Americans.
The article also casts normal behavior of political activists, like reading from a shared list of talking points, as somehow unusual. The Washington Post labels the act of paying people to repeat political messages — a standard feature of virtually all major political campaigns — as “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
Twitter and Facebook appeared to agree, suspending the accounts after the Washington Post reached out to them.
The students worked for Rally Forge, a company that mobilizes activists on social media on behalf of conservative causes and organizations.
“Comparing American conservative teenagers to Russian bots is, in and of itself, the height of misinformation by the mainstream media,” said a spokesman for Students for Trump, which contracted the company. “They should be ashamed. It’s beyond ridiculous at this point.”
One of the activists, Paige Noonan, said the Washington Post completely misrepresented their behavior, and misrepresented comments made to the newspaper by her father.
“I don’t know why they put that article there. They totally misrepresented my dad,” said Noonan.
“There was another point where they talked about not being paid minimum wage. That is not true — we are being paid minimum wage. I don’t know why that was in there.”
“I love this job. It’s a great environment and I actually have fun with it — I am grateful I have a job during corona[virus].”
“It’s sick that the Washington Post and Twitter are working together to take away my right to free speech” added Noonan.
“It’s stupid and dumb,” said Brent Hamilton, another activist whose account was banned. “They call us ‘Russian bots,’ which we’re obviously not. We’re American and Arizonan, writing about what we believe in.”
“It’s censoring free speech. What we’re saying isn’t bad. We’re not spamming… we’re saying what we believe in — actual, fact-based information.”
“They made it out to be a widespread misinformation project,” said Seth Bailey, another activist paid by Rally Forge. “We’re just pushing values we believe in.”
“It’s pretty ridiculous. You have all kinds of people on the left pushing their ideas. It’s a platform for sharing ideas. So why can’t we share our ideas?”
“The Washington Post’s attempt to target American teenagers engaged in lawful political activism is disgusting,” said Rally Forge CEO Jake Hoffman. “There is nothing more American than standing up for what you believe and making your voice heard which is exactly what these activists were doing. The Washington Post’s laughable characterization of these grassroots activists’ online commentary is misinformation designed to further undermine the voice of everyday Americans in this election.”
A brief search of Democrat party job listings reveals that the party engages, or plans to engage in virtually identical behavior to Students for Trump.
The Texas Democrat Party is currently advertising for a “deputy digital organizing director” who will “Recruit and manage an in-state volunteer digital captains program to develop, curate, and distribute grassroots-generated content in support of Democrats up and down the ticket.”
The South Carolina Democrat party is currently recruiting a “digital organizing manager,” who will “develop volunteer communities via Facebook, Slack, and/or other online platforms.”
Like the group attacked by the Washington Post, the South Carolina Democrats provide their online volunteers with shared campaigning material. The digital organizing manager will “equip volunteer leaders with literature, merch, and other necessary equipment” and “produce text message and call scripts to be used for peer to peer texting and phone banks.”
The Kansas Democrat Party? It wants someone who will take care of “personally executing voter contact through making phone calls, texting, and engaging digitally,” and “host neighborhood specific (virtual) events to identify new volunteers.”
Perhaps the most egregious example is Defeat Disinfo, a shadowy anti-Trump organization whose advisers include retired general Stanley McChrystal. The organization reportedly pays social media users with “large followings” to repeat anti-Trump narratives, without any requirement to disclose their connection to the group. The organization then boosts the narratives through a “network of 3.4 million influencers around the country.”
That organization was reported on by the Washington Post too — by the same writer who authored the hitpiece that got the activists named in this article banned.
And yet, despite the organization’s vast network of paid influencers and operatives, nowhere in the article did the reporter suggest it is an example of “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. His upcoming book, #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election, which contains exclusive interviews with sources inside Google, Facebook, and other tech companies, will be released on September 22 and is currently available for preorder.